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EDITIONS
Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Blair ally loses union ballot
Tony Blair, left, Derek Simpson, and Ken Jackson, right
A key union ally of Tony Blair has been defeated in his bid for re-election by a virtually unknown leftwinger.

Sir Ken Jackson, joint general secretary of Amicus and a staunch New Labour supporter, lost out to former communist Derek Simpson by 406 votes after a series of ballot recounts.


It's very much part of a trend and the government should be very worried and should be thinking hard about this

John Edmonds
GMB general secretary
Mr Simpson was ahead after three recounts of the ballot on Wednesday and was declared the winner after a fourth count on Thursday morning.

He polled 89,521 votes to Sir Ken's 89,115.

There were 459 spoilt ballot papers - including 75 who voted for both candidates.

The result represents another setback for the government in its increasingly fraught relations with trade unions.

Mr Simpson told BBC News that although he was not a Blairite neither was he an automatic opponent of Blairites.

He said his members wanted to see a leadership that would represent their views at all levels.

Return to militancy?

"I am a member of the Labour Party of many years.

"I support the Labour government, the Labour Party and I don't think [the ballot result] is an indication of militancy."

Ahead of the ballot result being announced the GMB's John Edmonds said that the Amicus vote was part of a swing away from New Labour occurring across the union movement.

John Edmonds
Mr Edmonds warned of disenchantment in the union movement
"Ken's difficulties are not a blip - it is not a one-off," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"In the last two years, every trade unionist who has won a major election has done it on the basis of expressing reservations about New Labour.

"It's very much part of a trend and the government should be very worried and should be thinking hard about this."

That viewpoint was dismissed by the Labour chairman of the Commons Trade and Industry select committee, Martin O'Neill.

Not a popular decision

He said: "I think Amicus is a one-off in the sense that here is a union in which a general secretary who is past retirement age is trying to bounce his members into supporting him.

"It's not in any way comparable with other situations."

Roger Lyons, joint general secretary from the MSF half of Amicus, said of Sir Ken's ousting: "His wish to stay after 65 has clearly not gone down very well."

But Tony Woodley, of the TGWU, said Mr Simpson's success was "not an indictment" of the government.

Union members expected representatives to fight for their rights and "not to cosy up" to government.

TUC general secretary John Monks told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "It is totally exaggerated this idea that unions and governments are completely at each others throats."

Scrutiny

It is thought Sir Ken polled about 89,000 votes, compared with 88,200 for Mr Simpson, a Derby-based union official, in the first count.

But after three recounts on Wednesday, the result had gone the other way.

Both men appointed an independent scrutineer to make sure the fourth count proceeded correctly.
Derek Simpson
The victor: Derek Simpson

Mr Simpson, who has been a Labour member for the past 10 years, has said he wants parity with the eurozone on employment legislation and that he planned to press the government for legislation to protect pension schemes.

Mr Simpson said: "I will only do what the members of our union want me to do - not what I want to do, like Sir Ken who came up with an idea and then tried to force it through the union's mechanism."

Merger

Sir Ken reached the normal retirement age of 65 this year but wanted to stay in his post until the end of 2004 to oversee the merger between the AEEU, and the MSF.

The two unions linked up earlier this year to form Amicus, which has a million members, mainly in manufacturing.

With this year's TUC conference fast approaching Labour needs all the friends it can muster in the union movement.

The Labour leadership has an increasingly fractious relationship the unions and a showdown particularly over the government's penchant for using private money in the public sector is widely predicted.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"Industrial unrest is spreading"

Public pay battles

Leadership battles

Labour and the unions

Analysis

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See also:

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