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EDITIONS
Friday, 19 July, 2002, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Blair steers clear of union row
Tony Blair, left, Derek Simpson, and Ken Jackson, right
Downing Street has denied reports Tony Blair tried to intervene in the dispute over the election of the next leader of the UK's second largest union.

The dispute over the leadership of the AEEU section of the Amicus super-union, added to a decision by council workers to strike again, came the day after the prime minister had a "sensible, constructive" meeting with key union leaders.

Number 10 insisted the meeting on Thursday was private and one of a series of regular sessions, rather than the crisis meeting some reports had suggested.


The prime minister has not expressed a view and it is not for us to take a view

Downing Street spokesman
Mr Blair's spokesman also denied speculation that the premier had tried to intervene behind the scenes in the election dispute.

"It has been reported that we were letting it be known on the prime minister's behalf that he believes 'X' should happen in relation to this election contest," he said.

"That is not the case. No-one who speaks with the prime minister's authority has indicated that to anybody.

"The Prime Minister has not expressed a view and it is not for us to take a view. This is a matter for the union to resolve."

Wrangle continues

Lib Dem trade and industry spokesman Vince Cable called for Labour to cut its links with the unions

The deadlock over the Amicus leadership vote continues after Sir Ken Jackson - who is widely referred to as Tony Blair's favourite trade unionist - lost out to ex-communist Mr Simpson after a series of vote recounts.


I have won the election fair and square

Derek Simpson
The outcome of the ballot was thrown into confusion when the union's executive committee refused to accept that Mr Simpson had won.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Sir Ken said it could be a couple of weeks before the issue was resolved.

He said it was the decision by Simpson supporters to walk out of the executive's meeting that ensured no outcome could be announced.

Government setback?

Mr Simpson's supporters were angry that Sir Ken had raised objections about the conduct of the election.

But Sir Ken said: "People have the right to make a complaint and to have that complaint heard and dealt with."

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.

Derek Simpson
The victor: Derek Simpson
Mr Simpson urged the union's executive to accept the result.

"I have won the election fair and square against all the machine of the union that has been used against me to try and defeat me," Mr Simpson told BBC News 24.

He said he could understand the "frustration of Sir Ken Jackson, with all he has had at his disposal, failing to defeat what has been described as a relative unknown".

Labour MP Jim Knight urged Sir Ken to accept the outcome of the ballot.

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

Return to militancy?

Mr Simpson has said that although he was not a Blairite that did not make him an automatic opponent of Blairites.

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

John Edmonds
Mr Edmonds warned of disenchantment in the union movement
The GMB's John Edmonds said that the Amicus vote was part of a swing away from New Labour occurring across the union movement.

But TUC general secretary John Monks said: "It is totally exaggerated this idea that unions and governments are completely at each others throats."

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Derek Simpson, Amicus
"I've won the election there's no doubt about that"
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"The word 'chaos' is being used by union officials"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Labour does not want to get involved in the detail of union disputes"

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See also:

02 Apr 01 | Business
18 Jul 02 | Politics
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13 Feb 02 | Politics
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