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Monday, 28 March 2016

What Has Ian Lavery Done Wrong?

Ian Lavery is the sitting Labour MP for the Wansbeck constituency, which is centred on the Northumberland town of Morpeth. He was formerly General Secretary for the Northumberland area of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) before being elected to the NUM’s Executive Committee in 1992, and then succeeding Arthur Scargill as President of the Union in 2002. He entered Parliament in 2010.
Ian Lavery MP ((c) BBC)

Lavery has also attracted the attention of James Lyons, now a taker of the Murdoch shilling at the Sunday Times, who has been going through Lavery’s past, digging out what, it is suggested, is evidence of malpractice, although no direct accusation has yet been made. Lyons’ work has been brought together in a Storify document by Hopi Sen, and it is the latter account, with the inferences therein, which I cite in this post.

And that Storify does not get off to the most auspicious of starts. Titled “Defending good unions doesn't mean protecting bad ones”, it makes a judgment before the reader has got to the first line of text. We are going to hear about a “bad union”.

All the real reporting below was done by James Lyons of the Sunday Times … All I'm doing is setting it out in one place”, we are told. Two things here. One, it is best to be wary of the Murdoch press - one should not have to make that caveat, but we are where we are with the press, and a paper that, back in the days of Roy Thomson, could be considered reliable, certainly cannot be nowadays.

And two, I’m glad to see that Hopi Sen is just “setting it out in one place”. This post is just setting out in one place why the evidence presented appears less than convincing.

We read “the Northumberland Area NUM is not a large union. In 1996, it had just 290 members. By 2002, the number was down to 240, where it stayed, not changing by a single member, until 2013. In 2013, however, 230 of these stalwart members left at the same time, and just ten members remain”. Elsewhere, reference is made to a “tiny” union.

But the Storify answers this one itself: there was only one mine still open in the area from 1995. The number of local NUM members would reflect this, and the retention of some workers after that pit closed in 2005. Union members are in relevant work.

Then comes “Nevertheless, the NUM (Northumberland Area) did quite a lot for some of its members … For example, Ian Lavery MP bought his house with a loan from a fund set up by his union … His loan came from the NUM (Northumberland Area) Provident and Benevolent fund, to be precise. Remember that name, if you can. It'll be useful later”.

The issue of the loan is now the subject of a potential legal action, so I will not comment further. But what I will say is that the Northumberland area NUM also did rather a lot for those who had been members in the past, and this appears to have used up a great deal of Lavery’s (and other officials’) time. Remember that, if you can. It’ll be useful later.

But back to the attack: “As James Lyons reported the previous week, the 10 member union also paid out £85,426 in 'past General Secretary redundancy costs' in 2013 … Mr Lavery says he does not recognise that payment … If he didn't recognise the figures, perhaps he could ask his old Union about it? After all, they share an office”.

Saying he “does not recognise” something does not incriminate Lavery. Could we perhaps have some evidence ponied up to show that something wrong has happened? Because, without it, we are operating on no more than nudges and winks.

And that goes for the drip-drip of “Ooh look at this for 2010 … look at this for 2011” and so on. Then comes the first howler, and it’s a good one.

It's quite an unusual redundancy package really, as the National NUM records say Mr Lavery resigned” announces Sen triumphantly. But the documentation provided shows no such thing: that’s a resignation from the NUM National Executive Committee, not from his job. The two are not the same. Did Lyons make the same mistake?

The shaky reasoning continues with “Usually, when you make someone redundant, you don't replace them with someone doing the same job, because well, then they were not actually redundant, were they? Ian Lavery got made redundant from the NUM Northumberland Area in 2010, the day after he became the MP for Wansbeck … So how come those annual returns have the union employing a ‘General Secretary’ after Ian Lavery was made redundant from that job?

Actually, Lavery was the NUM national President (see above), so whoever Hopi Sen is hinting at did not do “the same job” (and was paid significantly less). Back to the Storify.

Ian Lavery was made redundant from his job as General Secretary of NUM Northumberland on the day he became MP for Wansbeck, and replaced, on the very same day, by the man who had just been the MP for Wansbeck”. Very good. Now tell everyone what heinous crime has been committed.

We don’t get to find that out, but we do have trowelled on how Denis Murphy must have done something dodgy as he accepted hospitality from the same union branch (I’ll leave Hopi Sen’s frequent asides out, as they are of little relevance). We then have a suggestion presented that the Union’s members should all have had a holiday provided, instead of any of the officials visiting conferences.

Meanwhile, we are back at the NUM (Northumberland Area) Provident and Benevolent Fund, which in 2007 had a loan written off by the NUM itself. As Lavery signed the annual return, he is therefore bang to rights for something. Sen announces “What year was that loan written off again? 2007? Just a bit more than eight years ago? Hmm … Didn’t somebody say something about a loan ending eight years ago? Ah, yes, here it is”.

So, once more, can someone tell us what Lavery has done wrong?

Well, not yet, it seems. Now we get to the damning evidence. “Ian Lavery is an MP, and has never declared any payments from his union for any purpose, whether personal or political, or any loan that may or may not be outstanding on his house”.

Fine. He’s corresponding with the relevant authorities right now. I’d add to that that Lavery’s employment with the NUM ended before he took up his Parliamentary duties, so he may not have thought to declare payments made in respect of that employment. He was, after all, no longer doing that work. Hopi Sen has more charges, though.

He tells “some of the payments might be seen as disguised remuneration, which is a way of avoiding Tax. Mr Lavery is very against tax avoiders, and I'm sure he'll want to make it crystal clear that he isn't one”. Got any evidence of wrongdoing? Thought not.

Then we get to the most contentious, and most damaging, claim.

All of these payments and loan write offs were made by a tiny union made rather wealthy from the compensation paid to coal miners who suffered from chronic illness. This was money paid by taxpayers to help extremely damaged mineworkers and ease their suffering in retirement” [my emphases].

That is what James Lyons and Hopi Sen are driving at: the suggestion that Lavery has enriched himself on the back of others’ chronic sickness. Small wonder the MP has taken grave exception to this line of reporting.

Lavery’s reaction has not dissuaded Hopi Sen: “In total, NUM Northumberland got over 1.6 million pounds from the compensation money of sick miners … Now, it's important to stress these were voluntary donations. At some point when applying for compensation for their illness, these miners decided to tell their lawyers, a firm called Browell, Smith & Co, to give a proportion of any award to their Union. I'm sure that was totally clear to all concerned and everyone knew exactly what they were signing up to … It’s just I wonder if they knew it would be spent this way”.

Spent which way, exactly?

It is conceded that the donations were voluntary - the NUM helped prepare, progress and successfully conclude many compensation claims, and so in return those compensated gave a little back to the union that had backed them. Remember, those ex-miners were no longer members - so banging on about “a tiny union” is seriously misleading.

There is also the matter of creating Big And Scary Numbers by rolling up several years of remuneration: “After the money began to arrive, Ian Lavery was paid £596,433 in salary, £152,583 in pension payments and £49,481 in Car allowance”. He averaged around £50k a year over the period from 1992 to 2010, with much of the work in his latter years devoted to seeing compensation claims brought to a successful conclusion.

Nationally, the compensation scheme for conditions such as pneumoconiosis and vibration white finger had paid out £4.1 billion by 2010. Yes, £4.1 billion. And a lot of that is down to the persistence of NUM officials like Ian Lavery.

So when Hopi Sen muses “I'm not sure this is how a Trade Union that gets £1.6million from sick miners is supposed to behave. Couldn't they, or the Benevolent fund, have spent the money on something else? Something for mineworkers?” he misses the point. The £1.6 million helped that NUM branch carry on its support work.

Back at the Storify, we read “I'm not sure the union membership, whether the never-changing 240 members of the compensation era, or the 10 left now, got much of a say in how the union spent their money”. Their money? The subscriptions of the 240 members or the £1.6 million from former miners? Now it’s getting confused. But do go on.

I tried to see when there were elections for the NUM Northumberland Area. I couldn't find a mention of one in the last 20 years … The members of the Executive are the same names each year, except when Mr Lavery becomes an MP and Mr Murphy is appointed (not elected) to take over from Mr Lavery”.

Two things here. One, had there been electoral malpractice, it would probably have come to light well before now - and sometimes officials are returned unopposed when there are elections. And two, if the claim that Murphy was “appointed (not elected)” is based on that NUM National Executive Committee document, the same comment applies as with Lavery’s alleged “resignation”. That looks like another howler.

But Hopi Sen has a clinching argument, which, he tells, is “political”: “I'm not sure Ian Lavery is the best person for that particular fight [to modify or repeal some Trade Union law] … Or any fight to defend the rights of union members against those who would rip them off to feather their own nest”.

That assumes Lavery has done something wrong. It’s one of two things - either we have a circular argument, where guilt is assumed at the outset (and the use of the “bad union” epithet suggests that is a distinct possibility), or there is the drip-drip presentation of available evidence matched with a series of logic leaps, which has a similar conclusion.

There is a clear suggestion in Hopi Sen’s Storify, and I have to assume in Lyons’ reportage, that Ian Lavery is one of “those who would rip [union members] off to feather their own nest”. However, the evidence relies on assuming the basest of motives, contains a significant number of howlers, and is presented as a fait accompli. Something bad can be made to appear to have happened, so it really did happen - perhaps.

Yet at no point do we have presented an answer to the question in the title of this post - What Has Ian Lavery Done Wrong?

And until we have that answered clearly and unambiguously, free of nudge-nudgery or any other form of journalistic enhancement, we have no reason to conclude that wrongdoing took place. Lavery may have done something wrong, but equally, he may not.

That may be inconvenient to the Murdoch press - and those prepared to take its journalism on trust. If so, that’s just too bad. The end.

18 comments:

G said...

One thing Ian Lavery has done wrong is not to respond directly to the allegations and evidence, instead he has blustered and made threats. This makes it look like he has something to hide.

The Complaining Queen said...

Interesting and well balanced piece. Thank you.

AHairyBiker said...

NUM looked after me. It can't do that without funding. What's the crime again? He worked for a living and got paid for it.

David Lindsay said...

A trade union is perfectly free to do whatever it likes with its money, unless it breaks the law. A trade union with only 10 members, all of them living in the old mining corner of Northumberland, must be nothing if not accountable internally.

But quite apart from either of those points, why are the Murdoch media going after Ian Lavery, anyway? Murdoch cannot possibly expect any other party to win the Wansbeck seat in the event of a by-election. Rather, he wants a very right-wing Labour MP there.

What are always his achingly posh London hacks additionally want an MP who is less frightfully working-class, and who has not lived his entire life in the North East, which they have never visited, and which they think is near Manchester.

¡No pasarĂ¡n!

Anonymous said...

Tim,

A first class piece of journalism. Thank you.

As opposite to the Murdoch Sunday Times far right propaganda as it's possible to be.

My guess is that Lavery's biggest "crime" is either (a) He's an ex miner, or (b) He was a union leader.

None of Murdoch's London-based bribed slimeballs are going to admit such activities make a Murdoch employee look like the kind of under-stone creep he/she is. Nor will they be in any haste to describe how their tory paymasters destroyed millions of lives and hundreds of communities with their attacks on working class organisations. Or how Scargill was right when he forecast what the tories intended to do. Or recall how Nicholas Ridley plotted to rig the figures to provoke a strike (see The Economist, 27th May 1978). Or the TV "news" piece that reverse edited to "show" the miners attacking the police when it was the other way round.

Then again, the Sunday Times has previous in this matter. See the book Strike (1985) in which Andrew Neil (yes, the same far right fraud now working for BBC TV, then editor of said Murdoch rag) in an "Introduction" said ST "...journalists acquitted themselves superbly." Yeah, right. So did Julius Streicher. The book is so bad it's positively evil in its far right propaganda.

Nobody with a trace of common sense and decency trusts a word coming out of the crooked mouths of a Murdoch "journalist." Then or now.

Hopi Sen said...

Dear Tim,

As you began your rebuttal with a flailing ad hominem, then go on to include classic fallacies like "If there'd been something wrong, surely we'd have known about it", and your whole theme is that there are no specific charges, while you both ignore those that have been made, and fail to acknowledge that in order to reconstruct what happened we need transparency from those who were in charge, perhaps it'd be kindest to dismiss your effort on the basis of not wanting to embarrass you further.

However, there are a few issues that deserve a more detailed response.

Some concern things you have chosen to ignore, some things you have misrepresented, some you have just got wrong, and others yet you seem to simply not have understood.

On the things you ignore:
- You do not mention the donations to the local party or how a political fund of £44 made thousands pounds of donations without a ballot.
- You do not mention the tens of thousands of pounds for items such as "conferences" and "Cuba and India".
- You ignore the hazy position of the Provident and Benevolent fund. So far, no-one has said what this body is, where its funds came from, who controls it, why it is to give it's remaining funds the the union, or why it had an undeclared charge over Lavery's property. You ask for specific charges, but neglect to demand the transparency which would permit any sort of understanding of the role and purpose of a fund which has no identifiable public existence.
- you ignore the fact that it is only after these issues were raised by those you sneer at that a sudden urge to 'correspond with the relevant authorities' manifested itself.
- You ignore the fact the issue of payments from former employers was widely debated in the last parliament, indeed, they were a controversy even while these payments were being made. I invite you to read a little on ex-gratia payments to former union officials who entered parliament in 2010.

Hopi Sen said...

Part 2


Things you have misrepresented:
- You seem to be arguing that Lavery was made redundant as general secretary of the NUM Northumberland Area at the same time he resigned from the National Union Presidency. In which case, Occam's razor aside, how could he have been replaced by Mr Murphy as general secretary?
- Indeed, you rather make the point yourself - as you claim that Mr Lavery had two separate jobs to support your point he could resign from the role of National President while being at the same time being made redundant from his role as Northumberland General Secretary. Yet a little later, you claim that as Mr Murphy was not the national president, he was doing "a different job" to Mr Lavery as general secretary. Do you see the contradiction you fall into there?
-This could be cleared up by Lavery saying whether he resigned or was made redundant, which he has failed to do, saying instead only that his employment 'ended'. If he resigned, why were his payments called redundancy payments? If he was made redundant, how did Mr Murphy take his job? Why don't you ask him instead of having a pop at me for daring to?

- IN your eagerness to dismiss evidence you dislike, you seem to have missed the fact that the NUM nationally reported that Lavery's employment ended in both redundancy and a resignation. Look at the 2010 AR21 for the national union:

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140701201750/http://www.certoffice.org/CertificationOfficer/media/DocumentLibrary/PDF/199T_2010.pdf

On page 3 it says "resigned". On Page 11 "redundancy". You say that the national union citation is irrelevant, without it seems, having read the source you dismiss.

Hopi Sen said...

Things you have got wrong

- You say 'if there were electoral malpractice, it would probably have come to light'. Really? take a hypothetical example- A wealthy 'friendly society', which claims 240 members each year for a decade, until suddenly the membership drops to ten. Every election is uncontested. There are no ballots held, no openness of the membership list, no members vote on the use of the christmas fund. How would malpractice come to light, without some irritating soul first asking questions?

- On the topic of whose money was it: you say "Their money? The subscriptions of the 240 members or the £1.6 million from former miners? " The former miners donated the money to the NUM area. So therefore it was the asset of the members of that union. It was their money, to do with as they chose. If they were given a say in the matter, that is.

This is why the question of membership lists, elections and ballots are of significance. As it was the members money, they needed to have control of it. Did they? You make a howler, I'm afraid, when you say that the source for Mr Murphy's appointment was the document you mention. It was not. If you want to know more, you can ask, variously, Mr Murphy, Mr Lavery or the Certification officer.

Finally, and most importantly, the thing you have misunderstood most of all - the miners compensation scheme itself. You lack of knowledge of this scheme is so obvious, all I can do is invite you to ask a few simple questions.
1. When did the legal cases which established COPD and VWF compensation begin?
2. When did those applying for compensation agree to make a donation of a part of their claim to their Union - after they recieved their award, or before it, as part of the claim process?
3. You quote the £4.1 billion cost of the scheme approvingly. How much of that money went to miners and how much to solicitors? Which solicitors were about as good as those cynical reprobates at the UDM?
4. When did the VWF and COPD scheme close for new claims? What assets did the union have at that point? What degree of work was involved for officials after that, given the claims process?
5. How many VWF and COPD cases were in the system in Northumberland in 2008? How much did the area union pay out in salaries, redundancy and pensions after that date?

The odd thing for me is that your response to questions is somply to attack the morals, logic, and foundations of the questioners. Not once do you ask for an answer to questions like - is it OK to take £62-140k in redundancy from a job you leave to become an MP? Is it acceptable for a small union to appoint an ex-MP to a job in a union which shortly has ten members and then pay him almost a quater of a million pounds in four years? Is it OK for a union to donate thousands of pounds to a political party with on £44 in their political fund and no record of holding a ballot?

Or even, if you read the recent accounts, is it really a good idea for a union to sell a property for fifteen thousand pounds under valuation, to a member of their own executive?

You see questions matter. They're how you hold people to account.

So here's one for you. Let's say you were running this particular union in 2006, when it had £928,000 in the bank, virtually no miners working locally and 240 members. What would you have done with that money? Can you think of anything, anything at all, you'd rather have spent that money on than the salaries of yourself and your local MP?

Tim Fenton said...

Hopi, I have not attacked anyone's morals.

And the question remains, and is therefore put once again: what has Ian Lavery done wrong?

The fog of "yes but what about this point, and this point, and this point" will not cause that question not to be put.

The post stands and will remain unamended.

Hopi Sen said...

"nudge-nudge" "Murdoch shilling" "journalistic enhancement".
I've answered your question about four times now. So, once again:

1. He failed to declare registrable interests.
2. His union, under his leadership made donations that seem mpermissible, as the political fund was only £44 and there is no record of a political resolution
3. His union failed to abide by union law, possibly in seveeral areas but certiainly on balloting members.

So that's three

As for other allegations, of course there is no 'firm allegation' - how can there be, when the union and it's leadrs are refusing to answer questions publicly about their membership, finances, income, elections, offices and funds. So far not a single such question has been answered, not even partially. Only when there is transparency, can there be accountability.

So there you go I've answered your question (again), will you answer mine - what would you have done with the money?

Anonymous said...

@ Hopi Sen.

If Murdoch toe rags like you showed any interest in the Canary Wharf/Wall Street thieves and their global robberies you might have some credibility.

Until then, just do one behind Rupert's latest skirt. It's all your bought-and-paid-for far right propaganda is worth.

Well in, Tim. Keep it up.

Lost Transport said...

There is no fog Tim.

The question that stands above everything else is: how did Ian Lavery qualify for redundancy payments when the role itself wasn't made redundant?

Ordinary when someone leaves one job for another, they don't qualify for redundancy. Ian left one well paid job to start another. Ian deliberately sought alternative employment and gained it. So again, why the redundancy?

Because this is very odd behaviour, other questions get asked. What Ian needs to do is clarify the questions rather than handwave as he has done.

Tim Fenton said...

Hopi,

Of your three points, 1 is being addressed, 2 is heavily caveatted, and 3 is also qualified - ah well.

So the question stands.

Rob Jackson said...

Tim

If Hopi Sen's questions are too difficult, why don't you just respond to Lost Transport as a warm up?

Anonymous said...

@Hopi Sen

You appear to from the "whataboutery" school of journalism.

Your articles and comments on this blog are pure "what about this" and "what about that". What's next "look a squirrel?" Here's a question you might like to answer, how much do you get paid for this purile shite?

Now why don't you go and do some research on a failing academy trust in Birmingham which has been creaming £1.297 million from our children's education. Now that is a fucking scandal. I can provide a link if you can't do the research.

Ed Case said...

Fao. Mr Sen.

Here's an idea,there is a real whiff in the airthat needs you scrutiny.

Strong feeling that masive amount of £ donated to Tories has academy ties.

Now there's something very important and challenging with a potential nice pat on the back. Maybe not from Rupert but the vast majority of the country wanting the place run fairly and decently.

Have a quick think, seems a no-brainer to me.

ejh said...

I doubt that anybody is paid for producing a Storify.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of Hopi Sen until Tim posted this blog.

Then I checked his background.

Unsurprisingly, he turns out to be a New Labour Quisling and supporter of the mass murderer and war criminal Blair.

So no surprise he ends up doing Murdoch's dirty propaganda. Like all of Murdoch's far right neocon shills he's full of sophist shit.