Unite’s Len McCluskey was unaware that the Labour panel which refused to expel Ken Livingstone included two members of his union, sources have told HuffPost UK.
The party’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) sparked a backlash from Jewish groups and the Shadow Cabinet on Wednesday when it decided to only suspend the former Mayor of London for remarks he made about Hitler and Zionism.
Jeremy Corbyn ordered a fresh probe into Livingstone’s other remarks on the issue and general secretary Iain McNicol has now written to the ruling National Executive Committee to confirm that an investigation would take place following “many complaints” from members.
But it has emerged that two of the three panel members who determined Livingstone’s fate had links to Unite, Britain’s biggest union.
The pair, one a councillor and the other an MP’s assistant, outvoted the third member and chair of the panel in the crunch hearing, HuffPost UK has been told.
Yet neither the union nor McCluskey, who is running to be re-elected as general secretary against challenger Gerard Coyne, had any knowledge of the make-up of the NCC panel, union sources say.
Insiders said that the chair of the three-strong panel had originally wanted a GMB unon member to sit on the body, but couldn’t find them in time for the hearing. An extra Unite member was added late in the process.
A spokesperson for Unite told HuffPost UK: “Unite fully backs the reference of this matter to the NEC.”
A union source added that McCluskey had made clear publicly and privately that he felt Livingstone’s remarks had been unacceptable.
The make-up of the NCC panel - which has a quasi-judicial role in the most serious disciplinary cases - should always be kept confidential as a key part of the natural justice required in the process, they added.
The three members ruled on Wednesday that Livingstone should only be suspended for another year, rather than expelled, despite having found him guilty of three counts of breaking party rules and bringing it into disrepute.
Critics point out that after Livingstone’s original suspension in 2016, McCluskey had told BBC Radio 5 Live: “This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims because this is all about constantly challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”
It has emerged in the past 48 hours that one of the Unite members works for a left-wing Labour MP and has been a key figure in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).
The other Unite member is a councillor from a northern council.
It has been claimed that at least one member of the NCC was opposed to Livingstone even being subjected to any disciplinary hearing at all.
McCluskey’s challenger Coyne told the Jewish News newspaper on Wednesday that he would be “ashamed” if any representatives of his union on the NCC panel had failed to act against the former Mayor of London.
“Livingstone’s comments and total lack of contrition are grotesque.”
Union sources have also categorically denied that Livingstone’s legal fees were in any way paid by Unite.