New allegations, recriminations and insults. The row between Labour and Unite over election rigging continues
The spat between the leadership of the Labour Party and the union Unite has reignited. Earlier this year, an investigation was made over the allegation that Unite (Labour’s biggest donor) were rigging the selection process of the party’s candidate in the constituency of Falkirk for the 2015 general election. The initial conclusion was that the allegations were mistaken. However, according to the Sunday Times, the investigation itself was undermined and compromised by Unite.
Unite were accused of signing its members up to the Labour Party without their knowledge, or even coercing them to join. This was to ensure that Katie Murphy, the union’s preferred candidate, would be selected to stand for the seat.
Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has been seen to have used the scandal, and the ensuing investigation, to demonstrate that the Party are not in thrall to Unite. However, following the withdrawal of allegations by key witnesses, the internal inquiry cleared the union of any misconduct. Unite reacted by threatening to cut their donations to the party.
The new allegations centre on Stephen Deans (pictured), the chairman of the Falkirk Labour Party. The Sunday Times allege that a letter that retracted evidence over the selection scandal was not written by a witness, but was instead crafted by a union official and approved by Mr. Deans.
Further, the newspaper claims to have seen extracts from Labour’s report (which has never been publicly released), where leading Labour figures claim that Unite engaged in “deliberate attempts to frustrate” the investigation.
Mr. Deans, like the rest of the union, was previously cleared of all allegations after a period of suspension from the Party. In response to the new allegations, however, he is planning to step down from his role as chairman.
Mr. Deans has been in the news for other reasons recently. An employee at Grangemouth petrochemical plant, he was suspended over claims that he had been using company time to engage in political campaigning (for Unite). In response, the union voted to strike and shut down the plant. Mr. Deans subsequently resigned from that job as well.
The emergence of the new allegations suggests that the conflict between Labour and Unite will continue. Only last month, Tom Watson (a former shadow cabinet minister who resigned over his involvement with the selection scandal - he is now seen by some as the main architect behind the rigging scheme) was demanding that Mr. Miliband apologise over the accusations and investigation.
Mr. Miliband has been attempting to alter the way that unions fund Labour, and has been seeking to change the nature of the wider relationship. At present, all union members are automatically signed up to (and pay membership fees to) the party. Mr. Miliband (in a rare display of competence and vision) has sought to alter this to a system where union members can opt-in to joining Labour. This week, his brother, David Miliband (former foreign secretary) spoke in support of the plans and criticised the “old politics” practised by unions like Unite.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, continues to deny any wrongdoing, claiming that the report was not thwarted, but was simply flawed. He says that “there is no case to answer” and sees the union as victims of “disgraceful and despicable attacks”. For Mr. McCluskey, the leaks to the Sunday Times are part of a cunning “Tory plot” to lead Mr. Miliband into a “trap”.