ED Miliband refused to condemn the practice of people being signed up to Labour by their family yesterday as he defended the party’s investigation of allegations into vote rigging by the Unite union.
The Labour leader insisted that the party had carried out the “most comprehensive and thorough” investigation into claims Unite signed up members without their consent to ensure its favoured candidate, Karie Murphy, was selected for Labour in Falkirk West.
Michelle Hornall was one of several people who claimed they had been signed up to the Labour party by Unite without their knowledge. Her husband yesterday was reported as saying she stood by her story and had not retracted the complaint.
But during a visit to Edinburgh yesterday, Mr Miliband said Labour had a “sworn affidavit” that Ms Hornall had been signed up as a member in Falkirk by her father Michael Kane, a party activist, and not Unite.
Mr Miliband refused to answer questions about whether party rules allowed individuals to buy group memberships for family members, but claimed there was “very, very clear legal evidence” that Ms Hornall had not been not signed up by Unite.
He said that there had been “machine politics” in Labour in Falkirk, but repeated his refusal to reopen an inquiry into the allegations.
Mr Miliband said the party wanted to “rebuild trust with the people of Falkirk” as he delivered a speech in Edinburgh ahead of a party fundraiser in Glasgow last night.
A newspaper reported yesterday that Ms Hornall maintains she was signed up as a Labour member by Stevie Deans, the Falkirk constituency party chairman who was also the union’s convener at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant until he resigned last week.
Mr Deans and Ms Murphy were suspended from the party earlier this year amid claims that the union had tried to cram the constituency party with supporters who would back Ms Murphy in a selection battle.
A Labour inquiry into the allegations was halted after it was claimed that witnesses – including Michael Kane and his wife Lorraine – withdrew evidence in which they alleged they were signed up as party members without consent.
However, both Mr and Mrs Kane this week denied altering that evidence or asking for its withdrawal. Ms Hornall is the Kanes’ daughter. When asked if Ms Hornall’s evidence showed the need for a second Labour party inquiry, Mr Miliband said: “I think it’s important we look at anything that is said to be new evidence.”
Asked whether it was acceptable to sign up a family member without their knowledge, Mr Miliband said: “What I’m saying to you is we’ve looked into all of the allegations that have been made, we’ve talked to that family and they’ve given us very, very clear evidence.
“We’ve been a party that has suspended the local party in Falkirk. We’ve put in place a new process for candidate selection. We’ve a candidate, around whom there was controversy, is not going to be a candidate. We’ve had a police inquiry, now followed by a second police inquiry.”
Former chancellor Alistair Darling this week called for the inquiry to be reopened while Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the party should look again at claims members of the Unite union tried to rig the party’s candidate selection.
A Unite spokesman last night denied the union had been involved in signing up the Kanes or Ms Hornall.
The spokesman said: “The Kane family are not and never have been Unite members. Unite therefore did not sign them up to the Labour party, either through the union-join scheme that then existed, or otherwise.”