POLICE have been called in to investigate the Labour Party’s biggest trade union donor in an escalating row over alleged candidate-rigging.
The party handed evidence to Police Scotland, setting out claims that the Unite union tried to manipulate a selection process to ensure its favoured candidate was installed for the Falkirk by-election. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey dismissed the allegations as “nonsense” and accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of deliberately seeking a “punch-up” with the unions.
The Conservatives said Labour had been “bounced” into contacting prosecutors after Tory back-bencher Henry Smith wrote to Chief Constable Sir Stephen House asking him to investigate.
And the Tories said they would be handing to police a Unite document they have obtained, which lists 41 constituencies in which the union has supported candidates for selection.
Mr Miliband said he had taken the decision to refer the matter to police after consulting the party’s solicitor about an internal report on the Falkirk row as well as fresh evidence.
The party leader also warned Unite that he would not tolerate “corrupt practice” in the party.
Mr Miliband, who was elected as Labour leader with the support of Unite in 2010, said he wanted the police to “investigate whether criminal activity had taken place” in the Falkirk party.
He also insisted that he did not “care about Len McCluskey” and warned that Labour was “bigger than anyone involved” in the party. Jim Sheridan, who chairs the group of Labour MPs sponsored by Unite, called on Mr Miliband to be clear what those involved were accused of - something which the party has declined to specify on legal advice.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme hat it would be “absolutely wrong” if memberships had been paid by the union in an effort solely to influence the selection or been signed up unknowingly.
“Ed Miliband is absolutely right: no-one but no-one will undermine the integrity of the party and he is quite right to be doing what he’s doing,” he said.
“But what he has also got to do is make clear what the facts are, what the accusations are.
“You can’t go around making claims about people’s activities without giving the people involved the opportunity to see what they actually have been charged for.”
Conservative Party chairman chairman Grant Shapps said if wrongdoing was proved then selection procedures should be suspended “in all the other seats that Unite have been trying to rig” as well.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the party leader had told him he had no plans to break the link.
“Ed Miliband phoned me yesterday, and said he has no intention of breaking the trade union link,” the NEC member said on his LBC 97.3 radio show.
Mr Shapps said: “Publicly, Miliband claims he is angry about Len McCluskey’s takeover of the Labour Party. But, in private, he tells Ken Livingstone he is simply too weak to break Unite’s stranglehold.
“This is serious because it goes right to the heart of the way Labour selects potential MPs. The police are involved, because what has happened represents a fundamental attack on our democracy. People are shocked by the turmoil in the Labour party but Miliband’s response isn’t now just weak, it’s also two-faced.”
Mr Miliband’s clash with the unions came after Mr Smith said in a letter to Sir Stephen that Unite may have committed fraud by signing up members to Labour in Falkirk without their knowledge.
Labour’s former election co-ordinator, Tom Watson, has already been forced to quit the shadow cabinet over the row, with 14 constituency parties across the UK suspended by party chiefs, amid claims of the manipulation of candidate
Mr Miliband called on Mr McCluskey to condemn “malpractice” in Falkirk, insisting he would not allow the party’s name to be “undermined by the behaviour of a few individuals”.
Labour has suspended two members over the allegations, including Karie Murphy, Unite’s favoured candidate in Falkirk and Mr Watson’s former office manager. Falkirk Labour chairman Stephen Deans was also suspended.
Labour has been forced to select a candidate in Falkirk to replace Eric Joyce, who quit the party after he was convicted of assaulting Tory politicians in a House of Commons bar last year.
The party leadership has now taken control of the constituency party in Falkirk. Mr Joyce represents the constituency as an independent MP and will stand down at the next election.
Mr McCluskey said Mr Miliband had handled the crisis “absolutely amateurishly” and criticised the leadership for reporting the union to the police.
He said: “It is a nonsense and I am afraid the way it has been handled by the Labour Party headquarters is nothing short of disgraceful.
“The Labour leadership have shot themselves in the foot and created this media storm over what is a genuinely irrelevant issue to ordinary workers.
“We believe they have handled it absolutely amateurishly and they have played into the Prime Minister’s and the coalition’s hands. They must be rubbing their hands at this.”
The leader of Unite, which has given Labour more than
£8 million since Mr Miliband was elected leader, called for an independent inquiry into the
allegations. Mr McCluskey said Unite would co-operate with the police inquiry but warned that it would not bring the matter to an end.
He said: “At the moment we are in the middle of a media storm that has been caused by Labour’s inability to deal with this situation. As far as Unite are concerned, we have done nothing wrong. We are being attacked mercilessly by the media.”
Mr Miliband went on to criticise the Unite leadership for failing to condemn the alleged practices in Falkirk and admitted he had not spoken to Mr McCluskey in the past month about the crisis.
He said: “I spoke to Len McCluskey a month ago and told him of my deep concern. It’s not for me to be involved in a direct dialogue with Len McCluskey. Len McCluskey has not behaved well. I don’t care about Len McCluskey in this. I care about the Labour Party.”
Mr Miliband also dismissed suggestions that local Labour parties throughout the UK regularly faced union attempts to manipulate candidate selections.
He said: “I believe Falkirk is an exceptional case and that’s why we’ve referred it to the police. I’m determined that every party candidate is selected in a fair and transparent way.”
Meanwhile, the Conservatives said they would be handing over the Unite document presented in June by the union’s political director Steve Hart, which said that Unite’s political department was “working extremely hard on assisting in a large and growing number of selections”.
Police Scotland said: “We can confirm that we are in receipt of correspondence and that this is being considered.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It’s quite clear the trade unions have far too much control over Labour. This has happened on Ed Miliband’s watch. It is something of a scandal that is unfolding and he badly needs to grip it.”
Mr Watson, who quit as the party’s election co-ordinator amid criticism over his links with Ms Murphy, said he had been the victim of anonymous briefings by shadow cabinet
colleagues. He suggested they remained resentful of his role in a so-called “curry house plot” which led to Tony Blair announcing his intention to stand down.