LABOUR leader Ed Miliband has said he does not regret his handling of a row over candidate selection which sparked a confrontation with his party’s biggest union backer.
Miliband said he had “followed the right process” in dealing with the situation in Falkirk, which resulted in a Unite-backed candidate withdrawing despite both her and her union being cleared of wrongdoing.
It was a big climbdown as the party had initially referred to the police claims that Unite – its biggest donor – signed people up as party members without their knowledge to get its candidate picked.
The ensuing bitter public row with Unite boss Len McCluskey pushed Miliband to propose radical changes to Labour’s historic links with the union movement.
On the eve of the Labour Party conference yesterday, Miliband said: “I think with every stage in the process we have followed the correct procedures. We even sent the report to the police to see whether there was any grounds for criminal action.
“The candidate around whom there was controversy is no longer going to be the candidate, the constituency remains in special measures, the scheme under which people joined has been suspended and we have embarked on a major reform of our party, so I think all the way along we’ve followed the right process.”
Earlier this month, Labour lifted the suspensions of Unite-backed would-be MP Karie Murphy and local party chairman Stevie Deans, saying they too had done nothing wrong. Murphy announced, however, that she was withdrawing as a potential general election candidate for the seat for the sake of “reconciliation and unity”.
Miliband said: “I think what is important is that the candidate around whom there was the original controversy has withdrawn and now the Labour Party is moving on to look at the big reforms that our party needs, so we can be a party genuinely of working people.”
But Brian Capaloff, a member of Falkirk Labour and Unite, said the lack of an apology to Murphy was “disappointing”. He added: “What has gone on has had a very damaging impact on moral. What Ed Miliband needs to do is get on a train and come and meet members here in Falkirk, who have been distinctly absent from any considerations.
“He should come and speak to us and say why he has no regrets. He should have regrets. The imposition of special measures on the local party was done to gain publicity. It was extremely heavy-handed.”