WHEN the controversy over selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk first arose, it was tempting to dismiss it as a little local difficulty for Ed Miliband’s party.
But the dramatic escalation of this row has taken this seemingly innocuous contretemps right to the soul of Labour. Without a hint of overstatement, it can be suggested that this could be a defining moment in Mr Miliband’s career.
The Falkirk shenanigans could be the issue that makes or breaks the current leader. Will he be remembered as an electable politician like Tony Blair? Or will he go down in history as another Neil Kinnock?
It is an issue that is based on a perennial problem that has dogged Labour’s leadership: who actually runs the party – the politicians who are supposed to, or the unions who fund it?
The allegation that Unite flooded the Falkirk Labour Party with members in an attempt to get their favoured candidate, Karie Murphy, selected as candidate would suggest that the union believes it can yield huge influence.
Mr Miliband’s obvious anger over Unite’s alleged behaviour suggests that the Labour leader is up for a fight for the heart of his party.
For Mr Miliband, however, there are complications. He owes his position as Labour leader to the unions.
It was down to their support and particularly that of Unite, the biggest union, that he defeated his brother David for the leadership. There is also the not inconsiderable considerations of party finance.
It has been Unite’s unashamed intention to move the party away from Blairite white-collar candidates to more traditional Labour figures.
In the union’s own words, it wants to shift the balance away from “middle class academics and professionals” to people who have “represented workers and fought the boss”. The trouble is that “fighting the boss” seems to extend to the leader of the Labour Party.
With Mr Miliband asking the police to investigate allegations that Unite was signing up Labour members without their knowledge in an attempt to skew the selection process, the controversy has intensified enormously.
Worryingly but not unexpectedly, getting the police involved has merely stoked up tensions between the party and Unite – as Unite leader Len McCluskey’s denials of malpractice demonstrated so effectively. Only time will tell whether Mr Miliband comes out of this as a Blair or a Kinnock.