Falkirk by-election: Unite accused of rule breaches

Alistair Darling is among the Labour figures to speak out over the Falkirk by-election. Picture: TSPL
Alistair Darling is among the Labour figures to speak out over the Falkirk by-election. Picture: TSPL
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UNIONS paid for hundreds of their members to join Labour constituency parties across the UK, it has emerged, as the row over alleged attempts to manipulate the selection of the party’s candidate for the Falkirk seat at Westminster continued.

The Labour leadership seized control of the constituency party in Falkirk and will now draw up a shortlist of candidates to replace disgraced MP Eric Joyce, who is standing down at the next general election.

An internal report by UK Labour officials claimed that the party’s biggest union donor, Unite, had encouraged its members to join the constituency party in order to provide support to a favoured union candidate.

A Labour source confirmed that up to 500 members across the country have been recruited and had their subscriptions paid by trade unions, as Prime Minister David Cameron criticised Ed Miliband over the party’s links with the union.

Former chancellor Alistair Darling told The Scotsman last night that the union was facing “serious allegations” and that Labour had to select its candidate in an “open and transparent” way.

Mr Darling said: “There are very strict rules that appear to have been broken. It was essential that the party stopped the process.”

The row deepened yesterday after it was claimed that unions affiliated to Labour paid for their members to join the party in other parts of the UK as well as in Falkirk.

The party defended its link with the unions, but confirmed a review being conducted by general secretary Ian McNicol is considering whether to scrap a scheme, introduced in the era of Tony Blair, which allows unions to recruit members to the party and pay their first year’s subs.

A party source said yesterday that up to 500 members were signed up in this way over the course of a year, but insisted there was no evidence outside Falkirk of them being concentrated in particular seats.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy also stepped into the row and said that Unite had “overstepped the mark” in Falkirk as he claimed “something had gone really badly wrong” in the constituency.

Mr Murphy said: “Whilst trade unions are an important part of our society and our politics, there seems to be one trade union in particular that well and truly overstepped the mark.”

The remarks came as Mr Cameron accused Ed Miliband of being too weak to stand up to the unions, which, he said, had “taken control” of the Labour party.

Mr Cameron, speaking at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, said that Unite bosses “want to control everything” in public services and politics.

Mr Miliband hit back, accusing the Prime Minister of double standards as he highlighted the phone hacking allegations against former Downing Street spin chief Andy Coulson as well as the cash for access claims about party donors being invited to Downing Street.

Meanwhile, Unite said Labour was “rushing ahead” with the process of choosing a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk to replace Mr Joyce, who quit the party after being involved in a bar brawl in the Commons last year.

The union has written to the Labour’s general secretary demanding that the process be halted immediately pending a full discussion at the party’s national executive committee.