Unite cleared over bid to rig Falkirk candidate

Trade unions' roles in Labour's selection of candidates caused a political scandal. Picture: PA
Trade unions' roles in Labour's selection of candidates caused a political scandal. Picture: PA
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LABOUR has cleared Unite of trying to rig the selection of a party candidate in Falkirk – claims which led to a major row between the union and leader Ed Miliband.

The party’s inquiry found no evidence of wrongdoing when it investigated claims Unite members were signed up to support Karie Murphy, the union’s favoured candidate in the Falkirk constituency, without their knowledge.

Despite being exonerated, Ms Murphy said she was withdrawing from seeking nomination for the Falkirk seat in the interests of “reconciliation and unity”, as Labour tried to draw a line under the controversy before the TUC meets next week. She had been suspended from Labour but has now been reinstated as a party member.

Mr Miliband’s decision to recast his party’s relationship with its main funders in the wake of the rigging allegations infuriated Unite leader Len McCluskey, who threatened to withdraw financial support from Labour.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said of last night’s developments: “It’s clearer than ever Len McCluskey is calling the shots in the Labour Party. If Ed Miliband can’t even stand up to his union paymasters, how can he stand up for hardworking people? Weak Ed Miliband must now stop dithering, come clean and publish Labour’s report into the Falkirk selection in full.”

This summer, Labour commissioned the internal report to examine concerns over the process of selecting a Falkirk candidate. The party referred the matter to the police and handed over documents, but Police Scotland ruled in July that there were “insufficient grounds” for a criminal investigation.

The Falkirk constituency party chairman, Stevie Deans, who was also suspended, has now been reinstated by the party after the investigation found neither he, Ms Murphy nor any organisation or individual had breached party rules.

A Labour spokesman said “key evidence” had been withdrawn from the inquiry, leading to the finding that no rules in place at the time were breached.

The evidence is believed to relate to claims people were signed up as party members without their knowledge in a bid to stuff the local party with Unite supporters.

The rules have subsequently been tightened.

“Karie Murphy and Stevie Deans, who were suspended, will now be reinstated as they have not been guilty of any wrongdoing,” the spokesman said.

“No organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules as they stood at the time. The general-secretary has determined that, given these circumstances, Scottish Labour should move to select its candidate for Falkirk.

“These steps will enable Labour in Falkirk, without further delay, to choose a candidate and prepare for the general election.”

Tom Watson, the Labour MP with strong links to Unite who stood down from the Shadow Cabinet for the sake of party unity, said the leadership had made “rash decisions” about the controversy, which saw Mr Miliband decide to change Labour’s links to its historic paymasters.

Under Mr Miliband’s proposal, individal union members will have to opt in to Labour membership rather than being affiliated en masse under a union banner.

Mr Watson – for whom Ms Murphy worked – quit as the party’s general election co-ordinator at the height of the dispute.

“I think the most charitable thing I can say about that is, I don’t think the party leadership were in full possession of the facts when they took the decisions they did,” Mr Watson said.