Miliband berates union leader in row over Labour candidate selection
Labour leader urges Unite leader: ‘Face up to your responsibilities’
Labour leader Ed Miliband answers questions from pupils at Blatchington Mill School in Hove, near Brighton, yesterday. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband is refusing to back down in his fight with the party’s biggest union backer over its influence in the party.
According to an internal Labour report, Unite members were being signed up to the local party without their knowledge in a bid to rig the contest.
Unite leader Len McCluskey said his union had done nothing wrong and he was disappointed at the turn of events.
Mr Miliband, urging Mr McCluskey “to face up to your responsibilities”, said: “Face up to what people within your union were doing and stop defending it. It’s wrong because we had members being signed up without their knowledge, bad practice, malpractice and frankly instead of defending that kind of thing you should be condemning it.”
Mr Miliband became leader in 2010 because of trades union support.
The controversy has been a gift for the Conservatives, who have long alleged that Mr Miliband is in the pocket of Unite, which has given £7 million in donations to the party since the last general election alone.
Mr McCluskey said he no longer trusted the party’s leadership, and the internal party investigation was “a stitch-up” that deliberately tried “to justify predetermined decisions”.
Following the investigation, Labour decided no Falkirk party member would be allowed to vote if they had joined after Labour MP Eric Joyce – who stands down in 2015 and whose reputation has been tarnished by a number of arrests for drunkenness and violence – announced his resignation in March. Saying that problems in Falkirk could have been fixed, Mr McCluskey said: “[This] has been used to smear Unite and its members. Even if the allegations of people being signed up to the party without their knowledge were true, this had nothing whatsoever to do with my union.”
The Falkirk constituency is just one where Unite has sought to play a key role in deciding who is the next Labour MP, since it argues that Labour needs more left-wing, working-class politicians.
Privately Unite claims that it in effect decided the selection in 20 constituencies over recent months, and that it hoped to be equally successful in 40 more shortly as Labour gears up for 2015.
Neither side wants this row to escalate, though the decision to refer the report to the police adds a note of uncertainty. “Let’s settle this down. Let’s resolve this issue,” said Mr McCluskey.