5 Jul 2013

The battle of Falkirk – 2013 that is, not 1298

Labour’s two most powerful figures, Ed Miliband and the leader of Unite, Len McCluskey, were attacking each other today in bitter language reminiscent of Labour’s internecine battles of the 1950s and ’80s.

Ed Miliband told me today that Labour’s cut-price scheme for union members to join the party was “abused, quite frankly by Unite in particular in Falkirk”, though not, he said by other unions.  “I’m incredibly angry that what has been happening in Falkirk has undermined the good name of trade union members, of Labour party members and the Labour party,” he said.

“My message to Len McCluskey,” said Mr Miliband, “is that instead of trying to defend the shabby practices that were going on in Falkirk he should be facing up to them, as the leader of Unite the union.”

Mr McCluskey said last night that Labour’s inquiry into Falkirk was “scandalous” in its shortcomings, and a “stitch-up”.   The report, he said, had been used to “smear Unite and its members”.

Unite say that none of the irregularities that may have occurred in Falkirk, and which are cited in the Labour party’s report, had anything to do with the union’s efforts there to get Unite members to become full member of the party. “If there was wrongdoing by anyone,” it wasn’t Unite, says an official.  He said: “All the members Unite signed up in Falkirk were willing recruits.”

The union says the two specific instances cited in the report are not actually proven by the document (which is about 20 pages long, I’m told), and were nothing to do with them.  They also say that these cases were referred to the inquiry by an “interested party”, Linda Gow, a Falkirk councillor who hoping to become Labour’s candidate for the next parliamentary election.

But senior figures in Unite recognise that the Labour Party’s special membership scheme for unions – which was scrapped by Ed Miliband yesterday – was, in the words of one senior Unite source, “asking for trouble”.  Until yesterday the website for the shopworkers’ union Usdaw had a video clip from Ed Miliband actually promoting the cut-price scheme.

Len McCluskey hit back this afternoon, accusing the party of being “absolutely amateurish” in their handling of Falkirk, and bowing to “anti-union Tory hysteria”.  He added: “It’s depressing that Labour leaders seem to have to have a clause four moment… Ed doesn’t need that…  I’m his friend.”

If they’re friends, one wonders why they don’t simply ring each other and try to sort this out.

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