Labour and Unite at war: McCluskey accuses party HQ of a "stitch-up"

The Unite general secretary hits back after Labour announces the end of the "union join" scheme and suspends Unite candidate Karie Murphy from the party.

After weeks of criticism over Unite's alleged manipulation of the Falkirk selection process, culminating in the resignation of Tom Watson earlier today, the Labour machine has swung into action tonight. The party has announced the end of the "union join" scheme, which allowed trade unions to pay the first year's subscriptions of party members they recruited, and has suspended Karie Murphy, the Unite-backed candidate in Falkirk, and Stephen Deans, the chair of Falkirk CLP, from the party. Here's the full statement:

“We announced on 26th June that the General Secretary was going to review membership procedures.

“Ed Miliband is determined to uphold the integrity of Parliamentary selections and, therefore, as a result of that review we have several more measures to announce today.

In the light of the activities of Unite in Falkirk we will end the ‘union join’ scheme.

“Union join was established before Ed Miliband became Leader of the Labour Party with the aim of legitimately encouraging ordinary members of trade unions to become members of the Labour Party.

“However, due to the results of Unite in Falkirk it has become open to abuse but also open to attacks from our opponents that damage Labour. 

“In particular it was a mistake to have a scheme where others pay for people to join the party. Ed Miliband has today ended the scheme. Ordinary members of trade unions should join Labour and they will continue to be encouraged to do so, but that cannot be through schemes that can be tied to individual parliamentary selections or open to attack from our opponents.

“We have also suspended two members of the Labour Party from holding office or representing the Labour Party.

“They are: Karie Murphy and Stephen Deans who is the chair of Falkirk CLP.

“There have been allegations that they may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules. These relate to allegations concerning potential abuse of membership rules.

“The administrative suspension means that you cannot attend any party meetings and that they cannot be considered for selection as a candidate to represent the Labour Party at an election at any level.”

In a letter to Labour general secretary Iain McNicol this evening, Len McCluskey has responded by accusing the party HQ of a "stitch-up" and demanding an independent inquiry into the Falkirk affair. Here's his letter in full:

"Simply a ‘stitch-up’ [the report] designed to produce some evidence, however threadbare, to justify predetermined decisions taken in relation to Falkirk CLP. 

"Even on the basis of this flimsy report, it is clear that these decisions cannot be justified. There is no emergency which would justify imposing these undemocratic restrictions, since any real problems could easily be addressed before embarking on a parliamentary selection process. 

"The report 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. 
"It is noteworthy that members of the shadow cabinet have been in the lead in initiating this attack upon Unite. Have they had sight of this report while I, the leader of the union put in the frame, has not had the courtesy of a copy? 

"The mishandling of this investigation has been a disgrace. I, however, am obliged to uphold the integrity of Unite, and I can no longer do so on the basis of going along with the activities of a Labour party administration in which I can place no trust. 

"I will therefore be publicly proposing that an independent inquiry be held into all circumstances relating to Falkirk CLP and the conduct of all parties involved, including Unite, the Labour party centrally (including the Compliance Unit) and in Scotland, the officers of the CLP itself, and all those who have sought or are seeking nomination as the Labour PPC. 
"Unite will cooperate fully with such an inquiry, and draw appropriate conclusions from any findings regarding our own behaviour. I trust that you will support such an inquiry, will direct all Labour party employees to cooperate with it and encourage other individuals to do likewise." 

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage