Labour hands Falkirk report to the police: what laws could Unite have broken?

If the allegation that the union signed up members to Labour without their knowledge or consent is proven, it could be charged with fraud.

The war between Labour and Unite has reached a new level with the announcement that the party has handed its report on the alleged irregularities in Falkirk to the police.   

So what laws could the union have broken? If the allegation that it signed up members to Labour without their knowledge or consent is proven, Unite could find itself in breach of the Data Protection Act, which requires individuals to give permission for their personal details to be passed to other organisations, and guilty of fraud by false representation. 

As the Tories have been quick to point out, Conservative MP Henry Smith wrote to Scottish police yesterday asking them to investigate whether or not the union was guilty of the latter charge. He noted: "Under Scots law, the common law offence of fraud involves a false pretence made dishonestly in order to bring about some definite practical result.

"In this instance, it may be that Unite has made a false instrument in the form of the application forms and a false declaration, with the aim of signing up members without their knowledge in order to influence the Labour Party selection process.

"In addition to this, as these applications were signed on behalf of members without their knowledge, a crime of 'uttering' may have taken place through tendering forged documents with an intention to defraud."

Labour's decision to follow suit shows that it is now determined to be seen to take all necessary action against Unite. 

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.