Why won't Labour publish the Falkirk report?

Labour figures believe the party fears the evidence against Unite is embarrassingly thin.

The police's decision not to launch a criminal investigation into Unite over its alleged manipulation of the Falkirk selection contest has achieved the rare feat of uniting the Conservatives and Len McCluskey in agreement. Both are demanding that Ed Miliband publish Labour's internal inquiry into the affair (which was passed to the police), as are Labour figures, including Tom Watson and David Blunkett. The party, however, which is now pursuing disciplinary action against Stephen Deans and Karie Murphy (the two suspended Unite members) "as a matter of urgency", is insistent that it will do no such thing.

So why the obstinacy? Among Labour figures there are two main theories. The first is that the evidence against Unite is embarrassingly thin. The Guardian's Seumas Milne, one of the few (perhaps only) journalists to have seen the report, recently wrote that while "a handful of members were signed up without their knowledge (by family members)" and there were "'discrepancies in the signatures' of four others (suggesting some may have been forged)", "the union isn't held directly responsible". 

The second is that the report would implicate others in the party and spark a new scandal. Diane Abbott recently commented that "one of the things the report might reveal is that Unite weren’t the only ones signing up members in the run-up to this selection". Suspicion has fallen on Gregor Poynton, one of the other Falkirk candidates and the husband of Labour MP Gemma Doyle, who is alleged to have handed over a cheque for £137 in June 2012 to pay the membership fees of 11 people. Milne, however, reported that Poynton, like Unite, was not held "directly responsible" in the inquiry.

How this debacle will end remains unclear. But the most striking thing today is how Labour unity is fraying. Abbott, who is Labour's shadow public minister, earlier retweeted Michael Crick's claim that "Miliband won't publish cos evidence agst Unite is weak, and others implicated too", while in response to Ian Austin, who noted the Tories' failure to publish their report into Aidan Burley's stag party antics, Tom Watson simply replied: "publish both". The longer the cloud of suspicion continues to hang over Unite, the greater the pressure for transparency is likely to become. 

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.