By a Newsnet reporter
The crisis in the Labour party has dramatically deepened after Conservative MP Henry Smith wrote to Police Scotland asking them to look into Labour’s selection process in Falkirk.
Following Mr Smith’s intervention, Labour leader Ed Miliband made a formal request to the police for the matter to be investigated, amidst warnings that the party may “review” its historic links to the trades union movement.
Although Labour sources were insisting yesterday that the move was a sign of “strong leadership” on the part of Mr Miliband, jubilant Tories are claiming that the Labour leader was bounced into calling for police involvement after Mr Smith’s letter to the Chief Constable of Scotland, Sir Stephen House, asking for a criminal investigation be carried out.
The Conservative MP claimed that fraud may have been committed after new Labour party members were allegedly signed up to the without their knowledge in an attempt to influence the selection process to find a candidate to replace the disgraced MP Eric Joyce. Mr Smith also raised the question of whether forged documents had been tendered during the controversial selection process, an offence known as uttering.
In his letter to Sir Stephen House, Mr Smith wrote:
“I am deeply concerned that a serious offence may have been committed in this instance. I would be very grateful if you could investigate this as a matter of urgency, in the interest of protecting the integrity of the democratic process in Scotland.”
Shortly after news of Mr Smith’s letter came to light, Labour announced that it had handed over a dossier of information on the affair to Police Scotland, and was calling for a full police investigation.
Speaking to the BBC, Chuka Umunna MP, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said:
“We took advice from lawyers yesterday in relation to the Falkirk matter and as a result of the advice given have decided to refer it to the police.”
The police investigation represents a serious escalation of the bitter dispute between Labour and its main union funder Unite, and follows the resignation from the shadow cabinet of the party’s election co-ordinator Tom Watson MP.
Mr Watson’s office manager Karie Murphy is at the centre of the controversy, as the candidate backed by Unite in its efforts to ensure that the new MP does not belong to the party’s Blairite faction – which was recently severely criticised by Unite’s leader Len McCluskey.
Following an internal Labour report into the selection process, Ms Murphy and local party chair Stephen Deans were suspended from the Labour party. Despite repeated calls from Unite and senior figures within the party, Labour has refused to publish the report.
Leaks of the report suggest that other potential candidates for the seat may also have been involved in irregularities, including one with ties to Jim Murphy MP, one of the Blairites slammed by Mr McCluskey.
Unite reacted with anger to the call from Mr Miliband for the police to be involved, and strenously denied any wrong-doing, claiming that the party’s report was a “stitch up” and complaining that Ms Murphy and Mr Deans had been suspended from the party without being given the opportunity to challenge the report’s findings.
The union is calling for an independent inquiry.
In a furious letter to Iain McNicol, Labour’s General Secretary, Unite leader Len McCluskey said that he had lost all confidence in the Labour leadership. Mr McCluskey wrote:
“I 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.”
In a later statement, Mr McCluskey added: “The Labour leadership is now being caught up in anti-union Tory hysteria. I am as amazed as everybody else is at this.”
He added: “As far as Unite are concerned, we have done nothing wrong. We are being attacked mercilessly by the media. We’ve had shadow cabinet members saying that Unite have ‘overstepped the mark’. What does that mean?
“We asked too many of our members to join the Labour Party. We should have told them that the Labour Party was full up perhaps? It is a nonsense.”
In response, Mr Miliband who owes his position as leader of Labour to the union, accused Mr McCluskey of defending malpractice and said:
“He should not be defending the machine politics involving bad practice and malpractice that went on there, he should be facing up to it.
“Let nobody be in any doubt. There is only going to be one outcome to this: the Labour Party will act in a way that upholds the integrity of our party, the integrity of our party members and the integrity of ordinary trade union members.
“I will not allow the good name of the Labour Party to be undermined by the behaviour of a few individuals.”
The support of Unite was crucial to Ed Miliband in 2010 when its backing ensured he narrowly defeated brother David to replace Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour party – the result saw Miliband dubbed ‘Red Ed’. Last year Unite donated over £8m to Mr Miliband’s Labour party.
Despite this, it is now thought that Mr Miliband will use the dispute to review Labour’s historic ties to the trades union movement and distance the party even further from its traditional support base. The modern Labour party was founded by the trades union movement as a means of giving political voice to the aspirations of union members.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Friday, a former Labour cabinet minister said:
“We need to have a commission that looks at the union link. All the general secretaries need to sign up to it. We need to get to a place where you simply have one category of Labour party members. There should no longer be a formal union affiliation.
“Of course, if unions want to donate to the party they can. Ed is not there yet. But he will be. He acts in a deliberative way. But when he makes a decision he moves very rapidly.”
In a surprise move, the MP whose controversies led to the selection process after he was expelled from Labour has himself now waded into the row.
Eric Joyce has described Unite’s behaviour in the selection process as “amateurish and irresponsible”. The former MP who himself has been involved in a string of scandals which led to his expulsion from the Labour party wrote:
“In Falkirk I’ve found them [Unite] to be a stabilising influence in partnership with the Labour party. Until now.
“The amateur, hubristic and irresponsible actions of a small number of Unite officials at the top of the organisation will require some rules to be changed to prevent another Falkirk”.
Despite being convicted of assault and revelations of an affair with a teenage schoolgirl, Joyce has refused to step down as MP for the area.
The current situation in Falkirk has led to criticism of Labour’s Scottish leader Johann Lamont who has yet to make any public statement on the fresh crisis in the Scottish constituency.
In February Ms Lamont faced similar criticisms after she remained silent for several days after Joyce’s antics in a House of Commons bar, where he assaulted several people in a drunken brawl, led to his expulsion from Labour.
The refusal of the Scottish Labour MP to resign his seat was apparently met with relief by the Labour party who were worried over the prospect of a Scottish by-election. According to the Daily Record, one Labour source said: “They really would rather have a nutter in that seat than a Nat.”
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