by Atul Hatwal
For the past few days, the debacle in Falkirk West has been the main news story relating to the Labour party. The allegations of entryism by Unite are well known as is Labour’s response: to place the constituency in special measures and bar anyone who joined after 12th March 2012 from voting in the parliamentary selection.
But, new information has emerged that suggests the problems maybe even more serious. The latest allegations centre on a potential breach of the 2006 fraud act and a subsequent attempt to induce those who had complained , to change their testimony before the national party could investigate.
The Unite defence against claims of foul play in the constituency has been that the recruitment of union members, with their annual subscription paid by the union, is within party rules.
This is true, but only on the condition that the new members would actually be willing to pay the subscription themselves and want to join the Labour party to participate as individuals, not as part of a bloc interested only in manipulating selection processes.
In terms of payment of subscriptions, the rules are clear:
“It is an abuse of party rules for one individual or faction to ‘buy’ party membership for other individuals or groups of individuals who would otherwise be unwilling to pay their own subscriptions. “ Clause II Membership procedures, Chapter 2 Membership rules, Labour party rulebook 2013
As they are on the motivation of new recruits for joining the party,
“iii. The party is anxious to encourage the recruitment of new members and to ensure that new members are properly welcomed into the party and opportunities offered to enable their full participation in all aspects of party life.
iv. The party is, however, concerned that no individual or faction should recruit members improperly in order to seek to manipulate our democratic procedures.
v. The health and democracy of the party depends on the efforts and genuine participation of individuals who support the aims of the party, wish to join the party and get involved with our activities. The recruitment of large numbers of ‘paper members’, who have no wish to participate except at the behest of others in an attempt to manipulate party processes, undermines our internal democracy and is unacceptable to the party as a whole.” Sub-sections (iii)-(v), Section A, Appendix 2 NEC procedural guidelines on membership recruitment and retention, Labour party rulebook 2013
The party investigation into Falkirk West was prompted by complaints made by two families who mysteriously found that they had suddenly become Labour party members, despite never signing the forms to join the party.
They complained to the local party, to local councillors, and sources suggest, the police.
There’s no question: these families were unwilling to pay their own subscriptions and did not want to join the party. They had no idea why they were members.
The breach of Labour party rules in this case is bad enough, but more seriously it has emerged that there is also likely to have been a breach of criminal law.
Whoever completed the families’ bogus applications and validated them will have will have contravened section 2 of the 2006 fraud act under the terms of “false misrepresentation.”
The act defines “false misrepresentation” as someone who,
“(a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and (b) intends, by making the representation, to gain for himself or another or causes loss to another/exposes another to a risk of loss” Subsection 1, Section 2, Fraud Act 2006
Submitting completed forms to the Labour party for these families, without their knowledge, constituted misrepresentation, while the expectation that the families were prepared to pay their own annual subscription exposed them to the “risk of loss.”
Legal sources have confirmed to Uncut that if local members of Unite or the CLP signed up new recruits to the Labour party in this way, they will have breached the act and broken the law.
As the imbroglio in Falkirk West began to spin out of control earlier this year and the national party began its investigations into allegations of bogus membership applications, Uncut understands that an attempt was then made to persuade the families to change their story and say they had intended to join the party.
Both families were visited by senior members from the Unite faction in the local Labour party before they could be interviewed by the two-person NEC inquiry team, with this in mind.
However, these attempts to interfere with the complainants backfired and in one case, the intervention was angrily rebuffed by the family.
The result is a situation where it seems that the law has likely been broken with an attempt to subvert a national party inquiries.
In the light of these new developments, it is difficult for the party to simply move on without further investigation or comment.
If an individual or a group locally in Falkirk West have broken the law, and the NEC inquiry has found evidence of this illegality then it is incumbent on the party to hand over the files to the police and allow the law to take its course.
If local members of Unite or the party attempted to interfere with investigations by the national party, Labour will need to uphold its own rules on the proper conduct in these situations.
Actions must have consequences. Otherwise the law of the land and the rules of the party are meaningless.
Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut