The real reason Labour is petrified of re-opening the Falkirk inquiry

by Atul Hatwal

Tomorrow is prime ministers’ questions. At the despatch box, when David Cameron faces Ed Miliband, political reality will collide with the la-la land Labour is living in on Falkirk.

As in July, David Cameron will use the fiasco to hammer Ed Miliband.

Labour MPs are dreading it. The Tory backbench barrackers can barely wait. Journalists are gleefully expecting great copy.

Already today, George Osborne crow-barred Falkirk into Treasury questions, such is the Tories’ eagerness to use it as a means of attacking Labour.

Come what may, the post-PMQs story tomorrow won’t be about energy or the living wage, but Ed Miliband’s leadership and the power of Unite over the Labour party.

Over the past few days the shrieks of “nothing to see here” from Labour’s high command have become ever louder and more desperate. We are long past the stage where rationality seems to drive the party’s actions.

It is politically unsustainable for the party to continue insisting all is well when figures as senior as Alistair Darling are calling for the inquiry to be re-opened and news reports related to Labour are increasingly dominated by this one issue.

And on the evidence that has emerged from the cache of over 1000 Ineos mails that were passed to the Sunday Times, the party appears to be wilfully averting its gaze. Ed Miliband was wrong today when he said that no new information had come to light on Falkirk.

Quite apart from whether key witnesses have or have not withdrawn their original complaints, if the Sunday Times e-mails are true there are several other potential rule breaches now in the public domain that merit further examination by the party.

For example, the Sunday Times reports,

“Separately, an email from Karie Murphy, the hard-left candidate Unite was trying to parachute into Falkirk, reveals a secret system that gave Labour members colour-coded star ratings based on their perceived loyalty to Unite.

It gave red stars to those considered the union’s opponents, yellow stars to female members who might back it and double green stars to those the union had specifically ‘recruited for the selection’.”

If the last phrase, “recruited for the selection” is accurate, then it seems Labour party procedures have been broken. The party rule-book is quite clear that members cannot just be recruited for selections. In Appendix 2 NEC procedural guidelines on membership recruitment and retention, the rule-book states,

“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.”

If the party was serious about its own rules then this one potential breach alone would have been cause at least for some further investigation.

But clearly the party is not interested, regardless of the damage or the new evidence that has emerged.

The question is why? Why would the Labour leadership indulge in such an apparent act political of self-harm by pretending nothing has changed on Falkirk?

The answer is that there is a far greater fear of the consequences for Ed Miliband if the inquiry is re-opened and a civil war with Unite ensues.

Beyond the potential financial cost to the party of withheld union donations, the leader’s office is scared about what will happen at the special conference next year on Ed Miliband’s proposals to reform the union link.

The spring special conference will be what is known within the party as a “recall conference.” This means the delegates from the last Labour party conference in Brighton will be recalled to discuss and then vote upon the proposals.

In that decision, the unions will have 50% of the votes with 50% in the hands of CLP delegates. If the Falkirk inquiry is re-opened, Unite – who are currently poised to vote for the reforms –  are likely to swing into the opposition camp.

Given the statements of the major unions’ general secretaries, a switch in allegiance by Unite would mean that all of the big unions would vote against the reforms. The Labour leadership might persuade some of the more centrist, smaller unions to endorse their approach but, they would still be faced by a solid block of 40%+ votes opposing reform before the special conference has even convened.

For Ed Miliband to win, he would need an absolutely overwhelming majority of the CLP vote in the order of 90%+. However, while Tony Blair won the backing of 90% of CLP delegates at the Clause IV special conference in 1995, Ed Miliband is extremely unlikely to achieve anything like that result.

We know this because we’ve already seen how this group of CLP delegates will vote at the recent Labour party conference.

Within the arcane world of Labour party internal politics, each year, at annual conference there is a vote on who is selected to sit on something called the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC). This committee decides how conference is run and the vote is always highly factionalised with the choice being between leadership candidates and slate backed by the hard left.

The result gives a good indication of the political leanings of CLP delegates.

This year, delegates backed the leadership candidates – the MPs, Heidi Alexander and Tom Blenkinsopp – by 57% to 43% over the left ticket of Pete Willsman and Katy Clark MP.

It means that although the majority of CLP delegates are likely to back Ed Miliband’s reforms, almost half are in the left camp and likely oppose the Labour leadership’s plans.

Without Unite or one of the other big unions backing the reform proposals, a crushing defeat at the special conference beckons for Ed Miliband.

This would ignite a media meltdown. It’s difficult to imagine a situation where the weakness of the leader was more viscerally demonstrated than to be defeated in such a manner. The contrast with Tony Blair and the 1995 special conference would be brutal.

This is the nightmare scenario which is scaring the leader’s office and is why they are petrified of re-opening the Falkirk inquiry.

The tragedy is, it didn’t have to be this way.

When drawing up plans for the special conference, the leadership could have called for new nominations for CLP delegates, working with constituency parties to make the pro-reform case and have more supportive CLP delegates selected.

Or they could have conducted a one member one vote consultation across the whole of the Labour party and called on the unions to do something similar, replicating parts of the process for the the election of Labour’s leader, with the results being announced at the special conference.

Either or both of these options would have tipped the odds decisively towards a rousing victory for Ed Miliband.

Instead, his advisers opted for a recall conference and as a result the political management of his union reform proposals has been badly bungled.

Ed Miliband effectively finds himself in a position where Len McCluskey and Unite hold a veto over his union link reform proposals.

Slow handclap for the leader’s office.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Labour Uncut

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19 Responses to “The real reason Labour is petrified of re-opening the Falkirk inquiry”

  1. Mario Dunn says:

    It’s a good article well reasoned. However, “defeat” for the leadership is a mutually assured destruction (MAD) scenario which would ultimately result in the trade unions losing a significant amount of influence in the party. Common sense and compromise must prevail next Spring and Ed M fully supported. If not we may as well pack up and go home.

    Falkirk is a painful distraction – but it is just that and no more.

  2. Nick says:

    It’s fraud contrary to the 2006 Fraud act. They have forge documents in order to obtain a job as a MP along with the pay and perks that go with it.

    Then there are the democratic issues on top.

    So what is it? Same rules as bankers? Some bankers commit crime so all bankers are criminals.

    What does that make Labour? A bunch of fraudsters.

  3. paul barker says:

    Thank you for your honesty. The Reform process was always going to be a moment of danger for Labour coming a few months before vital Euro/Local elections. The issues at the heart of the debate, involving Money, the Authority of The Leadership & the whole question of what Labour is for could not be more important.
    A deal has, apparently been done but such things can unravel very quickly if one of the participants feel they have had enough.On top of any clash of real interests there are some massive egos involved.
    I wish I could suggest a solution but I cant see one.

  4. Ex-Labour says:

    @ Mario Dunn

    “Falkirk is a painful distraction – but it is just that and no more”.

    This proves that Labour and its supporters are in complete denial. The only way for Miliband and the party as a whole to come of out this with any credit is to release the Falkirk report and re-open the investigation as Darling has called for.

    Some in Labour may regard this as a distraction but the public take note of it all.

  5. ancientpopeye says:

    Falkirk is the top of a can of worms.
    Milliband won’t want it to go further because it will inevitably lead to other misdemeanours, like postal voting and sheer intimidation.

  6. GasMan says:

    There is the old adage that “when in a hole, stop digging”. The problem here is that whilst Ed Miliband may be leaning on his shovel, Len McCluskey seems to be still driving the JCB.

  7. uglyfatbloke says:

    The problem with having an open enquiry – and possibly with releasing the documents from the last one – would be bringing the nature of a small group of west and central Scotland CLPs into the public domain.
    The chief problem with not doing so is that it looks like there is something to hide. Most CLPs – including almost very CLP in Scotland – would be totally horrified at the behaviour of a few – such as the strong habits of jobs for the boys and the relationship with the orange order.

  8. John says:

    Same ol’ unions with same ‘ol Labour allowing it all to happen
    The Kinnochio moment?

  9. Paul T Horgan says:

    As a non-activist and non-member, I have to say that the the current election processes of the Labour Party appear to be nothing less than ballot-rigging.

    Unlike the Tories and Lib-Dems, Labour seem to be incapable of creating transparent and easy-to-understand processes for electing members to senior positions and also determining policy. The rulebook does no forbid activities, but siply describes them as ‘an abuse of process’ or ‘unacceptable’. These terms are arguable and are not absolute.

    The indicators sent out to the wider public are that Labour is dishonest in its internal functions and that its leadership is corrupt.

  10. swatantra says:

    Have people so quickly forgotten the Tory Taliban in Norfolk?
    Ed should be advised to disclose, and clear this from his desk once and for all.
    And the Party should not be held to ransom by any mere pressure group or interest group, however much muscle they may have.

  11. Dan says:

    Like Paul T, I’m not an activist and not a member, so I have no dog in this fight.

    The main question I have thats arisen from this mess is the following; if Milliband can’t exert any control over some local brouhaha between a backwater Labour party and some Union hacks and then how can he be trusted to manage Big Boy politics if he becomes PM?

  12. Mike says:

    “Some in Labour may regard this as a distraction but the public take note of it all.”

    Oh, really? That explains why Labour’s poll ratings are at a 6-month high (currently higher than they were after the New Labour cheerleaders’ insistence on the leadership bashing the unions or on getting “economic credibility”, which only resulted in a slide in the polls).

    Face it, noone outside the Westminster bubble cares one jot about this. I’m glad that, for once, Ed is refusing to play into the Tories’ hands with his refusal to indulge this non-story further.

  13. GSilver says:

    as a member I asked our local unite union rep about what the frak was going on and I was effectively told … dont ask, nothing to see, move along move along!
    the line is it never happened and if it did, we did nothing wrong no matter what anyone says.
    someone has their head in the sand up to their buttocks I think

  14. Adam Wissen says:

    Mike talks sense. The rest of you are on another planet entirely. But hey that’s Labour Uncut for you.

  15. Allan says:

    The place that this is most keenly felt though is… er… here in Scotland. It’s where Falkirk is, some of you might try looking it up in an atlas.

    While Miliband is in a bit of trouble over this, it’s nothing compared to the “Scottish” Labour leader, Johann Lamont. Her vanishing act whenever this subject has come up is rather frightening. There is no indication of any input from her and there is no indication that there is any influence from her.

    What has been worse has been her performances on the media, where she has spent her time saying precisely nothing on the issue apart from platitudes. Had the SNP not had their own sort of local difficulties, Lamont would be in serious trouble – which might have been a blessing for “Scottish” Labour. Interestingly enough, the members of Falkirk Labour party have also called for the report to be released.

    While there are charges against Unite, I wonder if there are also instances of this kind of electorial jiggery pokery being pereptuated by those of a “Blairite” persuasion? After all, it can’t all be just the unions.

  16. Mike Homfray says:

    Adam and Mike are right. No wonder people call this site ‘Labour Unhinged’. There have been local rows about candidates before, and there will be again. The fact the sitting MP is a disgraced criminal who really should have been required to resign is the main problem

  17. john reid says:

    mike, hes faced five accounts of common asault, and a £600 fine, if everyone resigned becuase they had something like that, then half of us wouldn’t have jobs,

  18. paul barker says:

    The root of the Falkiek problem is that several large Unions have been taken over by various Far-Left groups. Unlike the 1980s there is nothing The Labour Leadership, The Membership or The PLP can do. Because of Labours unique structure Unions can influence CLPS & The NEC but not the other way round.
    Any reduction in Union influence can only come with Union agreement making it useless.
    Disafilliation is Politically & Financially impossible & that only leaves….pointless faffing about, pretending to make changes while staying the same.

  19. BenM says:

    No one cares about Falkirk except Tories and their fellow travellers on the Labour Right.

    Today’s ICM poll (Lab up 4) proves once again that no one dives into a foxhole faster than an obsessive rightwnger.

    It’s like the Republicans and their zealous idiocy over Benghazi in the run up to the 2012 presidential election.

    Labour can afford a smile at a time when a key policy proposal proves wildly popular, and its opponents disappear up their collective backsides.

    Well done Ed.

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