When Ed Miliband condemned Unite’s “machine politics” in Falkirk, did he forget his office had signed-off on their tactics?

by Atul Hatwal

The Times today carried some revelatory new details on Falkirk (£). Strangely, they seemed to miss the real significance of what they’ve got (assuming the Ineos e-mails are as reported and what they say is true).

Their story focuses on a deal agreed between Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, and Len McCluskey to ensure Unite members who were recruited into the party via the old “union join” scheme, where the union pays the first year of subs, were all moved onto direct debit so future payment could be assured.

The prospect of Labour’s general secretary cutting a deal with a union boss is hardly edifying but it’s not the big story. More interesting are the implications of an e-mail  from 21st January this year that is cited in the piece.

The mail is from Steve Hart, Unite’s political director at the time, to Karie Murphy, the Unite candidate and Tom Warnett, Unite’s political co-ordinator.  In it, Hart refers to delays by a sceptical Labour membership department, in processing the mass of new Unite recruits, stating,

“I was advised the week before Xmas that these had all been processed — advised by Jenny Smith [Ed Miliband’s union adviser at the time] and Scott Landon [Iain McNicol’s chief of staff] — but it is for the party to confirm authority, not us.”

Originally, the Sunday Times published the mail, but the names had been redacted. The inclusion of the names tells us that the leader’s office not only knew about Unite’s plans, they agreed them.

Dan Hodges picked up on the real importance of the revelations earlier today when he wrote,

“Back in July he [Ed Miliband] had said: ‘I am here to talk about a different politics, a politics that is open. Transparent. And trusted. Exactly the opposite of the politics we’ve recently seen in Falkirk. A politics that was closed. A politics of the machine. A politics that is rightly hated…’

But all the time his office had been supporting a deal with Len McCluskey to enable him to rig the selection.”

Think about it for a moment.

The member of the leader’s office responsible for relations with the unions knew what Unite wanted to do, how they were going about it and signed-off on it.  It strains credulity given the subsequent furore that Ed Miliband was not told about the agreement.

This fundamentally changes the context for Ed Miliband’s speech launching the union link reforms in July this year. When he spoke, attacking “machine politics” and what had gone on in Falkirk, it is very likely Ed Miliband did so in the full knowledge that his team had given the green light to Unite’s activities in the constituency.

That there were allegations of members being signed-up to the party without their knowledge is irrelevant to the charge Ed Miliband was making. The leitmotif of “machine politics” is to stay within the letter of the party rules while securing a selection result. It is why a specific clause was added to the Labour party rule-book, to outlaw recruitment driven solely to fix selections,

“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.” Para 1A (v), Appendix 2, NEC procedural guidelines on membership recruitment and retention, Labour party rule book

Falkirk constituency Labour party remains in special measures. No-one recruited by Unite in their membership surge will be eligible to vote in the selection of the new candidate and the selection process is being administered by the national, not local, party.

It begs the question, when Ed Miliband condemned Unite’s “machine politics” in Falkirk, did he forget his office had signed-off on their tactics?

Atul Hatwal is the editor of Uncut

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14 Responses to “When Ed Miliband condemned Unite’s “machine politics” in Falkirk, did he forget his office had signed-off on their tactics?”

  1. Robert says:

    Unions paying for the first year of membership was allowed at the time and it seems reasonable for Labour to arrange for direct debits when the new members needed to pay for their own membership. I also do not understand how Unite could guarantee that people who did not know that they had been recruited to the Labour Party would vote for their candidate. In any case, the penultimate paragraph of the article makes clear that the situation has been dealt with properly since the summer.

  2. Mike says:

    …….and still noone cares. 10% lead in today’s poll.

  3. Robert says:

    I have just been looking at polls in 1986 and 1991 on UK Polling Report. Labour’s support in November in those years was about the same as it is now but the Tories are doing much worse now. So Labour is likely to fall back to 35% or even less but the Tories are unlikely to get more than 40% like they did in 1987 and 1992. Another hung Parliament is looking more and more likely.

  4. Danny says:

    It’s always very reassuring when the Times miss a way to spin more negativity towards the Labour Party and the Union link that we can rely on Labour “supporters” like Dan Hodges and Atul Hatwal to do it for them.

    When we have a Tory Party in the pockets of lobbyists allowing rich millionaires to dictate policy that is harming millions, it’s great that this little corner of the internet, which falsely uses the term “Labour” in its title, are exerting their efforts to move Labour away from a party rooted to workers and towards one anchored to big business. We already have a party like that, thanks.

    Still, the polling is looking favourable for Labour and Ed Miliband at the moment, so what else can Atul Hatwal write about? His little brain churns its cogs and runs the following formula; Labour polling good = write bad things about unions, Labour polling bad = write bad things about Ed Miliband.

    If it looks like a Tory and sounds like a Tory, it probably is a Tory.

  5. John reid says:

    Robert look at the polls in abov 85 and 90′ as the election is 18 months away, 1990 is going to give an unfair statistic as, just befor Thatcher and the poll tax went, labour were ahead in some polls by 22%

  6. John reid says:

    What does a Tory look and sound like. Pre David Cameron, their 6 leaders were all working class, they dressed smart,

  7. Ex Labour says:

    @ Danny

    Or you could spin it Danny “Labour leader lies to the public” if they (Atul & Dan) really wanted to go for it. Maybe Miliband knew, maybe not – there are those closer to the Labour leadership than me who know.

    Having now seen what is in the public domain, I think its reasonable to ask Milibamd what he knew when he made his statement and come clean about whats in the Falkirk report. Either way this information is new and needs to be addressed.

    Oh and by the way, those Tory millionaires dictating policy eh ? Its a pity that yet again according to published figures the unions are by far the largest donators to……. Labour. Well who’d have thought it – those union millionaires dictating policy to a union flunky !

  8. Fred says:

    Danny is the epitome of an unreconstructed lefty. Atul and Hodges report based upon real emails that show lies and deceit. Danny doesn’t see this as relevant.

    As a proper loyal soldier who wont tolerate dissent he wants the same from you. The best he’s got in his arsenal is to call you a Tory.

    Well Danny, you keep on believing and we’ll keep on looking at the truth.

  9. uglyfatbloke says:

    Trouble is, this sort of thing is pretty ordinary in several West of Scotland CLPs along with a tradition of mutual back-scratching and some very dodgy pals. No CLP in England would even want to establish a chummy relationship with the orange order, let alone assist them in choosing routes for their poisonous ‘marches’ that are guaranteed to be offensive to any Roman Catholic the way Glasgow Council’s governing Labour group does.

  10. paul barker says:

    I still think you havent got down to the root of the problem. Theres nothing Labour can do about the Far-Left takeover of major Unions. Millibands only viable strategy is to persuade Unite et al to gradually withdraw while weaning the Party off its dependence on Union money.
    As a long-term strategy it might work & I dont see any alternative. What would Labour moderates do if they were in charge?

  11. Mike says:

    But you’re all missing the point about WHY this is a non-story. It doesn’t actually matter if it’s proven Miliband was directly involved in this whole affair. The point is, outside of the Tories and the hardcore pessimist fringe of Labour, no-one actually thinks it’s a big deal that a candidate selection was stitched up. THAT’S why this story hasn’t caught the public’s imagination. In fact, most people probably assume ALL political parties stitch up ALL their candidacies, and most people would say there’s a lot more dodgy things politics needs to sort out before this. That’s why it doesn’t even matter if you discover a “smoking gun” that even shows this whole thing was Ed’s idea and he personally signed up these phantom members, the public still won’t care.

  12. Robert says:

    John Reid, I have looked at the polls in 1985 and 1990, as you suggested. Labour is doing better than in 1985 now, which confirms that Labour is on course to get a 35% share of the vote in 2015. Not surprisingly, Labour is doing worse now than before Thatcher resigned but there would have been a Labour landslide if she had stayed as Prime Minister. The polls in early 1991 were similar to later that year.

  13. GasMan says:

    Mike, it is all about trust. If Ed agreed the process with Unite and then got all “shocked” in public it does not bode well. Throw into the debate his about turn over Syria and it makes you question how good his “word” is. If your own people don’t really trust you and neither do your opponents it cannot be a healthy position.

    Clinton and Bellesconi were a couple of rogues but they had a certain charisma that rather overweighed their negative attributes in the voters’ minds. No one has ever seriously claims Ed is charismatic.

  14. uglyfatbloke says:

    Robert…vote-share is n’t really as useful an indicator as all that. it’s perfectly possible to to lose the election despite having more votes because we don’t have a democratic electoral system. Also, there’s regional variation. Unless there is some very dramatic shift among the voters the Scottish gnats are going to have a field day at the next GE (assuming that they lose the referendum) because they will get the benefit of FPTP instead of Labour and of course they are going to benefit from the demise of the Scottish glib-dumbs. These things probably would n’t be enough to prevent a Labour majority, but it won’t make things any easier.

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