Britain's biggest union has been accused of ignoring Labour rules in the way it is urging its members to back Ed Miliband in the party's leadership election.
Unite included a leaflet pledging its support for Mr Miliband along with the ballot papers for the contest it sent to its 950,000 members eligible to vote. "He understands the Labour Party needs to change and he is the best candidate to reconnect Labour with the concerns of ordinary working people," Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Unite's joint general secretaries, say in the leaflet.
The mailshot has angered supporters of David Miliband, who believe it breaks the spirit of Labour's rulebook. "This is sailing very close to the wind," said one Labour MP. After Gordon Brown resigned, Labour announced that it would tighten its rules so that unions would have to advise members how to vote in a separate mailing to the one including the ballot paper.
However, that was watered down after lobbying from union bosses, who said it would be too expensive. The compromise agreed was that a leaflet setting out a union's recommendation could be included in the same mailing as the voting paper – as long as it is in a separate envelope. A Unite spokesman insisted last night: "We are aware of the Labour rules and we have conformed with them." However, the Labour MP said the pro-Ed Miliband leaflet was in a transparent envelope, making a nonsense of the rule which said it should be kept apart from the ballot form.
Labour officials said the party had not received any complaints about Unite's conduct. A party spokesman said: "To help affiliated organisations save money it has been agreed that if they want to send ballot packs out alongside other publications then they can do that." Unions have a third of the votes in Labour's electoral college, as do MPs and party members. Union votes are counted on a "one member, one vote" basis within the college.
Ed Miliband has won the backing of the three biggest unions – Unite, Unison and the GMB. His brother David, who already has the support of more than 100 Labour MPs, yesterday won the backing of 100 Labour candidates who failed to win seats in this year's general election.
Figures released yesterday showed that David Miliband has raised £448,000 from individual donors for his leadership campaign, while Ed Miliband has received £328,000 – including £195,000 from individuals and £133,000 from unions.