After Falkirk, the pretence of trade-union democracy is coming to an end

Miliband seemed to take the allegations as a personal affront

Share

When Ed Miliband found out what was going on in Falkirk Labour Party, I am told, he was “storming”. He said it was “outrageous”, and had to be dissuaded by his advisers from immediately going public and condemning Unite, the trade union, for trying to fix the selection of the parliamentary candidate there. 

Which was endearingly naive of him - or calculatingly disingenuous. When the allegations of union interference in the selection first surfaced, I thought little of them. Falkirk is a safe Labour seat. The party’s selection of its candidate is, in effect, the general election in that seat. That is why these decisions are so hard-fought, regardless of party. That is why the internal Tory strife in the de-selections of Anne McIntosh and Tim Yeo has been so intense.

The signing up of new members is what candidates who are serious about getting selected have to do. It helps if they have networks of supporters to help them, whether they are trade unions, churches or local publicans. And it is to be expected that, with the stakes so high, the rules will be stretched or broken.

What was surprising about Miliband’s reaction to procedural irregularities in Falkirk was that, as well as sending in national officials to investigate the allegations, which is standard, he seemed to take it as a personal affront, an insult to democracy and a national emergency.

Today, the report compiled by Labour’s national officials has finally been published. This has long been “suppressed” - that is, not published - which has allowed both the Conservative Party and Len McCluskey, the innocence-protesting general secretary of Unite, to claim that Miliband’s minions are up to no good. The truth is much less interesting, as usual, which is that the report has a lot of private individuals’ names in it (many of them censored in the version now public) and all the main allegations have been reported by journalists already.

Specifically, the report says: “There is written evidence that at least eight persons did not know what they were signing when they were 'recruited'.” And: “There is written evidence that one person believes they were pressured into signing a direct debit mandate.”

Well, sit down and put a shot of brandy in that cup of tea. What usually happens in these situations is that those members would be taken off the list and the selection run without them. Any candidate involved might be excluded. Which is what happened in Falkirk, and Karen Whitefield has now been chosen as Labour’s candidate for next year’s general election.

Meanwhile, however, Miliband used the Falkirk stramash as the cause, or the excuse, to rewrite the rules governing Labour’s relations with the unions. Whether his outrage at Unite’s sharp practice was synthetic or not, what he proposes at next month’s special party conference is brave and right. He was elected Labour leader by union bosses bending the rules in his favour - sending out “Vote Ed” flyers with the ballot papers and denying access to their membership lists to other candidates - but now he is prepared to do the right thing and change the rules for his successor.

These are important reforms. The pretence of trade-union democracy within the Labour Party - that union officials at party conference or on party committees represent what their members want - is now, at last, coming to an end. Labour is moving, gradually, to a direct relationship with trade union members rather than relying on cheques from union bosses.

The paradox is that this has nothing to do with Falkirk. Union officials have had no role in Labour candidate selections since John Smith’s reform of 1993. No role, that is, except to try to recruit people into the Labour Party, which, as long as it does not include signing people up without their knowledge, everyone agrees is a good thing.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone