Falkirk leak: nice timing for Ed Miliband’s union-party reforms

Did Labour sources leak the internal report which claims Unite manipulated the candidate selection?

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:27 ON Tue 4 Feb 2014

THE GUARDIAN has published the full report into union manipulation of the selection of the Labour candidate in last year’s Falkirk by-election – just a few hours before Ed Miliband asks the party's National Executive Committee to endorse his latest plans for reforming the party’s trade union links.

The report into alleged vote-rigging at Falkirk was suppressed by Miliband to limit the wider fallout on the party but prompted him to announce his plan last year to reform the way unions finance the Labour Party through the political levy. He is now proposing to go much further by changing the system to elect the party leader to one member one vote.

It amounts to the biggest change in Labour since Tony Blair abolished Clause Four of the party's constitution committing the party to public ownership, and it is being resisted by trade unionists and some Labour MPs who fear breaking the link with the unions.

Suspicions have been raised at the timing of the leak to The Guardian – because by exposing what happened at Falkirk it could help Miliband carry through his controversial reforms. BBC political correspondent Norman Smith tweeted this morning that Labour sources have denied "leaking Falkirk report to coincide with today's NEC meeting to approve Ed Miliband's union reforms". Perhaps they protest too much.

The 21-page Falkirk report concludes with eight damning findings including this: there was “no doubt that members were recruited in an attempt to manipulate party processes”.  

The inquiry also found evidence that members were recruited without their knowledge, that "signatures were forged" and that deliberate attempts were made to frustrate interviews by the inquiry.

The Falkirk by-election came about because of a punch-up in a Commons bar which led to the removal of the sitting Labour MP, Eric Joyce. This created the vacancy which the Unite union sought to exploit as part of a publicly declared campaign to get more Unite-linked Labour candidates in Parliament and generally to create more working-class Labour MPs.

Police decided last summer not to take the matter further and Labour Party officials announced there was no proof of wrong-doing as the key evidence had been withdrawn. Unite members involved in the selection process continue to deny any wrong-doing and claim the inquiry report is flawed.

So what exactly will Miliband be pushing for at today’s meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee?

His proposed leadership election system would replace the electoral college in which MPs, constituencies and unions each had a third of the vote (Ed Miliband had fewer MPs voting for him than his brother David but grabbed the crown by winning the trade union section).

Under Miliband’s plan, MPs would have sole nomination rights for leadership candidates and those candidates would need the backing of 15 per cent of Labour MPs to run. All union members would have to “double opt-in” if they wanted to vote in the leadership contest. They would have to say that they are content to give money to Labour and that they want to become “an affiliated supporter”. Only full party members - not trade union “affiliated supporters” - would choose parliamentary and council candidates.

The Observer carried a helpful guide to ‘Project Miliband’ on Sunday, covering the gurus (Michael E Porter Dominic Barton MD of McKinsey, Paul Polman CEO of Unilever), the key players (aides Stewart Wood, Stan Greenberg, Arnie Graf, and Richard Lloyd of consumer champion Which?) and the essential books to read (The Bully Pulpit, a biography of Teddy Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Varieties of Capitalism by Peter Hall and David Soskice). Miliband may want the internal report into Falkirk added to this "must-read" list to convince his party the reforms are necessary. ·