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“There was no major vote rigging scandal in Falkirk” say BBC

r4report Fight over Falkirk image

An excellent BBC Radio 4 investigation into the Falkirk row was broadcast on Thursday evening following the Scottish police announcement that there was insufficient evidence to justify an investigation, never mind bringing any charges. It described the row as “much ado about nothing” and concluded that there was no major vote rigging scandal. You can listen to the half-hour broadcast here or download the podcast (available indefinitely).

The BBC’s investigation explores whether there was any substance in the allegations of Unite vote rigging in Falkirk. It examines the local history from the exclusion of Dennis Canavan (“a good MP for 25 years” ) from the panel to select a Scottish parliamentary candidate, through the departure of half of the local party membership and the imposition of Eric Joyce who it seem was universally “scunnered.” They speak to many of the key figures in Falkirk, and and it is clear that some party members like local councillor Dennis Goldie resented some of the actions of Unite, which Unite were entirely open about and viewed as “exemplary.” There were tensions in the party too — though that’s hardly unusual. However, the BBC findings are disturbing:

  • “Labour’s ruling body didn’t see the full report before placing Falkirk into special measures.” Apart from Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman (and a handful of senior party staff), almost no-one on Labour’s national executive nor even in the sub-group who were involved in the key decisions about Falkirk, have been allowed to read the full report of the party’s secret investigation that was conducted by one member of the party compliance unit and one “young Labour activist based in Scotland.
  • “The body of that report doesn’t appear to support the executive summary.” The “Strictly Private and Confidential” summary of the report — the only part that those who made decisions were allowed to see — does list a host of serious wrong-doing: “that members were recruited without their knowledge… that members were pressured into completing direct debit forms… evidence that signatures were forged on either application forms or direct debit mandates,” all leaving “no doubt members were recruited in an attempt to manipulate party processes“.
  • “The handful of applications that appear to be troubling were not recruited through the Unite route anyway.” For example, some of those who it was claimed did not know they were members are quoted as having “said they had been asked whether they wanted to join and said they did.” They were in any case not members of Unite, and their membership fees were not paid by Unite. Seumas Milne who has read the entire report says:

I think the executive summary is the bit where the party officials have tried to get the result which obviously was wanted, which is to show that there is something deeply dodgy going on in Falkirk and the evidence just isn’t there in their own report… the evidence which is assembled in the rest of the report is much more fragmentary, it’s certainly not forensic, it certainly doesn’t back up allegations of forgery.

What appears to be the basis of the claims that there may have been forgery is the fact that some signatures do not tally between direct debit forms and membership application forms for which there could be a number of explanations.

  • “The country’s largest trade union has had its reputation dragged through the mud unnecessarily.” And yet Ed Miliband was allowed by his advisers to specifically attack Unite and Len McCluskey himself telling him to face up to “malpractice” and insisting the union should not be defending “machine politics“, adding in an interview with Sky News:

I think that Len McCluskey hasn’t behaved well in this process, I think he should have faced up to the serious concerns that there were in Falkirk.

Ed’s advisers  who had read the full report (though not General Secretary Iain McNichol) advised Ed to hand over the matter to the Police in spite of the fact that it must have been clear that this was not going to lead to a prosecution but would escalate the row. One of the Labour Party’s executive directors (whom we have chosen not to name) even suggested suspending the affiliation of Unite, the party’s largest affiliate. The only possible explanation for this action is that it was a deliberate attempt to up the stakes in order to justify the “Clause IV moment” strategy which was to follow – Ed’s decision to fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between the party and the trade unions. As investigative reporter Hannah Barnes said:

There was, as far as we can see, no major vote rigging scandal in Falkirk. And there will be no police prosecutions. The selection debacle there was much ado about nothing. But it was the catalyst – some might say excuse – for a historic shift in Labour’s financial relationship with the unions. The battle for Falkirk will soon be forgotten but the consequences for Labour will be felt for many years to come.”

Duncan O’Leary, former SpAd & now deputy direct of DEMOS accepted that this wasn’t really about Falkirk but denied that this was the work of the Blairites “most of whom have… left frontline politics,” though he did provide an explanation which sounded like what many would describe as a Blairite or Progress view:

These are overdue changes that needed to happen in any case. What Ed Miliband is really doing is addressing what is a strategic weakness both in the way that the party is viewed but also something which is fundamental to renewing a fundamental Labour Party democracy.”

It is now abundantly clear why the full report into what happened in Falkirk has not been published. It is also clearer than ever why it should now be published. Unless it is published, there can be no doubt that its executive summary is just another dodgy dossier, the fabricated smears against Unite the latest equivalent of the claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Just part of the plan to ensure that Labour’s leader gets his way. No-one will die if he does, on this occasion, but the effect on the Labour Party will be destructive.


  1. James Martin says:

    So there we have it. It would be interesting if those who have been suspended sought a legal opinion on defamation of character wouldn’t it?

    And what are the implications for Milliband here? Because if we buy into the line that he was ‘misled’ by advisors then that shows appalling weakness and misjudgement on his part, and it follows that he should be removed.

    If, on the other hand, he was in on the lies from the start then it shows both appalling politics and serious misjudgement, and it follows that he should be removed…

  2. Geraint Thomas says:

    Unlikely Jo, it’s more likely to do with the right wing of Labour trying to prevent unite from gaining any real say in the party’s actions, as part of the final stages of becoming a full capitalist party, and thus winning over tory donors to fund them too. This story was created by the Labour prty, the likes of mandelson and milliband. The tories just jumped on the bandwagon

  3. Rod says:

    Then we’re left with an opportunist campaign, led by Miliband, to discredit the unions and prevent ordinary people from participating in politics.

    One can only wonder – what will Labour’s out of touch elite do next?

  4. Brian Capaloff says:

    I write as someone who has seen what has been going on here from a Falkirk executive that has been ‘done to’ without any discussion, without any of the ‘investigators’ speaking to us, or keeping us up to date with progress on the investigations (we heard through the press what was going on). I see a Mandelsonesque thread in these manoeuvres, aided and abetted by his pals in the media (e.g. Patrick Wintour of The Guardian), screaming of conspiracies by Unite, whilst acting as a puppet master, to ensure that any suggestion of trade unionist success in working towards enahncing their voice in the PLP was stood upon. And Ed has followed the bait laid by him, whilst hoping it would play well in the right-wing press. Meanwhile, we in Falkirk have to suffer yet again (e.g. from Canavan to Joyce!) from the balls-up of London Labour.

    The BBC programme showed us what a farce this whole process is, but Ed fears losing face more now than acting equitably. And meanwhile our chair remains suspended for no clear reason.

  5. Rod says:

    @Jo Mirek

    Wouldn’t be at all surprised if Miliband’s PLP knock on Dart’s door soon – cap in hand, wanting a handout and a discussion on ‘policy’ (ahem!). All part of a business friendly initiative, of course.

  6. Chris says:

    It’s the Zinoviev letter all over again. Miliband has questions to answer, but who has the power to ask them?

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