The Falkirk Fallout

The Labour Party is facing calls from Conservative ministers to publish an internal report that cleared the Unite Trade Union of claims that it tried to rig the selection of a party candidate in Falkirk.

The allegations in short are that the Unite trade union financed the membership fees of a group of local drinkers who were not members of the union and were recruited by the local Labour party chairman, Stevie Deans in order to manipulate the selection process for a candidate to replace Eric Joyce at the next general election.

While the Police concluded at end of July that there was “insufficient” evidence to launch a criminal investigation into the allegations, the Conservatives are seeking to exploit the issue of trade union affiliation as they feel that it is a subject on which the Labour leader Mr Miliband, who was elected to lead the party by the trade unions, is politically vulnerable.

The Falkirk row has already inflicted some heavy blows on the Labour opposition. Aside from claiming the scalp of Labour’s former election co-ordinator Tom Watson, who has resigned from the shadow cabinet because of his links to the Unite union backed candidate Karie Murphy, the row over union involvement in party politics has also had a detrimental financial impact upon the party. In an effort to get a hold on the situation Ed Miliband announced last month that he would reform Labour’s relationship with the trade unions, ending the automatic affiliation with the Labour party of trade union members. As a result of this the GMB trade union has this week announced that it would be cutting over a million pounds worth of affiliation funding that it gives the Labour party which will have serious consequences for party finances.

Needless to say in this matter the Conservatives have played their hand well. Not only has Labour suffered serious public embarrassment and damaging media scrutiny over the Falkirk affair, but the scandal has also forced Ed Miliband to bite the hand that feeds; throwing the party not only into financial uncertainty, but also political unrest as members and ministers alike, worry about the loss of ties with the party’s traditional core of support in the working classes.

In short the Falkirk scandal and the Labour leadership’s response to it has generated a structural problem for the party which will not go away. Meanwhile Tory MP’s are trying to complicate matters for the opposition further by raising the issue of trade union links in parliamentary discussions on the subject of lobbying, as if there was some sort of difference between representing trade union interests and working people’s interests.

If the opposition is to come out of this crisis then they must learn to shrug off cheap jibes about the party and its leader (whom the Tory press has dubbed ‘Red Ed’). To survive Labour must respond with more vocal policy positions and turn the debate onto those who are actually governing the country, rather than worrying about their own self image. I know the party feels like it has to change to suit the times we are in; but the party should do so on its own terms and not risk fermenting resent from its supporters who fear a loss of values though this metamorphoses. To be blunt, it will not come as some great revelation to the British public that Mr Miliband does not advocate transforming the city of London into to a radical agrarian commune; so this introspective masochism really must stop now before greater damage is done.

Labour cannot distance itself further from the trade unions. If the party it is stick to its values as a centre left, progressive socialist party then it must remember that the great success’ of the party under Tony Blair were not only a result of the abandonment of Clause IV; but also because the party was representative of the working classes; thanks in part to trade union backing.