Trade Union and UK Labour row deepens as Unite leader says 'trust is gone'
The leader of Labour's biggest trade union donor said he had "no trust" in the party's handling of the Falkirk selection row as Ed Miliband's election co-ordinator resigned over the issue and two party members were suspended.
In an incendiary letter to Labour's general secretary, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said a party inquiry into claims the union tried to stitch up candidate selection was a "disgrace" designed to "smear" the union, and demanded an independent inquiry.
He accused shadow cabinet members of being "in the lead" of attacks on Unite - which he insisted had "nothing whatsoever to do" with alleged efforts to cram the constituency with new members.
"The mishandling of this investigation has been a disgrace," he wrote.
"I, however, am obliged to uphold the integrity of Unite, and I can no longer do so on the basis of going along with the activities of a Labour Party administration in which I can place no trust.
"I will therefore be publicly proposing that an independent inquiry be held into all circumstances relating to Falkirk CLP and the conduct of all parties involved."
Mr McCluskey's intervention further stirred the seething dispute over allegations that Unite crammed the constituency party with 100 or more members whose subscriptions were paid by the union, some of them without their knowledge.
In an afternoon of fast-moving developments, Tom Watson stepped down as Labour's deputy chairman and left the shadow cabinet, saying that he was stepping aside to safeguard "the unity of the party".
In his resignation letter, Mr Watson revealed that he offered to resign on Tuesday, but was asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband - to whom he said he remained loyal and considered could be an "outstanding" prime minister - to "reconsider".
And he risked embarrassing the Labour leader further by calling for an internal report into the controversy to be published - something Mr Miliband has refused to do.
As he fought to control the crisis, Mr Miliband announced he was suspending two members of the Falkirk party - constituency chairman Stephen Deans and Karie Murphy, Mr Watson's office manager who was Unite's favoured candidate for the seat.
The vacancy emerged when MP Eric Joyce was kicked out of the party after committing an assault in a House of Commons bar.
In a statement, Labour said that there were allegations that the pair may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules relating to "potential abuse of membership rules".
Mr Miliband also said he was ending the Union Join scheme, established in the Blair era, under which trade unions encouraged their members to join the party and were allowed to pay their subs for the first year.
Labour said that it was clearly "a mistake" to have a scheme which left the party "open to attack from our opponents".
A senior Labour source said that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey would "obviously have to take some responsibility" for what had been done by the union he leads.
The response from Mr McCluskey to Iain McNicol was swift and combative, decrying the Labour investigation as "a 'stitch-up' designed to produce some evidence, however threadbare, to justify pre-determined decisions."
"Even on the basis of this flimsy report, it is clear that these decisions cannot be justified," he wrote.
"There is no emergency which would justify imposing these undemocratic restrictions, since any real problems could easily be addressed before embarking on a parliamentary selection process.
"The report has been used to smear Unite and its members. Even if the allegations of people being signed up to the Party without their knowledge were true, this had nothing whatsoever to do with my union.
"It is noteworthy that members of the shadow cabinet have been in the lead in initiating this attack upon Unite. Have they had sight of this report while I, the leader of the union put in the frame, has not had the courtesy of a copy?"
Unite would "cooperate fully" with an independent investigation and "draw appropriate conclusions from any findings regarding our own behaviour", he said.
"I trust that you will support such an inquiry, will direct all Labour Party employees to cooperate with it and encourage other individuals to do likewise."
Conservatives have capitalised on the Falkirk row, with David Cameron repeatedly goading Mr Miliband in the Commons yesterday over the influence allegedly wielded by Unite, which has donated more than £8 million to Labour since he became leader.
And the Trade Union Reform Campaign - a pressure group backed by several Tory MPs - wrote to the trade union Certification Officer demanding an investigation into what it claimed was fraud in Falkirk.
The Labour leader had been under pressure to axe Mr Watson as deputy chairman and election co-ordinator due to his strong union links, and the fact that his assistant was a potential candidate in the constituency.
However, Mr Miliband had seemed determined to stick with the combative MP. Crib notes for his appearance at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday - found in a Westminster toilet - suggested he would endorse the influential MP.
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps described Mr Watson's resignation as "a clear vote of no confidence in Ed Miliband's weak leadership" and said Unite was "taking over the Labour Party".
Mr Miliband said it was his decision that Mr Watson should now go.
"I came to the conclusion at lunchtime today that it was right that he went and I spoke to him and said that," he said.
"Why? Because we both agreed that he was becoming a distraction from the need for the Labour Party to put forward its policies and take the attack to the Government."
Mr Miliband told Unite that he would not tolerate abuses of membership and selection procedures in "my party".
"I am incredibly angry about what's happened in Falkirk because I feel that the good name of Labour Party members, trade union members and the Labour Party have been besmirched by the behaviour of a few individuals," he said.
"That's why we suspended the local party, that's why we have now suspended two individuals and that's why we are also clear that we are closing down the scheme that allowed this abuse to happen.
"I want to be very clear about this: I am not going to have abuse of membership procedures, of parliamentary selections, in my party.
"That is very clear and I want to be clear about that for the leadership of Unite the Union in particular."