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Row as Unite cleared over Falkirk
Labour faces Tory claims of a "stitch up" after it cleared the Unite union of wrongdoing over allegations of selection rigging that have sparked a breakdown in relations with the movement.
The party, which in July referred the claims about the Falkirk constituency to the police, said an internal inquiry had found no evidence rules were breached after "key evidence" was withdrawn.
It lifted the suspensions of Unite-backed would-be MP Karie Murphy and local party chairman Stevie Deans, saying they too had done nothing wrong. Ms Murphy announced however that she was withdrawing as a potential general election candidate for the seat for the sake of "reconciliation and unity".
The Tories said it appeared to be a "stitch-up" designed to end a bitter row with Unite - Labour's biggest single financial donor. The GMB is cutting £1 million from its affiliation funds to Labour in response to reforms to union links pledged by Ed Miliband at the height of the Falkirk dispute. With fears others could follow, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was "calling the shots", Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said.
The withdrawn evidence is believed to relate to claims people were signed up as party members without their knowledge in a bid to stuff the local party with Unite supporters.
"Since Labour began its internal process key evidence has been withdrawn and further evidence provided by individuals concerned," a Labour spokesman said. "Karie Murphy and Stevie Deans, who were suspended, will now be reinstated as they have not been guilty of any wrongdoing. No organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules as they stood at the time. These steps will enable Labour in Falkirk without further delay to choose a candidate and prepare for the general election."
The pair were suspended and the Falkirk constituency party put into "special measures" after an internal report - not yet published - found concerns over the process of selecting a candidate for the 2015 general election. Tom Watson - for whom Ms Murphy worked - quit as the party's general election co-ordinator at the height of the dispute. And Mr Miliband and Mr McCluskey engaged in a ferocious public war of words. The party handed over documents to the police but Police Scotland ruled in July that there were "insufficient grounds" for a criminal investigation.
In a statement released by Unite, Ms Murphy said she had been left "shocked and saddened" by the affair and had always acted in the interests of the party. But she said her continued presence in the Falkirk contest would "detract" from the work of selecting a good candidate.
The developments appear to draw a line under the Falkirk affair but Mr Miliband remains embroiled in difficult relations with the trade union movement - who he will address at the TUC annual conference on Tuesday. Mr Miliband wants union members to opt in to joining Labour rather than being automatically affiliated, a decision which could cost the party millions of pounds. Union officials believe the reform will weaken the historic link between Labour and the unions, and even threatens to sever it altogether.
Mr Shapps said Unite was cleared despite Mr Miliband dubbing events in Falkirk the sort of thing that confirmed voters' "worst suspicions" about party politics and "besmirched" Labour. Questioning the Opposition's motives amid fears other unions will follow the GMB's lead, he called for the publication of Labour's internal report. "If Ed Miliband can't even stand up to his union paymasters, how can he stand up for hardworking people? Weak Ed Miliband must now stop dithering, come clean and publish Labour's report into the Falkirk selection in full."