Labour have called in the police to investigate alleged vote-rigging in a major escalation of the crisis between leader Ed Miliband and Unite union boss Len McCluskey.
The party said it had taken legal advice and a criminal inquiry was possible. It was a U-turn for the party, which had dismissed suggestions of criminal wrongdoing in the Scottish constituency of Falkirk.
Announcing that an internal report was being handed to police, a Labour spokesman said: “We have taken advice from the party solicitor. We are going to hand the Falkirk report and other evidence to the police this afternoon.”
Miliband had earlier unleashed a powerful attack on McCluskey, accusing his party’s biggest donor of defending “machine politics” that undermined the integrity of Labour’s candidate selections.
Despite his tougher rhetoric, Labour’s leader still came under fire from modernisers who claim he is turning a blind eye to evidence of a concerted attempt by Unite to infiltrate the party.
Miliband blamed “a few individuals” for vote-rigging in Falkirk. But Labour’s Blairite former general secretary Peter Watt said it would be “a disgrace” if the deeper problem of union influence was not tackled.
In-fighting after the resignation of election chief Tom Watson was being described as a battle for the soul of the Labour party between Miliband and Unite, which openly boasts it wants to “shift the balance in the party away from middle class academics and professionals towards people who have actually represented workers and fought the boss”.
Battling to escape the Tory charge that he was in the pocket of Unite, which has paid £8mn to Labour in the three years of his leadership, Miliband said he would defend “the integrity of our party”.
He added: “Instead of defending what happened in Falkirk, Len McCluskey should be facing up to his responsibilities. He should not be defending the machine politics involving bad practice and malpractice that went on there, he should be facing up to it.”
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone supported Mr McCluskey, claiming he was being “smeared” by Blairites plotting to sever union ties and oust Miliband. Unite is alleged to have signed up 100 new party members in Falkirk ahead of a selection contest for a new MP.
David Cameron accused Miliband of showing weakness and said: “A scandal is unfolding and he badly needs to grip it.”
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