Friday, 31 May 2013

Monsters and Demons

During the Leveson Inquiry the press was on its best behaviour - as lots of politicians, various celebrities and the odd real person trooped in to give their evidence on what needed to be done - to drive up standards of behaviour.

One person's evidence that stuck in my mind was that of former Labour leader - Gordon Brown - who made a passionate plea for the press to stop 'monstering' and demonising politicians.

Gordon spoke of his experience of dealing with the situation in Afghanistan where, as Prime Minister, he 'couldn't do right for doing wrong' - whatever he did he got in in the neck and as far as he was concerned the press, or at least certain sections of it,  were out to do him down.

Now what I thought at the time was that this all sounded a bit rich coming from Gordon Brown - because the Labour Party while in government never seemed to mind a bit of demonising and monstering - so long as this was happening to the 'other side'. 

Which brings me to the recent press coverage of David Camerons' decision to spend some time on a pre-arranged family holiday - having dealt with the immediate fall out surrounding the barbaric murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. 

For his trouble a picture of David Cameron with his wife, Samantha, was splashed on the front page of The Mirror (a Labour supporting paper, of course) - alongside a photo of the grief stricken Rigby family who were visiting the site in Woolwich where the young soldier was brutally killed.

Now that vile front page from The Mirror required a response - and I have read nothing better on the subject than this artticle by Dan Hodges - a former Labour adviser who writes a regular blog for The Telegraph newspaper these days.       

Chillax, people, and let the poor Prime Minister have a holiday

By Dan Hodges

We need to make up our minds whether we want politicians to be more like us, or not

In his wonderful history of Seventies Britain, Seasons in the Sun, Dominic Sandbrook tells the story of how, in the midst of the IMF crisis, an exhausted Denis Healey and his wife snatched a couple of days away on the west coast of Scotland.

The Healeys booked into a small hotel outside Ullapool but, Sandbrook recounts, “scarcely had he laid his head on the pillow than the telephone rang downstairs. So he trooped back downstairs, wearing a raincoat over his pyjamas, to the phone in the hall. It was the police, calling with the unhappy news that there had been a bomb threat against him and Special Branch were on their way from Inverness. Healey had barely got back to his bedroom before the phone rang again, so he trudged wearily back downstairs. This time it was the Treasury, reporting that sterling had come under renewed pressure. A third call inevitably followed from the Bank of England, asking for approval to spend £150 million to defend the currency.”

In his own memoirs, Healey described this nocturnal coming and going as “a night of French farce”. If Seasons in the Sun forms part of David Cameron’s holiday reading, he will no doubt empathise with the former chancellor’s plight. And having empathised, he could be forgiven for saying to himself “screw it” and booking himself and his family into their Ibiza hotel for another month.

The Prime Minister can’t win. On Wednesday, in the wake of Lee Rigby’s murder, he cancelled his trip to Paris, flew home and convened a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee – and was attacked for doing so. He slavishly “cleared his diary”, plunged into his favourite Cobra bunker and summoned the mightiest in the land to “co-ordinate a response”, mocked the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins. Cameron had been “too quick on the draw”, complained David Livingstone, a former Downing Street security official.

Then on Sunday, having managed the crisis, expressed condolences to Drummer Rigby’s family and delivered what by common consent was a well-judged plea for calm resolve in the face of the renewed terror threat, David Cameron flew out with his family on a long scheduled half-term break – and was promptly attacked again.

“This is the picture of holiday bliss that will infuriate relatives of butchered soldier Lee Rigby”, stormed the Mirror, under a picture of the Prime Minister engaged in the shameless act of drinking a cup of coffee. “Surrounded by sun, sea and sand in Ibiza, David Cameron looks like he hasn’t a care in the world – as the country he is meant to be running lies in the grip of terrorist turmoil following the horrific murder.”

The Sun, which kicked off the storm, claimed: “MPs are appalled that he has jetted off amid spiralling tensions following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London, on Wednesday and the arrest of two suspected Islamic extremists.”

Even this newspaper was criticised by some readers for juxtaposing a picture of the Camerons on holiday with a scene of grieving relatives at the murder site in Woolwich.

It’s true that a couple of MPs – none of whom are ever likely to be bothered by the burdens of high office themselves – have expressed some ritualistic outrage, although it should also be noted that Labour’s justice spokesman, Sadiq Khan, sensibly rejected the criticism.

Even by the febrile standards of Westminster, the attacks on David Cameron over the past 48 hours have been ridiculous. He is in Ibiza, not on Mars. He has constant access to a sophisticated and secure communications network. What do people think is going to happen? “Prime Minister, I’m afraid there’s a serious terrorist incident under way.” “Not now. Fat Boy Slim and Driis are up next.”

One day we’re going to have to make our minds up. Do we want politicians who are a reflection of ourselves, or do we not? For what its worth, I don’t. I’m pretty certain the nation’s problems will not be resolved by installing me in Downing Street to grapple with them. Nor am I especially taken with the idea that good governance is simply an extension of bar-room philosophy, and if only we could find a dozen Nigel Farages to sit round the Cabinet table, all would be well.

But nor do I think we will better served by our leaders if we insist on grinding them into the dust. The chillaxing jokes are good fun, but a normal day for David Cameron involves him rising at five in the morning and completing his last box at 10 o’clock at night. The guy hasn’t had a proper holiday since Christmas, nor a trip abroad with his wife and children since last summer. Last week he switched on his television and saw a man, his hands dripping in blood, holding a meat cleaver and calling out his name. The Prime Minister deserves a break.

It’s fashionable at the moment to claim we are experiencing a crisis of faith in our politics because the politicians do not understand the people. Maybe. But perhaps another part of the problem is the people don’t really understand their politicians. In one breath we criticise our leaders for being drunk on ambition, and hungry for power. Then in the next we criticise them for too readily abandoning the corridors of power in favour of their Balearic sun loungers.

We condemn them for not understanding the needs of ordinary families. Then we denounce them for wanting to spend some precious time with their own families. We vilify for them for their obsession with presentation and spin. And then we castigate David Cameron for “sending the wrong message” by leaving the country in the wake of Woolwich.

In fact, there have been several prime ministers who could have done with a lot more chillaxing, not less. Baroness Thatcher’s four hours’ sleep ended up doing her and her country few favours. Gordon Brown was another prime minister whose premiership could have benefited from more hot rays, cool cocktails and fewer midnight briefings.

Yes, our politicians know the rules of the game. In a democracy they cannot expect the love and empathy of a grateful people. This is the United Kingdom, not North Korea. But there have to be some rules, all the same.

In the wake of the expenses scandal there was nationwide outrage at the thought of MPs setting their own expenses and level of pay. So IPSA was established to deal with MPs remuneration. Earlier this month it published its recommendation; a £10,000 increase in MPs’ salaries – at which point there was more national outrage.

Yes, David Cameron has not helped himself – or the political classes – by surrounding himself with a perceived Etonian elite, or cutting the top rate of tax at time when he was calling on others for an act of national sacrifice. But let’s not kid ourselves. If David Cameron appointed an East End Pearly King and Queen to his inner circle, people would still complain “They’re so out of touch. They just don’t get it.”

Maybe they don’t. But we don’t either. There are no Iron or Teflon politicians. They are flesh and blood, just like the rest of us. Of course we can pretend they’re not and demand they are more like us. Or is it less like us? Sooner or later, we’re going to have to decide.

Why Are We Waiting?

Here's my latest email to the head of Scotland's civil service - Sir Peter Housden.

Quite why I should have to fight so hard just to get the Scottish Government to abide by the time limits laid down in its own FOISA legislation - is a mystery.

But I have at least now written to my local Holyrood MSP and contacted the Scottish Information Commissioner - to see if they can help.

Dear Sir Peter

FOISA Complaint

I refer to my email dated 23 May 2013

I thought you would like to know that another week has gone by and my FOISA request from 3 April 2013 is now an incredible 28 days overdue. Now this is a glaring breach of the Scottish Government's own legislation, but I would also like to point out that have heard nothing further from your staff as to when my FOISA request is likely to be answered which I find rather rude and unprofessional.

My next port of call will be to seek the help of my local MSP and assistance from the Scottish Information Commissioner - as well as continuing to share my frustration with the wider public via my blog site which you can read at:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Viking Tales

Picture: submitted
The internet is a wonderful invention, but there's no denying that sometimes all it does is to draw attention to the fact that - some people have too much time on their hands.

Take the case of the new 'Viking' logo chosen by Serco Northlink to brand its lifeline ferry services to Orkney and Shetland - which is pictured above.

Now this is based on a fictional charatcer - Magnus the Viking - who has his left arm raised in the air - but this hasn't stopped the company's critics from claiming that the logo could be taken for a fascist, Nazi symbol.

Now I don't know about anyone else - but the comparison sounds ridiculous and more than a bit overblown to me - because we're talking here about a passenger ferry service and not the Waffen SS.

Not everyone agrees, however, and a lecturer in Nordic Studies - Dr Victoria Whitworth - based in Orkney has described the artistic choice of a Viking with horned helmet as “the number one schoolboy howler” - claiming the image contained undeniable associations to Ayran propaganda used by the Nazis.

Dr Whitworth said:

"There is an Ayran element unfortunately associated with the Vikings. We didn’t feel [Serco Northlink] had perhaps projected the image they were intending.

The artistic style that they have chosen is very much of that early 20th century aesthetic. I think they could have consulted more widely perhaps.

There is so much baggage associated with this kind of iconography. I think this could also be a problem for Scandinavian visitors given their complex relationship with that ideology."


And along with many other things from the world of academia - I think I'll take that these silly comments with a giant pinch of salt. 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Supersized Unions

A week or so ago the boss of Unite - Len McCluskey - tried to throw his weight around by telling the Labour leader - Ed Miliband - whom he should have as his trusted aides and allies in the Labour shadow cabinet. 

Quite understandably, I have to say, Ed told Len where to get off - which he was bound to do, of course, especially after receiving this rude and unsolicited advice in the columns of the New Statesman magazine.

Yet the influence of the Bubs (Britain's unions bosses) is growing as UK unions continue to merge and get ever larger - the three big public sector unions (GMB, Unison and Unite) effectively picked the current Labour leader over the heaads of ordinary members - and oon we may be down to two or maybe even one giant, supersized public sector union.

In which case the Bub at the top (just imagine a giant sized version Len McCluskey) will exercise enormous influence over the Labour Party - because the trade unions now dominate Labour Party finances in a way that hasn't been true for more than 20 years. 

Now in one sense I couldn't give two hoots about what's happening - because if the trade union bosses want to paint themselves into a corner - then that's their lookout.

But on the other hand I have been a trade unionist all my life - and I would prefer trade unions to succeed and become more relevant - although that will only happen when they become less partisan and start to reflect the diverse views (political and otherwise) - of the members that they claim to represent.

In the meantime, there's an unarguable case for the trade unions to be regulated as happens in other areas of public life - where the little guy can complain and hold the big guy to account .

Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions (21 December 2013)

News reports during the week suggested that the boss of Britain's third largest union - Paul Kenny of the GMB - is preparing to stand down early from his post.

Has this anything to do with the likely merger between GMB and Unison?

I don't know, I have to admit.

But if and when a new union comes about - GUMBO or whatever it's called will have around 1.9 million members - even more than the current pack leader, Unite, with 1.5 million members.

I would say it's time that people stopped and ask themselves whether this trend towards supersized unions is in the interests of ordinary union members.

Because in any other walk of life it wouldn't be allowed - without putting a series of checks and balances into the system.

Supersize Me (21 January 2012)

Britain's union bosses (the Bubs) are always banging on about the need for healthy competition on the high street - and the benefits of cutting the big banks down to size.

But the unions are allowed to play by very different rules themselves - seems like they just keep on getting bigger and bigger - and growing in size.

The latest union merger on the cards is one between Unite and PCS (the civil service union) - both of whom are on a collision course with the government over public sector pensions.

A new union would have a combined membership of 1.8 million members - in effect a new super union would be created - which would dwarf second placed Unison with only 1.3 million members.

But of course Unison and GMB have already been in merger talks for some time - and if they agree to tie the knot - then only two unions would represent 3.6 million people - the bulk of the UK's union membership.

At a time when big monopoly suppliers of services - generally speaking - have acquired a pretty bad name for being able to dictate terms to their customers - because of the lack of choice and inability to take their business elsewhere.

The creation of these ever-bigger 'super-size' unions also has big implications for the Labour party.

Because as everyone knows the trade unions effectively decided the outcome of the recent Labour leadership elections - both Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont owe their positions to union votes - from GMB, Unison and Unite.

So in future only two Bubs may have this level of influence and if the trend continues, who knows - maybe there will be just one.

Now there are some arguments to be made for 'big is best' - including the usual ones about economies of scale and so forth.

But the problem with the trade union sector is that it is almost entirely unregulated - ordinary union members have nowhere to go if they have a complaint - in terms of an independent outside body at least.

If these mergers were taking place in the private sector - they would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission - which happened recently when News International trying to buy Sky TV.

In addition other parts of society - both public and private - what goes on is regulated by a whole host of public watchdogs - and while you can argue about their effectiveness in some cases - at least they exist.

Here's what I had to say on the subject back in November 2009.

Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions (November 6th 2009)

Much has been said - and written - this week about cutting the big high street banks down to size.

Apparently everyone now believes that smaller banks are good for us. Because smaller banks means more banks - that have to compete with one another - and the resulting competition is good for customers.

The big guy always finds it much harder to beat up on the little guy - if the little guy can just take his or her business elsewhere.

So far, so good - sounds reasonable enough.

But isn't it interesting that while the big banks are being forced to become smaller - to get closer to their customers - that trade unions in the UK are becoming ever larger and more remote from their members.

The latest move towards another super union - see post dated 16 September 2009 - is the planned merger between GMB and Unison - which would create a union of around 2 million members.

But Unison itself is the product of an arranged marriage of what used to be three separate unions - COSHE, NALGO and NUPE - which tied the knot to become Unison in 1993.

And this latest giant union is all about keeping up with the Joneses, in the shape of Unite - currently the largest union in the land with 1.5 million members - and itself the product of a previous merger between Amicus and the old transport union, TGWU.

The fact is that these new super unions are run just like giant businesses - except that they are not as well regulated as businesses - arguably they are subject to less scrutiny than your average corner shop.

In terms of service standards - ordinary union members do not have an independent body to turn to for support, if they have a problem or complaint - there is no equivalent of the Financial Services Ombudsman, for example.

In future, union members will get even less choice from these mega unions - which all give huge sums of money to the Labour Party - despite the fact that the great majority of union members support other parties - or no party at all.

The present government has no interest in making the union more accountable to their members - because the Labour Party is so heavily dependent on the trade unions for financial support.

But it will be interesting to see what happens after the next general election - maybe the unions will be forced to move with the times. A healthy dose of external and independent scrutiny - would certainly help the unions become more accountable to their members.

Robin Hood In Reverse

Here's a good example of the 'madness' of final salary pension schemes in the public services - how they rob from the pension poor and give to pension rich - how they operate like Robin Hood in reverse.

The other day it was announced that the head of the NHS in England and Wales - the much criticised Sir David Nicholson - is set to retire early next year on a pension of more £110,000 a year and a pension pot of £1.9 million - an astonishing figure by any standards.

Sir David will also qualify for a 'tax free' lump based on three times his salary - which is currently around £230,000 a year -  including his annual performance bonus payment of £20,000.

So he will walk away with well over £600,000 as a tax free lump sum and a guaranteed income of £110,000 for the rest of his life - even though he has earned that amount for only a relatively small part of his working career.

Because Sir David's final salary and is used to calculate all of his retirement benefits - and pays no regard whatsoever to the fact that for the first 20 years of his NHS career Sir David's  salary might have averaged less than a quarter of that amount - say £50,000.

Sounds bonkers, I know, but that's how these schemes operate - instead of being capped at some sensible maximum amount or being based on a person's average earnings over the length of their working lives.

So, in financial terms Sir David has won the lottery - and that comes on top of having made a very good living out of the NHS for many years - and ending his career with the scandal of 1200 unnecessary deaths at Mid Staffordshire Hospital ringing loudly in his ears. 

Spending Public Money

The news that the BBC has wasted £100 million in a half-baked technology project   comes as no real surprise - because the public broadcaster displays all the signs of being out of control for years.

First we had the film star salaries paid to presenters and senior management figures - then we had the embarrassment of hugely generous 'Golden Goodbyes' being paid to executives who were being shown the door - but often going on to other jobs.

Now the new BBC director general - Tony Hall - has scrapped this £100 million digital technology project and suspended the executive in charge - after admitting that it has "wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers' money".

The Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was apparently designed to improve the programme making process - to make it faster and more efficient - and dispense with old-fashioned video tape, but the project ended in tears and with a lot of public money poured down the drain.

The senior Beeb executive behind DMI was a chap named John Linwood - who was paid a ridiculous BBC salary of £287,000 a year as its chief technology officer - no doubt John is still drawing this massive salary even though he has been suspended.

John Linwood reportedly joined the BBC from Yahoo! in 2009 - having previously worked for more than a decade at Microsoft and in 2011 the BBC paid John a £70,000 bonus which took his pay for that year to an eye watering £358,000.
Yet in the same year (2011) a highly critical report by the National Audit Office found the BBC's approach to the DMI project had been "disappointing" and that it was "not good value for money".

Which begs the obvious question - "What was the £70,000 bonus all about, who approved this whacking great bonus - and is that person's job also now on a suitably shaky nail? 

The BBC has made some great programmes over the years and I support the concept of a well-funded public service broadcaster - but I would still like to see the Beeb being taken down a peg or two.

Because, in my view, the BBC has fallen into the hands of overpaid, timeserving managers and - like most giant organisations - remote from the very people that it claims to serve.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

War of Words

A kind reader sent me the following exchange of views between two councillors in South Lanarkshire Council - which appeared in the local press.

Now I am firmly on the side of the of the 3,000 plus low paid workers who are pursuing equal pay claims against South Lanarkshire Council, I know - but having declared that interest it still seems clear to me that the Labour Group spokesperson is talking nonsense.

Because it's quite correct to say that the Council's so-called 'Living Wage' has nothing whatsoever to do with the thousands of outstanding equal pay claims - which are still before the Employment Tribunals.

And it can be argued, quite persuasively, that if the Council had implemented the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement  properly - then there would be absolutely no need for a 'living wage' in 2013.

The reason being that the predominantly female jobs (carers, cleaners, cooks, clerical workers and classroom assistants) which stood to benefit most from the 1999 Single Status Agreement - would have caught up (in pay terms) with their male council colleagues many years ago.

In other words these low paid workers would have been earning £7.56 an hour - or even more - long before now.

So, the Living Wage is really just a fig leaf - a belated and botched attempt to cover up  the Council's embarrassment for failing to implement Equal Pay on fair and proper terms - which was the real purpose of the 1999 Agreement.

Put plainly, £7.56 an hour in 2013 in no way compensates all the low paid workers for what they lost out on over the years and which - for some of them - will amount to thousands of pounds for every single year.

To my mind, any reasonable person would agree that Labour-run South Lanarkshire Council has made a complete mess of equal pay - and its decision to fight this FOI request all the way to the UK Supreme Court is just the latest in a very long line of expensive mistakes.

What it comes down to is that if South Lanarkshire Council had nothing to hide - it would simply publish the pay information ordered by the Scottish Information Commissioner and three senior judges in the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court. 

If you ask me, the whole business is a public disgrace.

"Council war of words erupts"

Dear Editor

I'm sure your readers were quick to see last week's letter(May9) in the Hamilton Advertiser by Cllr Peter Craig for what it was; cheap political points scoring dressed up to look like concern for the low paid workers.

For the record, I and the wider Labour Group are proud to remind him that South Lanarkshire Council is at the forefront when it comes to taking care of the low paid. That is why our Council has set its Living Wage at £7.56 an hour, the highest rate outside London.

As to the issue of equal pay, if Cllr Craig and his SNP colleagues had been paying attention they would understand that it is specifically to protect the rights of our current and former workers that the council is challenging a Freedom of information request made by a third party.

The motive behind this correspondence is clearly motivated by a member of a rebel SNP grouping who tried and spectacularly failed to take over the Leadership positions of the opposition at the party's recent AGM. The time has now come for Cllr Craig to accept that he lost that bitter nationalist v nationalist contest, and get on with the serious business of representing the people of South Lanarkshire.

Cllr John McNamee

Assistant Business Manager of the Labour Group
South Lanarkshire Council

"FOI refusal wrong and destructive. Councillors' war of words goes on"

Dear Sir(s)

I would like to thank Cllr McNamee for his reply to my letter.(May 9th) I was beginning to think that the South Lanarkshire Labour Party had learnt from the old adage, that when you are in a hole the best policy is to stop digging, but as we can all see from his reply, they were just taking time to sharpen the shovels.

The fact that the Council has set its living wage at £7.56 an hour is positive and something that I and the whole SNP group support, and voted for, but that is not what the equal pay claims are about.

Let me start with John's jibe of cheap political point scoring. Only a Labour Councillor could consider spending up to a million pounds of taxpayers' money on expensive lawyers who have lost case after case in an effort to keep information out of the hands of the low paid workers, is cheap. I can assure him in these days of austerity and cuts to important services it is anything but cheap.

He states that the reason for continuing to oppose the Freedom of Information request is to protect current and former workers. This is not supported by their appeal to the Information Commissioner, or their further appeal to the three Court of Session Judges Lords Marnoch, Brailsford and Mackay of Drumadoon, who unanimously instructed South Lanarkshire to hand over the information.

This is about discrimination and how we treat our workers, it started because woman workers in South Lanarkshire felt they were not being treated fairly in comparison to the men, and has now widened to discrimination of both sexes. All they asked was that the Council treated their claim with openness and transparency, but have seen nothing but obstinacy and secrecy, from this Labour administration.

Every member of the SNP group now call on Cllr McNamee and all his Labour colleagues to desist in their bid to take their appeal even further to the Supreme Court in London and give the workers a chance to see if their complaints are genuine or not.

Cllr Peter Craig

Ward 20 Larkhall
South Lanarkshire Council

Ghosts in the Machine

The Sunday Herald continues to shine a light on the bizarre selection process used by the Scottish Labour Party - which suggest that 'ghost' members are being signed up to support one particular candidate.

Now this is not the first time that accusations of 'dirty tricks' have been made during a Labour selection contest, but the comments from Unite simply beggar belief - as if the submission of allegedly bogus membership applications rests with party machine. 

The irony is that these selection contests are supposed to be about choosing the best candidate - whereas what often happens is that one group or another simply levers in another placeman - or occasionally a placewoman.  

In any event it is all terribly unedifying and serves to highlight the role of the trade unions inside the Labour Party - which was used to great effect in choosing Ed Miliband as party leader - even though the majority of individual party members voted for his brother, David Miliband.    

Labour in bogus members probe

By Paul Hutcheon

Labour are investigating claims new members were signed up in Falkirk by the party's biggest trades union affiliate without the individuals completing application forms or agreeing to join.

A family of three is said to have been recruited even though only one agreed to join the party in principle.

Labour earlier this month suspended the selection process in Falkirk to find a candidate to replace troubled MP Eric Joyce amid allegations of membership irregularities.

So far, the three contenders have been local councillor Linda Gow, communications expert Gregor Poynton, and trades union activist Karie Murphy, who is being heavily backed the union Unite.

The union helped pay for a local "consultative survey" on whether the Falkirk seat should be selected via an all-women shortlist (AWS), an outcome that would benefit Murphy, who is an ally of Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.

However, the survey was halted over fears the document was not sent to every local party member.

An internal grouping inside Unite also claimed that the union had signed up around 100 new members to the party, a surge that triggered accusations of manipulation.

It was "concerns over membership recruitment" that prompted Labour to launch its investigation.

Although Unite is not responsible for all the new recruits being considered as part of the probe, it is understood most are linked to the union.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that one of the cases centres around a family in the Falkirk area.

In a letter to the Scottish party in March, an individual explained how he, his wife and child became Labour members: "Myself and two family members have been enrolled by Unite," he wrote.

However, he added: "I or my family did not fill in or sign any forms and wish to know what information the party holds about my family."

He continued: "I have concerns as to the way Unite in Falkirk are recruiting party members."

According to Labour rules, a trades union can pay a new member's subscription fee, but they still have to complete an application form.

A Labour official has already informed up to 90 of the new members in Falkirk that they will only get a vote in the contest if they provided their direct debit details.

Meanwhile, a Unite source has said the union has raised concerns with Labour about an email sent by Gow and Poynton opposing an all-women shortlist.

The source said the email raised concerns about how members' email addresses had been obtained.

However, Poynton said he had accumulated the email addresses over years.

The row is also believed to be part of a wider battle for influence between New Labour and the avowedly Old Labour Unite leadership.

Lord Mandelson said recently that too many selections were "in the hands of one union at worst or a couple at best".

He said contests were being "orchestrated by a cabal of NEC (National Executive Committee) members".

McCluskey shot back: "Mandelson is probably intensely relaxed about cutting democratic corners if it means more New Labour special advisers and the like on the green benches, but utterly opposed to the normal workings of Labour democracy if it means left-wing or trades union candidates being chosen."

A Unite spokesman said: "This is an obvious mistake if it occurred and a mistake that should have been picked up by the Labour Party when it processed the application.

"Unite is confident that its conduct throughout the process has been consistent with the rules of the Labour Party. We hope that the investigation can be conducted speedily and thoroughly."

An SNP spokesman said: "Labour having bogus members in place to be potential candidates in Falkirk – should Eric Joyce stand down – is just the latest sorry episode in this ongoing Labour Party disgrace. Falkirk deserves so much better."

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: "We have instigated a comprehensive investigation into any membership irregularities in Falkirk and our selection process has been suspending pending this review."

The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of the month.