Len McCluskey, 2016 Labour Party Conference. Photo: Rwendland/cropped from orignial/licensed under CC4.0, linked at the bottom of the article Len McCluskey, 2016 Labour Party Conference. Photo: Rwendland/cropped from orignial/licensed under CC4.0, linked at the bottom of the article

McCluskey is right. Union subs should not be paying off those who helped the Tories win power, argues Chris Neville

Over the weekend, Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of my union, Unite, used an interview in The Guardian to fire some warning shots over the head of Keir Starmer.

One of Len’s main gripes is around the specific issue of the Labour Party using the money Unite donates to pay off those who had taken legal action against Labour’s response to last year’s Panorama episode, which he described as a ‘huge miscalculation’.

According to McCluskey, Labour received legal advice saying that had the case gone to court, the Labour Party would have been likely to win. This adds further weight to Jeremy Corbyn’s recent claim that it was a ‘political decision, not a legal one’.

Labour’s leaked report in response to the EHRC investigation suggested that several of those involved in the Panorama episode played their part in harming the party’s election chances from the inside.

Many of them are or have been senior members of the Labour affiliate, Jewish Labour Movement, which, with an election seeming imminent, passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn last year.

So Len is right to raise the question: why is Labour using my subs and those of other Unite members to pay off people who did their best to stop Labour winning power in the last two general elections?

Unite has been the single biggest cash donor towards the Labour party in recent years. Since 2015, according to Electoral Commission figures, Unite has contributed over a third of the £75m that Labour has received in cash donations.

Corbyn’s efforts to repair Labour’s relationship with the trade unions and the influx of new members under his leadership meant that the party did not have to depend on the donations of billionaires – and the expected favours to the capitalist class that come with them – as they had during the Blair years.

This means that financially, Unite, has a lot of sway and the union should rightly expect that donations to the Labour Party are used to advance the causes of its members. What they should not be doing is rewarding those who played their part in defeating the best electoral opportunity to improve working peoples’ lives in recent memory.

What remains to be seen is how seriously Starmer will take this warning. McCluskey is rightly using the union’s influence to hold him to account in regards to the pledges he made during the leadership campaign, many of which already seem broken.

Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet, partly a result of her closeness with the teaching unions around the issue of schools reopening, has been the clearest sign yet of the new anti-union direction he is taking.

While useful to his strategy of attacking the left in the party and distancing Labour further from the Corbyn years , Starmer’s decision here is at least partly connected to his targeting a certain type of voter he thinks he needs to win over.

His problem is that it will further alienate the thousands of activists that were inspired by Corbyn’s leadership and many of those now choosing to prioritise working in their trade unions instead of the Labour Party, will rightly feel that their decision is correct.

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