Len McCluskey spoke to the press gallery lunch on April Fools’ Day. It would have been more fitting had the Unite leader not been such an impressive, witty, and thorough speaker. And much of what he said wasn’t very jokey at all: Ed Miliband, I suspect, will not be chuckling away as McCluskey’s remarks are relayed to him.
The Unite leader told the Press Gallery that there could be a situation where his union votes to change its rules so that it can donate to political parties other than Labour. Labour, he told the listening hacks, is ‘at a crossroads’ and he fears for its future if the party loses in 2015:
‘Only if we change our rules, within Unite’s rules, we are affiliated to the Labour party. We cannot give any financial support to any other political party. So the rules within Unite would need to be changed, not by Len McCluskey – I know some of your papers think I have this huge power to flick switches on and off – but by our rules conference. Can I ever envisage a rules conference voting to disaffiliate from Labour? I can, I can, and that’s a challenge to Ed Miliband because I believe the Labour party is at a crossroads, this is a watershed, Labour consistently has to demonstrate that it is our voice, we created it. At the beginning of the last century, ordinary working people sat down… to create a party of labour so that we had a voice in the political arena.
‘Is Labour still that voice? I’m hoping the answer to that is yes, but we are at a stage in politics at the moment where just bumbling along in the old ways is not going to happen any more. People will put those questions under deeper scrutiny. And unless Ed and the Labour leadership demonstrate that they are on the side, just as Johann Lamont and Scottish Labour have got their task, then I can envisage a debate taking place if Labour lost the election next May I fear for the future of the Labour party and so these are serious debates at this point in time in our history we have to kind of consider all of those issues, at the moment, though that’s not on our agenda.’
Which parties could those be? Well, McCluskey made clear to the lunch that Labour could not offer a ‘pale’ version of austerity and that it had to be radical: he said, half-jokingly that he’d only join a Miliband cabinet if it were ‘radical’ and if the Labour leader asked him personally. But he also explained that Unite had not taken an official position on Scottish independence because to do so would split the union in half: many of its members support the SNP. So perhaps Alex Salmond’s party would feature in that debate about funds.
He gave the strangest of answers to a question about whether he had confidence in Douglas Alexander as Labour’s election chief, saying: ‘He’s our leader.’ He then pulled a face. Everyone else in the room pulled a face as they wondered whether, rather than brief that he should be sacked as some of Alexander’s colleagues have in the past few days, McCluskey was promoting him.
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