By a Newsnet reporter
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Britain’s largest trade union Unite, has warned Labour leader Ed Miliband that he risks being defeated at the next General Election.
Mr McCluskey fears that influence on Labour policy from Blairites will destroy Labour’s chances of defeating the Conservatives.
The Unite leader singles out Scottish MPs Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, and Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, for special criticism. Mr McCluskey considers the pair as being especially damaging to Labour’s prospects of forming the next UK government.
In an interview with the New Statesman magazine, the Unite leader advised Mr Miliband that he must adopt radical policies to counter the Coalition government. He warned that the influence on party policy from Blairites like Mr Murphy and Mr Alexander risked casting Mr Miliband “into the dustbin of history”.
Mr McCluskey said:
“Ed Miliband must spend most of his waking hours grappling with what lies before him. If he is brave enough to go for something radical, he’ll be the next prime minister. If he gets seduced by the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders, then the truth is that he’ll be defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history.”
The Unite leader was scathing in his criticism of influential Blairites, accusing them being locked in the past and in denial of their role in the financial collapse of 2008. The Unite general secretary added that the gap between rich and poor which increased under Labour’s term in office was a “stain” on what the party stands for.
He added: “It may be easy for these people, who are sitting with the huge sums of money that they’ve amassed now – they’ve done pretty well out of it. Remember it was Mandelson who said he was comfortable about the filthy rich – presumably that’s because he wanted to be one of the filthy rich. But the fact is that under Labour the gap between rich and poor increased … that’s a stain on what Labour stands for.”
Mr McCluskey also had sharp criticism for shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne. It was reportedly due to interventions from Mr Byrne that Labour decided not to oppose the Coalition government’s decision to introduce back-dated legislation to avoid paying compensation to jobseekers who were illegally deprived of benefits after the High Court ruled that the government’s workfare scheme broke the law. Mr McCluskey hinted that Mr Byrne should be excluded from the shadow cabinet, saying:
“Byrne certainly doesn’t reflect the views of my members and of our union’s policy. I think some of the terminology that he uses is regrettable and I think it will damage Labour. Ed’s got to figure out what his team will be.”
Support from the Unite union was instrumental in securing Ed Miliband’s victory in the Labour leadership election following the resignation of Gordon Brown. Mr Miliband’s backing from the powerful union has been seen as a key powerbase for the Labour leader, however Mr McCluskey’s comments appear to show that Mr Miliband is losing the unions’ support.
Mr McCluskey’s comments are the latest sign that the largest unions are losing patience with the Labour leader. In January this year, Dave Prentis, leader of the Unison union, also attacked Mr Miliband’s economic policies, accusing the Labour leader of “breathtaking naivety” over his support for a cap on public sector pay.
Responding to Mr McCluskey’s attack, a spokesperson for Ed Miliband described Mr McCluskey’s comments as “reprehensible” and said:
“Len McCluskey does not speak for the Labour Party. This attempt to divide the Labour Party is reprehensible.
“It is the kind of politics that lost Labour many elections in the 1980s. It won’t work. It is wrong. It is disloyal to the party he claims to represent.”
In a tweet, Jim Murphy replied to Mr McCluskey’s criticisms saying:
“It’s disappointing in advance of important local elections that Len McCluskey turns his fire on Labour.”