Unite general secretary tells Labour the party has “disenfranchised” those opposed to cuts

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By a Newsnet reporter

In an article published in the Guardian yesterday, Les McLuskey, general secretary of trade union Unite, said that by embracing the Tories’ austerity plan, Labour had disenfranchised the low paid and union members who will bear the brunt of Westminster cuts.  Mr McLuskey warned that Labour was on a path to destruction, and if it did not change course would most likely lose the next Westminster General Election.

Unite is the largest financial backer of the Labour party, and Mr McLuskey’s article is a warning to Labour that the party is alienating its traditional support base in the trade union movement.  

The Unite general secretary noted that there is now little difference between the three Westminster parties on the economy, and that all are now insisting that ordinary citizens must foot the bill for the financial train wreck caused by the banking collapse.  He added:  “The political elite that was united in promoting the City-first deregulation policies that led to the crash is now united in asserting that ordinary people must pick up the tab for it.”

Mr McLuskey said in the article that the trade unions now found themselves fighting Labour’s front bench as much as the Conservative led Coalition.  Referring to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls’ embracing of the Conservative austerity plan, Mr McLuskey asked:  “Where does this leave the half a million people who joined the TUC’s march for an alternative last year, and the half of the country at least who are against the cuts?  Disenfranchised.”

The veteran union leader added:  “The real points of differentiation between Labour and the government on the economy are now very hard to identify.”  He went on, “this year we have seen one shadow minister after another falling over themselves to endorse savage spending cuts which are hurting real people. Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy, Stephen Twigg and now Ed Balls: four horsemen of the austerity apocalypse.”

Mr Balls claimed in a speech to the Fabian Society on Saturday that Labour wanted to put the needs of the unemployed ahead of those who are already in work.  However Mr McLuskey dismissed the Shadow Chancellor’s argument that a freeze on public sector pay was necessary, describing it as a “hoary old fallacy”.

Mr McLuskey said:  “The only justification offered for supporting the pay freeze is that ‘jobs must be the priority’, thereby buying into the hoary old fallacy that increasing the wages of the low-paid risks unemployment.”  

Mr McLuskey warned that unless Labour radically change direction, the party was headed for “certain defeat” at the next Westminster General Election and risked “destruction”.  He also called Ed Miliband’s leadership into question, saying that Mr Balls’ policy U-turn was “a victory for discredited Blairism at the expense of the party’s core supporters”.  He added: “It also challenges the whole course Ed Miliband has set for the party, and perhaps his leadership itself.”

In a stinging rebuke to Labour’s front bench team, Mr McLuskey said:  “This is the last gasp of the neoliberalism which led to 2008, and the final point on the arc of ‘new Labour’ politics – from ‘things can only get better’ to ‘heaven knows we’re miserable now’ and will be for the foreseeable future.”  

A spokesman for Mr Miliband dismissed Mr McLuskey’s concerns, saying:  “Len McCluskey is wrong about our policy now and our approach for the future.

“And Len McCluskey is wrong about what the last week showed for the Labour Party – a party united in its determination to pursue fairness, make capitalism more responsible, and protect our priorities.”

With Labour’s conversion to the Con Dem austerity plan, voters in England are now left without any party offering an alternative strategy.  For the Scottish electorate however, the political landscape is very different.  Scots voters have a clear alternative in the form of an SNP government with a very different set of political and economic priorities.  

With the clock now ticking in the countdown to the independence referendum, due to be held in autumn 2014, the risk for Labour is that in attempting to repeat the trick of Tony Blair by ‘triangulating’ his way into the centre ground of British politics, Ed Miliband may find himself moving the party considerably to the right of the centre ground in Scottish politics.  This is likely to further reduce the willingness of Scottish Labour voters to trust the party to protect them from the excesses of Conservatism and demoralise the party’s crumbling activist base even further.