Labour had a good week with the voters two weeks ago. Three convincing by-election victories brought three excellent new Labour MPs onto the Commons’ benches and sent a clear message to the Coalition that the damage they are inflicting on communities across the country is intolerable and unwelcome.
As a party, we are connecting with the public. It is not just that they, like me, want an end to the mindless austerity-induced misery the Coalition is delivering. It is starting to become clear that Labour is offering a different vision for Britain: a country where our public services are nourished, valued and supported to be world-class for all; where getting young people off benefits and into work is our top priority; where we face the challenges of the modern world together and share the rewards more fairly.
Now there is another election looming in the labour movement- for the General Secretary of Unite, the country’s biggest trade union.
The decision by Unite’s executive leadership to trigger this election comes as a surprise as Len McCluskey still has over two years to serve. But I fully support the decision, taken by the Union’s executive with the backing of its General Secretary, to bring this election forward.
The 2015 General Election will be the most important election for a generation. It is an opportunity to consign this miserable Coalition and its divided, unjust vision of society to the dustbin of history. More importantly, we must deny the Tories the chance to form a Government and inflict further damage on working people without the distractions of Coalition. For Labour to win this election convincingly we will have to be organised. This will be an election we win on the doorstep, in the workplace and in our communities.
Who is better placed to marshal the labour movement than the trade unions? More than six million people in this country are trade union members; it is the biggest voluntary movement in the country, staffed by people who work on the frontline in their communities up and down the country. In short, it is the Big Society.
Unite is the biggest trade union, bringing together one and a half million men and women and uniting public and private sector workers under a common banner. In 2015 we need Unite to be fully focused on the task in hand: ridding us of this heartless and incompetent Government. The last thing we need is one of the major unions distracted by internal elections.
So I applaud Len McCluskey and the leadership of Unite for this decision. There will only be one election in 2015 that matters and that is the one that will determine the future of our country.
I have a personal interest in the outcome, as a member of Unite, and proud to be so. Over the last two years I have worked side by side with Len and Unite members in Wigan and across the country to defend our youth services, save the EMA, protect pensions and save jobs. I admire the leadership McCluskey has shown in some tough industrial disputes, helping to bring peace to the fractious construction industry and resolve the bitter BA dispute. I believe he is a force to be reckoned with.
There is no denying that Unite had a tumultuous early life. After the merger of my trade union – the Transport and General Workers union – with Amicus there were bound to be some rocky times ahead. But in the last two years, since Len McCluskey has been in office, I have seen Unite go from strength to strength. It is growing in the public sector and reaching out to young people at a time when they most need our support. It is leading the fight to defend Agenda for Change and our National Health Service. It has been a consistent voice against the disastrous austerity strategy that has wreaked havoc in the economy. And it is reaching out to wider communities, fighting payday lending and Tory plans to sell off the police in the West Midlands, engaging with housing associations, credit unions and food banks to stop the disenfranchisement that comes with poverty.
It would have been an easy choice, at a time when the union movement is under unprecedented pressure, to retreat rather than reach out. It would also have been disastrous. Like Ed Miliband, Len McCluskey understands the importance of standing together in the face of the Coalition’s wrecking ball. Unity, not division, is the only way we will defeat them and we need leaders who understand this.
Soon it will be up to Unite members to decide the path they want to take. I know how I will be casting my vote.
Lisa Nandy is MP for Wigan and Shadow Children’s Minister