Sunday shows: McCluskey on Brexit, Long-Bailey, antisemitism and open selections

Ridge on Sunday

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey discussed the general election defeat, the ongoing Labour leadership and deputy elections and his union’s decision to nominate Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon.

  • On the election: “Labour suffered a major, major defeat primarily as far as I’m concerned because of Brexit… The more we slid in to be perceived as a Remain party, the more the consequences were going to be felt in our heartlands… There was a feeling of betrayal.”
  • On whether Long-Bailey would be a continuation of Corbyn: “I don’t believe it’s fair on Becky to talk in terms of ‘continuity Corbyn’. She is her own individual… It will be her vision.”
  • On whether Corbyn’s policies lost Labour the election: “That was virtually solely down to Brexit… Two years ago, Jeremy Corbyn was loved. What happened in the last two years? Brexit.” Added: “The policies that Labour stood for, and the policies that Rebecca Long-Bailey supports, are extremely popular amongst the electorate.”
  • On antisemitism and the refusal of two of the candidates to sign up to the Board of Deputies’ ten pledges: “Both Dawn and Richard have made it clear that they believe that there is need for more debate and discussion about a couple of the points that in the Board of Deputies’ ten pledges… I think that’s perfectly legitimate and for people to call for them to be kicked out of the race is utter nonsense.”

The Labour deputy contender Ian Murray, the party’s only remaining MP in Scotland, discussed his thoughts on independence and said that he is the “change candidate” in the deputy leadership race.

  • On his bid: “I have to be the change candidate because the country is screaming out for the Labour Party to change.”
  • On whether the job of the deputy is to be loyal to the leader: “Yes, the deputy should unite the party and be loyal to the leader but should also be a critical friend.”
  • On whether the candidates who refused to sign the ten pledges of the Board of Deputies should be removed from the race: “There’s a much wider issue here, actually… It’s about all the Jewish organisations and communities coming together to try and help us find a system to rid the Labour Party of the cancer of antisemitism.”
  • Pressed again on whether Dawn Butler and Burgon should remain in the contest: “I would encourage people to not bury their heads in the sand with this anymore.”
  • Asked what he offers that is different to the other candidates: “I win my marginal seat by building that broad coalition of support… I want to do that right across the country.”
  • On whether he would ever back a second independence referendum: “Well, that’s not for me to decide.”
  • Asked if Scotland should be allowed a referendum if the SNP get a majority in the 2021 election: “Well, that would be up to the Prime Minister to decide… If we disagree with the ends, let’s not facilitate the means when we’re principally against it.”
  • Asked why he thinks Scottish Labour should not be autonomous: “The Scottish Labour Party has complete autonomy already. People misunderstand this… Why don’t we use all of the autonomy of the Scottish Labour Party first, and then see where that goes?”

The Andrew Marr Show

Len McCluskey also sat down in conversation with Andrew Marr this morning, discussing the election defeat last month and the ongoing Labour leadership elections.

  • On whether he takes some responsibility for the defeat: “I think all of us have to take some responsibility.”
  • On Brexit: “Labour spent two years, 18 months, sliding into being perceived as a Remain party… At the end of the day, a policy was arrived at and we suffered the consequences of that.”
  • On whether he was wrong to have supported the call for a general election before Brexit: “I think it was a trap and I would have preferred to have had Brexit resolved much earlier.” But added: “Once the SNP and the Liberal Democrats had made it clear that they were going to support the government, then Labour was committed to a general election.”
  • On antisemitism and whether that cost Labour electorally: “Of course. We never handled the antisemitism issue correctly. We should have done things quicker. And again, you pay the consequences.”
  • On whether antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn: “I’m absolutely convinced that there were those individuals who opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s election right from the beginning, who used the antisemitism issue… The issue was not well handled. It provided ammunition for Corbyn’s enemies who used it. Lots of people were genuinely concerned – I have no problem with that – but there were others who were disingenuous.”
  • Marr suggested that this did not sound like an apology. McCluskey said: “Apology for what? I’m on record for apologising if any members of the Jewish community was hurt by what was happening in the Labour Party… I’m also on record for saying every single antisemite in the Labour Party needs to be kicked out.”
  • Asked about United Left publicly supporting Long-Bailey and Burgon ahead of the union executive’s vote: “I think it was completely wrong of a small group of people to make that decision and to publicise it.” But added: “They came to this meeting, I know, with an open mind. I don’t think that they were influenced by this small cabal of individuals who met somewhere and came out with a statement.”
  • On Unite’s decision to back Long-Bailey: “I think she’s brave, courageous. Her capabilities are beyond doubt… She’s someone who believes in lots of the radical policies that have been developed over the last few years but she has something else as well.”
  • On whether Long-Bailey is the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate: “She is an individual completely different from Jeremy Corbyn. And I don’t know that she agrees with all his policies… I think she agrees with the radical nature of the alternative that Labour offers the electorate. But she’ll have her different views about what her priorities are.”

  • On why she is a better choice than Keir Starmer: “It’s about trying to make a judgement call on who can unite the party, who can take that message back to our heartlands and indeed to the rest of the nation… My union believes Becky is the person to do that.”
  • On picking Burgon over Angela Rayner for deputy: “Angie was excellent, first class. And of course that’s the debate – you can only choose one. My executive decided to choose Richard and that’s where we stand.”
  • On Long-Bailey supporting open selections: “Becky gave a brilliant answer on Friday at Unite. She basically said having open selection stops the internal fights and arguments that can occur in order to get a trigger ballot.”
  • On his personal support for open selections: “At the moment, all Labour MPs could be up for election if there’s a trigger ballot – and that trigger ballot goes on forever. By having an open selection, it means everyone knows they’re up for accountability.”
  • Asked about future relations between unions and the government: “Working with trade unions would be a clever move for the Prime Minister. If he tries to take on the trade unions, then it would be a fundamental mistake for him.”

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay also appeared to discuss the government’s trade negotiation objectives for the next phase of Brexit. He told Marr that he believes HS2 should go ahead.

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