McCluskey: Unite executive members “want questions answered” on Panorama settlement

Sienna Rodgers

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has said that executive members of his affiliated trade union – a major Labour Party donor – “want questions answered” on the BBC Panorama libel case settlement.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview, McCluskey described Labour’s settlement in the libel case involving former Labour staffers and journalist John Ware as a “clear miscalculation” and an “extraordinary decision”.

The general secretary told the BBC that he had not “ordered a review” of Unite’s financial support for Labour, nor is Unite “withholding funding”, but that members of the executive are “angry” about the pay out.

“I’ve already been approached by a number of my executive members who are angry at the fact that members’ money has been paid out to those who were suing the Labour Party,” McCluskey said.

The Unite leader reiterated that “the Labour Party’s own legal advice – eminent barristers were making it clear that Labour would win in the courts”, adding: “It’s not about drawing a line under antisemitism. We all want to do that.”

He said: “When you’re being sued, there’s only one real issue: is there a likelihood that you would lose that in court? Keir [Starmer] was advised, and the new general secretary was advised, that no we would not lose it in court.”

In a statement issued in court last month, Labour said that it was “profoundly sorry for the distress” caused by the “publication and republication” of the allegations by the party against the ex-staffers and John Ware.

The settlement was reportedly believed to have cost the Labour Party between £600,000 and £750,000, with around £200,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals who brought the case.

“It’s our members’ money,” McCluskey told the BBC. “They expect us to be influential. Very evidently, it’s perfectly legitimate for us to raise concerns when money is being spent, especially if we believe that money is being spent recklessly.”

On Labour policy-making, he said: “I’ve made it clear that we support Keir. We support him wanting to unite the party. But by the same token, he ran on a radical programme to become leader.

“My only message to him is he needs to be careful that the balance that he’s approaching with policies makes certain that the left is very much involved in that, and he sticks true to his policies.”

The Unite head also described the actions of British Airways during the coronavirus crisis – wanting to sack 12,000 staff, fire and rehire 30,000 on worse terms – as “nothing short of industrial thuggery”.

Asked about the offer extended to pilots, McCluskey declared: “We will accept the pilots’ deal. The fact of the matter is, of course, that British Airways are not offering the same deal.”

He added: “No other company in the rest of the UK has adopted this type of tactic. This scorched earth approach.”

McCluskey warned the Chancellor that the end of the furlough scheme – which he called a “brave and bold” move – risks “all his good work unravelling” as “we face a tsunami of redundancies”.

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