Len McCluskey has discussed the alienation of Unite members in relation to Labour’s current direction as a meeting of the union’s executive voted to cut funding to the party by 10% last night.
Speaking to BBC Newsnight a week in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, McCluskey said many of the executive members of Unite, Labour’s biggest individual donor, were unhappy with the party’s handling of the Panorama libel case.
McCluskey said: “We give significant money to the Labour Party and I well remember when I first took over as general secretary of this union ten years ago my members everywhere were saying ‘why are we giving the Labour Party so much money?’, because they felt that New Labour was letting them down.
“And there will be that demand again, I have no doubt, if things start to move in different directions and ordinary working people start saying, ‘well I’m not sure what Labour stands for’.”
He added: “I’ve got an executive next week and there’s already some anger at the fact that the Labour Party paid out significant sums of money to individuals involved in that Panorama programme…”
“They’re angry because they thought it was an absolute mistake and wrong to pay out huge sums of money to individuals who were suing the Labour Party based on the Panorama programme when Labour’s owns legal people were saying they would lose that case if it went to court, so we shouldn’t have paid them anything.”
“There’s a lot of anger.”
The union Unite’s executive has today voted to cut funding to the Labour Party by 10%. Unite is the Labour Party’s biggest donor.
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) October 6, 2020
Labour apologised “unreservedly” in July to ex-staffers and journalist John Ware in the Panorama libel case. The party agreed to pay “substantial damages” believed to have cost between £600,000 and £750,000.
McCluskey tweeted at the time that the decision was a “misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court”. He added that the leaked antisemitism report “tells a very different story about what happened”.
The interview last night aired just hours after the executive of the union voted to cut the money it sends to the Labour Party each year by 10%, reducing its affiliation to the Labour Party by around 50,000 members.
In a statement issued this morning, McCluskey said: “Unite is and will remain the biggest affiliate to the Labour Party, something that we are very proud to be… But we also want to use our political funding to support and nurture the newer voices in our movement.
“There are some very talented thinkers and energetic organisations out there who could do with our assistance – and the Labour Party needs their enthusiasm and ideas too.”
He added: “Our party has been the engine of progress in these isles during both the last and this century, from developing universal healthcare and education to Sure Start and NHS investment.
“We want to make sure it retains that spirit and determination because our movement’s brighter future – and a Labour government in 2024 – depends on this.”