In Depth

Warning to Ed Miliband: win election or face Workers' Party

Union leader McCluskey issues 'biggest threat to Labour since the Gang of Four left to form SDP'

A RED MIST has descended on Ed Miliband – not sand from the Sahara, but a threatening cloud sent by Unite union boss Len McCluskey. If the Labour leader doesn't win the 2015 general election, says McCluskey, the unions will seek to form a breakaway Workers' Party.

At least, that's how McCluskey’s remarks have been interpreted. They were delivered to startled hacks who were just falling asleep over their port and cheese at yesterday's Parliamentary press gallery luncheon. Labour bigwigs on the top table included policy forum chair Angela Eagle.

But the MPs who will really blanche when they read McCluskey's comments are the group of Labour MPs currently supported by Unite. They include Jim Sheridan, chair of the Unite Parliamentary Group, which the union says consists of about 100 Labour MPs (although it is unclear whether all are sponsored by the union).

McCluskey said he’d always been against proportional representation because it would prevent Labour winning an outright victory. He went on: “I’ve given up on my socialist Valhalla, so I’m now rethinking my position on PR. If a new party emerged, a new Workers’ Party, then you may well find that I’m in favour of PR.

Andy McSmith, veteran political correspondent of The Independent and a former Labour Party press officer, says it is potentially the biggest thing to hit Labour since the breakaway by the Gang of Four – Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers – in March 1981.

"If carried out, the threat would plunge the left in Britain into its biggest crisis for 33 years – resulting in the most significant split since a group of Labour MPs broke away to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981, dividing the anti-Tory vote in half,’" says McSmith. 

McCluskey made it clear that he believes Labour must include some good old-fashioned left-wing policies in its election manifesto, currently being written, if it is to win in May 2015. What he called the "pale shade of austerity" currently on offer is not good enough.

Among the left-wing policies he believes would command popular support - and which are not current Labour policy - are a return to nationalisation, starting with the train operating companies,  and a sharp increase in the national minimum wage.

The Independent's McSmith says the provisional plan in the event of an election defeat for Miliband would involve Unite, the country’s biggest union, and the GMB, the third–biggest union, cutting their ties with Labour simultaneously.

They would join forces with the RMT rail union – which disaffiliated under the leadership of the late Bob Crow. The combined membership of the three unions is almost 2.1 million.

McCluskey said: “Within Unite’s rules we are affiliated to the Labour Party and cannot give financial support to any other party, so the rules would have to be changed.”

Of course, McCluskey and Unite have form. They were responsible for foisting Ed Miliband on the Labour Party as leader instead of his brother David who was judged too Blairite.

Unite have also been active in trying to influence policy through Labour candidate selection. They were rumbled trying to promote their preferred candidate – Karie Murphy, McCluskey’s office manager - in the Labour stronghold of Falkirk.

No evidence was found by the Labour inquiry to substantiate the claims of vote-rigging for the selection process and it all blew over after a stormy few months, but Murphy was denied the chance to stand in the seat.

McCluskey told the press gallery luncheon that although he rarely meets Ed Miliband these days, they have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Some of us would give a lot of money to be flies on the wall.

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