Len McCluskey signals potential Unite exit from Labour

by Atul Hatwal

Big news from Len McCluskey’s turn before the press gallery this afternoon. Speaking to journalists, he said that he could envisage Unite changing its rules on funding to support other parties and leaving Labour, if the Labour was to lose the next election.

“Only if we change our rules, within Unite’s rules, we are affiliated to the Labour party. We cannot give any financial support to any other political party. So the rules within Unite would need to be changed, not by Len McCluskey – I know some of your papers think I have this huge power to flick switches on and off – but by our rules conference. Can I ever envisage a rules conference voting to disaffiliate from Labour? I can, I can, and that’s a challenge to Ed Miliband because I believe the Labour party is at a crossroads, this is a watershed…if Labour lost the election next May I fear for the future of the Labour party and so these are serious debates at this point in time in our history we have to kind of consider all of those issues, at the moment, though that’s not on our agenda.” (h/t Isabel Hardman)

This is potentially an enormous shift in Labour politics. If Unite were to disaffiliate, three points are relevant.

First, the balance of the party would shift towards the right. Unite are the most vocal and powerful of the unions on the left and without their seats on the NEC, votes at conference, financial leverage and members’ role in any future Labour leadership election, the party would likely move more to the centre.

Second, it suggests the Collins union reform proposals, passed with much fanfare in February, were only a stop-gap for Unite, pending the result of the next election. If Labour loses, then all bets are off.

Third, it would mean that the total number of trade unionists affiliated to the Labour party would drop below half the total number of trade unionists in the country for the first time.

At the moment there are 6.5m trade unionists in Britain and according to the latest figures on the TUC website, the 15 trade unions affiliated to the Labour party represent 4.2m of them. If Unite disaffiliated, with a membership of 1.4m, the number of trade unionists affiliated to Labour would drop to 2.8m or 43% of all trade union members.

Unite’s potential exit from Labour would also have more profound implications for Labour’s union link.


Where Unite has led, many of the other unions have eventually followed. With only a minority of trade unionists’ unions affiliated, and expectations that barely 10% of individual trade unionists in this group are likely to take-up the new Labour party membership option created by Collins, Labour’s base in the rank and file union movement would be extremely small.

Len McCluskey’s words could be a bluff to concentrate the minds of Labour’s leadership in the coming negotiations on policy. But if they represent a real threat, which is likely given the well known pressure he faces from the left-wing of his executive and the ongoing merger discussions with the PCS union (which is not affiliated to Labour and has been actively hostile to the party leadership), there could be big changes on the way for Labour in 2015.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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8 Responses to “Len McCluskey signals potential Unite exit from Labour”

  1. swatantra says:

    I suggest Len donate to the Cooperative Party, which is one step removed from the Labour Party. We share a lot in common.

  2. John reid says:

    Labour has to concentrate on not burning money ,on its pointless exercises, such as phone voter canvassing, paying for advertising literature, that doesn’t get delivered, and spend it where it’s needed, if Len, carries this out after 2016″ based on labour losing we’ll have to organise better as a party in terms of fund raising locally.

  3. Ralph Baldwin says:

    The disaffiliation would be the best possible outcome for the poor beleaguered Left. It would also mean the end of the Labour Party.
    But the Labour Party is already dead, now little more than a platform of prancing Prima Donna’s who heirs inherit their positions in the dwindling numbers of safe seats.
    Once policy becomes a shallow poll whim you know your party is in trouble and Labour a party once guided by great and potent symbols that still exist in the minds of some. In fact it is the mere memory of these ideals which allow some safe seats to still exist at all.

    But this is all it is a memory….

    The Party is dead not because I say it is, but because it no longer functions, if it did there would be no political crises, no SNP, there would have been no BNP elected.

    All across Europe the Left has failed and it has failed because of two fundamentals that are deeply Constitutional in terms of their position in the depths of those who supported and still support the dead party today.

    Not a single MP in Parliament, not wonk, a spad, or any posh thug in a suit can identify it or even understand it, in the whole of Westminster. They want to at least a small minority. But they never will.

    It is the very conceptual feeling and idea that most exclusive MPs took advantage of but never understood and it would theoretically be the very foundation that would unify the two disparate groups that are Labour today. It’s death is Labours death and McClusky would be well advised to move his money elsewhere for now and let the snakes turn on each other as the money vanishes until they leave for more comfortable quarters that they adore so very much. Otherwise the pain and decline continue, a Left without any understanding of how they evolve in the 21st century and being nothing more than an Orwellian failure.

  4. paul barker says:

    McCluskey has already made his opposition to Labour joining a Coalition clear, now hes going to take his (members) money away if you go into opposition; you had better win a majority then. Pity about your steady decline in the Polls & the infighting in the Leadership.
    Seriously though, Labour have had 3 comfortable years, puffed up with protest votes & the fake Unity those Poll “leads” brought, now its time to wake up.
    The 3 Pillars of The Labour Movement, Unions, Socialists & Co-operatives are shifting apart, your Party is divided & up to ite ears in Debt & the sensible, moderate wing seem increasingly powerless & isolated.
    Why not look forward, get ahead of the game & join The Libdems without having to go through all the pain to come ?

  5. John Woods says:

    It is a problem for the Labour Party that the people who founded it are no longer in love with it. I doubt if the brothers gathering together in 1900 to found the Labour Representation Party envisioned the party that won the General Election in 1945 and 1997. However, Len has a good point in asking “what is Labour for?” and if they are not successful in winning elections and promoting the cause of working people, why support them?
    It is always easier to put the negative case that “if we don’t support them, we are at the mercy of the Tories and any coalition they manage to found”. Picture Clem Attlee in 1935 when he became leader of a Labour Party with 35 MP’s with the Tories having redefined politics as dealing with austerity, with nearly six million unemployed. Ed Miliband needs to start defining what Labour is, soon, and in a way that makes people want to vote Labour in May 2015 and the Unions to want to be affiliated.

  6. treborc says:

    We are hearing about Union members are not happy, so Union moguls are having to sound hard, yet look at how much funding labour have had from Unions this year, does that look like they are walking away. But you no longer can expect a something for nothing deal.

  7. Robert says:

    The most interesting part of McCluskey’s comments were that he acknowledged that a party to the left of Labour would need a new voting system. It is a pity that he did not think about that in 2011.

  8. John reid says:

    Robert 1150pm, yes

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