Corbyn’s toxic legacy lingers on in Unite

by David Talbot

The seeds of Unite the Union’s recent act of self-immolation were sown in early 2018. In an article for the New Statesman, Len McCluskey opined that Labour MPs who were hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s then leadership were using antisemitism as part of a “sustained smearing” campaign against the embattled Labour leader. Praising “the great advances” made in the previous year’s general election, the party’s third historic defeat in a row, he vowed that Corbyn’s critics would have to face the consequences.

The following morning the then shadow Brexit Secretary, and now leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, popped up on the Today programme to disavow the party of the General Secretary’s comments. It was “obvious” the party had a sustained problem with antisemitism, Starmer said, and that “denying the problem is part of the problem.”

McCluskey, for all his written word to the contrary, has a repeated history of lashing out against opponents of antisemitism in the Labour Party. A longstanding Jewish Labour Member of Parliament, Margaret Hodge, was “disgraceful and despicable”, British Jewish leaders demonstrated “truculent hostility” and he was “disappointed” in the Jewish Labour Movement when it published a dossier full of testimonies of antisemitism in the party, noting rather darkly that it “doesn’t support Jeremy Corbyn”.

McCluskey had his rematch with Starmer over Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking from the Shadow Cabinet in June, calling the left’s fallen protégé sacking “an unnecessary overreaction to a confected row”.

In August, the Unite leader laid the foundations for this week’s announcement telling the Observer that he was infuriated with the Labour leader’s decision to pay substantial damages to seven former party staff who had appeared in the BBC’s Panorama documentary. As the Board of Deputies has rightly noted, it is both ironic and deeply shameful that the leader of a trade union should so disparage and attack party workers for the treatment they endured at the hands of their employers.

Ultimately, the party will be better for its lack of financial anchor to a union which has become factional in the extreme. The Labour leadership has spent the early throes of Starmer’s leadership signalling to the electorate that it new, and not much helps to further that message than a caricature of an old union baron angrily loosening its ties.

A friend who turns away from you in your hour of need is, ultimately, not your friend at all. McCluskey and his union chose to back to the hilt a leader which has taken the party back 85 years in its representation in Parliament. The very foundation of the Labour Party, some 114 years ago, was to establish “a distinct Labour group in Parliament”. Corbyn, and those who propped him up, long threatened to bury the party whose soul they zealously guarded as their own.

It is all the more disgraceful that Unite and McCluskey has decided to announce such a schism on the cusp of a tsunami of job losses. Many of which will hit workers in the sectors Unite was created to protect.

Surely, rather than factional sniping and disaffiliation from the only political party interested in further the rights of workers, Unite should be playing a pivotal role in providing a source of security and acting as a potent vehicle for millions of ordinary Britons who fear for their future. But from reproaching ideological crimes to the sheer brutalism of his attacks on prominent Labour figures over the years – from “Zombie Blairites”, funding libel against a Labour MP to attacking the Chief Rabbi – McCluskey has repeatedly stood against Labour values.

The relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party is rooted in the history and values of the labour movement. It is a link the party, rightly, cherishes. But it has been under sustained attack, not – for once – by the Labour leadership, but by a union intent on endless factionalism.

Keir Starmer is steering the right course and the party is under new management, but Corbyn’s toxic legacy still haunts it.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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15 Responses to “Corbyn’s toxic legacy lingers on in Unite”

  1. John P reid says:

    When lee jasper said black people can’t be racist and was criticised by various people some of whom at Labour uncut who are white he said you being white ,so you don’t know why you’re wrong
    So once again Jasper thinks he speaks for all black people
    Most black people aren’t anti white racists he doesn’t speak for them

  2. Alf says:

    Blair: Labour would have a 20-point lead if the party had an effective leader…

    Westminster voting intention:

    CON: 41% (+1)
    LAB: 38% (+1)
    LDEM: 8% (-)

    via @SavantaComRes, 25 – 27 Sep


  3. A.J. says:

    Does any of this really matter? Starmer is a wet-lettuce leftie, through and through, who may not be quite as thick as he appears but manages to tolerate Rayner, famously described by a right-wing journalist as having all the intellectual finesse of a cow-pat. They took the knee together, didn’t they, proving that they were nothing more than slaves to the fashionable nonsense of the particular moment? Mind you, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair both dabbled in that kind of peurile behaviour: Beatles and HP sauce or Oasis and ‘Cool Britannia’.
    We have Lord Blunkett in the ‘DM’ today championing civil liberties. Lord Blunkett! And the ‘DT’ giving column inches to Starmer. Heavens, what next, will Duncan-Smith be allowed to set out his stall in the pages of ‘The Guardian’? Probably not. Oh, and Fraser Nelson is going around preaching discontent.
    As to McCluskey, could he ever have been taken seriously? He was – is – a throwback, and older members of the electorate would have seen that. He even looks the part. He’s also – unlike, say, Mick McGahey – a bloody old fraud (a la Scargill). Maybe Labour should reconsider cutting their ties with the unions altogether – Unison are as much use as a chocolate tea-pot – and solicit contributions from members of the public instead – you know, as if they were a deserving case…

  4. John L Reid says:

    I thought labour would win the 92 election but despite the tory press lies “stealing” the election
    In retrospect going into that election the Tories were always gonna get 39% of the vote and just got a couple more percent due to the campaign
    Labour was always going to be in a smaller starting point

    The Tories have been on 40% in the polls for a. Year now

    I know the election is a few years away but unless something drastic happens labour either needs to get nearly every green/ Plaid and kinder vote
    Or get Tory votes
    We’re not doing the latter at the moment

  5. Tafia says:

    Alf, the tories ‘natural’ level appears to be between 40-42% now, with a reserve of a further 4% up their sleeve who identify as BXP/UKIP, most of whom would vote tory.

    Labours’ lbe between 37-39% – and only because the LibDem vote is shifting to them, which is pointless as it means some current LibDem seats would end up tory, whereas LibDem seats falling to Labour doesn’t worry the tories.

    The key for Labour remains Scotland. Unless Labour can bet yhe SNP in Scoland it cannot form a majority government and it cannot agree to SNP demands, and in the game of coalitions, again the tories have the advantage because of the 12-13 Unionist MPs in Ulster,

  6. John P Reid says:

    Alf, can’t believe I’m commenting on blair, but the comment
    labour would be 20% ahead With another leader was 3 years ago

    The thing that finished labour as part from the economy was starmer persuading the party to put Remain on a ballot paper for a second referendum on the ballot

    Corbyn has lost interest
    The corbyn of 10 years ago would’ve fought to say ‘the publics spoken ,we’re leaving’

    Trouble is they’d need dozens Of new MPs , who hold th convictions of the traditional working class
    Who just brcause they’d don’t have the luxury of a middle class liberal London lifestyle
    They’re not in the position
    To say we don’t need law & order
    Or the comfort of Their religious community & surroundings of Extended family Places like working men’s clubs and blue collar unions

  7. Dave Roberts says:

    Interesting post from John P Reid about Lee Jasper which seems irrelevant to this subject but true non the less. Jasper is very typical of the newly emerging black activists the majority of whom have large amounts of white in their genetic make up but choose to deny it. His mother and one of his grandmothers are white so I understand but he is a militantly black man who has been persecuted and oppressed all his life. Pathetic.

    The voting intentions are still very interesting as has been pointed out and can’t really get any better for Labour in the foreseeable future. If they can’t make headway in the present climate they never will under Starmer or anyone else. Taking the knee wasn’t a good thing to do.

  8. anosrep says:

    Keir Starmer isn’t “steering the right course”. He isn’t steering a course at all. Corbyn wasn’t “toxic”, the party’s right-wingers who spent five years attacking him (and the previous five undermining Ed Miliband) are. Meanwhile Starmer’s extreme reluctance to take and position on anything is letting actual toxic tendencies creep into the party – racism, Islamophobia, transphobia and, yes, antisemitism.

  9. anosrep says:

    * any position

  10. John P Reid says:

    We heve to question how we got into the situation where the elite wouldn’t let us leave the EU
    If they said you can have brexit but we’ll tank the economy
    As a way of flexing their muscles for them to say they knew what was best and hoe much power and control they had over us

    Labour out vote in 2019 was up 1 & a half million votes on 10 years ago
    Critic, but the tory vote is up 3 & a half million votes in the last 10 years Corbynite- that’s irrelevant

    The rob merchsnt article is great too

  11. Anne says:

    Agree with this article. With substantial unemployment looming surely Unite should be focusing on it’s members. Sunak is emphasising retraining – the unions should be playing a role in that. It is time Len retired – he sounds and behaves like someone from the past decade. The Country has moved on. Francis O’Grady appears to be more in tune with events – even Sunak sort her views on the furlough scheme. The Labour Party is under new management and certainly moving in the right direction. Kier Starmer is the man for this difficult time for our country. From the words of the presenter of ‘Have I Got News For You‘ – ‘he’s good isn’t he.’

  12. Tafia says:

    JPR – I met Lee Jasper over 20 years ago. He was a tosser and a gob-shite back then. I doubt he’s changed.

  13. wg says:

    Top trolling, Mr Talbot.

    “Surely, rather than factional sniping and disaffiliation from the only political party interested in further the rights of workers, Unite should be playing a pivotal role in providing a source of security and acting as a potent vehicle for millions of ordinary Britons who fear for their future.”

    Does your wing of the Labour Party even stop to think about the glib statements you put out there?

    “ordinary Britons” see no future: they are overwhelmed by open border globalism. They watch their culture, character, and history devalued and dragged into the sewer; the rights that they have fought for over centuries accredited to a bunch of perfumed ponces over in Brussels.

    The “ordinary Britons” watch on as a bunch of preening showcocks swan around on the EU stage prattling on about workers rights whilst trades unions are taken to the ECJ and fined for withdrawing their labour.

    “The relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party is rooted in the history and values of the labour movement.”

    It’s like some kind of sick parody.

  14. John P Reid says:

    The reason labour won in 1964 & 1974 wasn’t labours vote went up it was many Tories votes liberal and came back in 1970 and 1979 respectively
    The only way labour could win if the situation happened now is many Tories vote brexit party labour can’t get more than 38% of the vote unless labour had someone like Poset Parker or OIl embery as leader and those running the party would never tolerate it

    We’re in 2 party politics again the combined labour / Tory/ Ukip vote of 2017 election was 85.1
    The combined result now if Brexit party replaces ukip is 82.2( and like ukip they’ll have vanished soon )
    So The SNP /greens / plaid gaining the extra 2.9
    The libdems same as they were 2017

    Some plaid may go labour
    But the Tories are flatlining 41% it could go 42.5%
    Be suprised if labour get more than 38%

    Re Lee Jasper

    Once again the left are blaming Jimmy Mubenga death on the police on lee jaspers page it was G4S the liars

  15. John P Reid says:

    Come the next election if brexit is a success ,post covid
    , The public have long memories and the Tories will Describe Starmer as ,

    The one who gave the speech that over ruled the leadership by saying second referendum for remain at party conference Sept 2018 that caused the loss of the red wall

    Marched a year later with Emily Thornberry Squealing, wearing her EU blouse standing, behind a banner with Lloyd Russell moyle stating ,A second referendum for remain

    At a rally in central lobby with Diane Abbott for a second referendum for remain with Paul mason

    And shard a stage with Emily Thornberry Diane Abbott anf Alex sobel where Sobel called brexiters, racist, fascists,

    and shared a stage where Emily Thornberry laughs as Dawn butler said brexiters were thick and racist

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