Unite the Union General Secretary Len McCluskey and other left-leaning unions will be forced to accept a more moderate Labour Party should they want victory, a leading political history expert has told Express.co.uk. Mr McCluskey hit headlines this month after announcing Unite would retract 10 percent of its funding to Labour. It came amid tensions between left-wing factions of the party and Sir Keir Starmer’s push to return Labour to the centre-ground.
The retraction of funds has widely been interpreted as having to do with Sir Keir’s payout to former Labour employees turned whistleblowers who appeared in a Panorama documentary about antisemitism in the party.
Mr McCluskey called the settlement a “huge miscalculation”.
Reports suggested that the withdrawal of funds amounted to some £1million, although Mr McCluskey moved to dispel rumours, telling day Times that the figure was more in the region of £150,000.
Despite his opposition, Mr McCluskey and his supporters will be forced to tow the line and accept changes made by Sir Keir, according to Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham who specialises in the politics of the Labour Party.
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He reflected on Tony Blair’s moving the party into its ‘New Labour’ stage at the turn of the century, a far cry from its traditional socialist roots, and compared the response from unions then to today’s landscape.
Prof Fielding explained: “Tony Blair had a great advantage when he became leader – Labour had been out of power since 1979.
“Union leaders might have had some misgivings about Blair and the direction he wanted to take the party, but by that point they were so fed up with losing elections, and they were persuaded that Blair was the man that would win the next election – they just wanted power.
“By that point the party basically rolled over in terms of what Blair wanted to do.
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“There were of course voices of Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott, especially around Clause 4.
“A lot of union leaders piped up and didn’t want it to happen, but a lot of them by that point – and I think we’ve reached that point now – were fed up of having a Government whose basic object was to bash them over their heads.
“They were willing to accept what little Blair offered them; they basically accepted anything that Blair was willing to give them because the alternative was to stay in opposition and the Conservatives to roll them further down the road.
“I think we’ve reached that point: Labour’s been out of office since 2010, most trade unionists, most union leaders, most Labour members, reluctantly or not, will probably think ‘Keir Starmer might be our root back into power’.
“Ultimately, they’re going to accept what Starmer is saying Labour needs to do to win the next general election.”
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Mr McCluskey has said he has “always liked” and supported Sir Keir.
The former lawyer appears to have carried on with several of former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 policies: higher taxes on the wealthy, the abolition of tuition fees, the “common ownership” of rail, mail, energy and water, and ending NHS outsourcing.
However, allies of Mr McCluskey have accused Sir Keir and his inner circle of “not listening” to the party’s left-wing, according to BBC Newsnight.
Sir Keir agreed to payout an estimated £370,000 in damages to former employees.
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Mr McCluskey said the move was an “abuse of members’ money,” suggesting another cut might happen should the party’s course change too drastically.
Unite is Labour’s single biggest donor.
It has given the party more than £7million since the start of 2019, according to Electoral Commission records.
Mr McCluskey has repeatedly denied many of the allegations of antisemitism in the party under Mr Corbyn.
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He has pointed to a leaked report drawn up at the end of Mr Corbyn’s leadership that alleges some staff opposed the left-wing leader during the 2017 general election and took money away from his team’s control.
Although Unite has become synonymous with Labour, Mr McCluskey warned: “It would be a mistake if anybody took Unite for granted.
“I think that would be a mistake.”