Tom Watson suggests Unite members could oust Len McCluskey over Jeremy Corbyn support

Posted On: 
18th July 2016

Tom Watson has suggested “furious” Unite members could oust union chief Len McCluskey in protest at his support for embattled Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson
PA Images

Labour’s deputy leader argued thousands of union members’ jobs depend on the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent programme, which Mr Corbyn has pledged to vote against later this evening.

Mr McCluskey has made a number of statements condemning the move against Mr Corbyn’s leadership, and talks between the pair and Mr Watson to resolve the impasse broke down earlier this month.

GMB boss Tim Roache on Radio 4: All Labour MPs - especially Corbyn - should vote for Trident

Tom Watson: To abstain on Trident is not to take responsibility

Emily Thornberry on Radio 4: Why I am abstaining on Trident vote

It comes as GMB chief Tim Roache hit out at the Labour leader for refusing to follow party policy on the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Speaking to the World at One, Mr Watson said tonight’s vote has serious implications for Unite and GMB members who work in Britain’s defence, military or aerospace industries.

He argued Mr McCluskey’s support for Mr Corbyn could see Unite members revolt against him in elections later this year, given the Labour leader's opposition to renewal.

“There you have Len McCluskey strongly supporting Jeremy Corbyn, who will be voting against the Trident programme tonight, which will put many defence workers in Unite out of their jobs if he gets his way,” he said.

“So I think there will be consequences for the unions in this as well. There are executive elections coming up in Unite later in the year. If I was a defence worker in Unite and I was reading social media that Unite were about to give Jeremy Corbyn a quarter of a million pounds of my subscriptions, I would be furious today.

“And I’m sure that that will lend to the division in the whole of the movement as we go forward.”

Labour is split three ways on the issue of renewing Trident, as Mr Corbyn has pledged to vote against, key figures in the Shadow Cabinet will abstain, and the bulk of MPs are expected to vote in favour of the motion.

Mr Watson said that while the Commons vote was an act of "skulduggery" on behalf of the Tories, he lamented that the Labour party was not taking a position on the issue.

“I just think you have to take a position if a vote of this magnitude is put in Westminster. To abstain is to not take responsibility and that is the situation that I strongly believe,” he said.


Appearing on the same programme, Mr Roache, GMB general secretary, criticised Mr Corbyn for relying on his mandate from party members to remain leader, but ignoring it in the policy-making progress.

“You can’t have democracy on the one hand and cry foul if things don’t go your way and say ‘that’s not very democratic’; but then on the other hand you say ‘I’m just going to ignore this part of the policy because it’s been my policy for years’. With leadership comes responsibility,” he told Radio 4.

Mr Roache, whose union supported Mr Corbyn’s bid for the Labour top job last year, said electability now had to be a central question for the leadership.

“I said back in June that, had any of the other three candidates been elected, then I think the Labour party would have continued to die by the thousand deaths and the millions of people deserting us as had been the case for many years.

“The reality is Jeremy’s policies have taken us back towards the centre, the centre-left, however your listeners want to view it, but now it’s about how to win power, now it’s about who can take those policies and get Labour elected so that not only in opposition do we hold this Government to account but at the next election we win and we get power that working people so desperately need.”

Asked whether he believed Mr Corbyn was the leader to do that, he said: “I don’t know.”