Unite leadership contest heats up as Len McCluskey turns on 'unscrupulous' rival

Posted On: 
2nd January 2017

The battle to be Unite’s general secretary intensified today after the two leading candidates exchanged attacks over each other’s links within the Labour party. 

Jeremy Corbyn and Len McCluskey
PA Images

The row was sparked when Len McCluskey, who is seeking a third term at the head of the UK’s largest union, said Jeremy Corbyn could leave his position in 2019 if Labour’s “awful” polling performance had not improved by then.

Gerard Coyne, one of two challengers for the top job in Unite, said he had been left “astonished and deeply concerned” by the “public ultimatum” and accused Mr McCluskey of being more interested in acting as “Labour’s puppet master” than fighting for union members.

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The attack prompted a furious response from Mr McCluskey, who said Mr Coyne was being controlled by Labour MPs who were opposed to Mr Corbyn’s leadership and wanted to “bring back Blairism”.

He said the “puppet master” accusation “panders to the worst anti-Labour stereotypes of the media” and pointed out that Unite’s ruling executive and policy conference had both endorsed the union’s support for Mr Corbyn in the last two Labour leadership contests.

“These unscrupulous remarks show that Gerard Coyne’s campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members’ interests,” charged Mr McCluskey.  

“They are being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party, for whom Unite would be collateral damage in their political project to bring back Blairism.

“Unite is electing a general secretary, not a politicians’ puppet.  I urge Gerard Coyne to raise the tone of his campaign, and focus on the workplace issues which Unite members care about.”

Mr Coyne had earlier criticised the Unite boss for his close alliance with Mr Corbyn.

“It is not in the interest of Unite’s members that the general secretary should spend so much of his time and their money playing politics,” he said in a statement.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror this morning, Mr McCluskey had put a timeline for Mr Corbyn to turn around Labour’s fortunes.

“Let’s suppose we are not having a snap election. It buys into this question of what happens if we get to 2019 and opinion polls are still awful.

“The truth is everybody would examine that situation, including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell…

“These two are not egomaniacs, they are not desperate to cling on to power for power’s sake.”

He subsequently restated his support for Mr Corbyn on Twitter, claiming it was wrong to interpret the comments as a softening of his alliance.