Fri, 24 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Exclusive: Labour are being ‘timid’ in the face of ‘worst recession since the 1930s’, warns Len McCluskey

Len McCluskey is the general secretary of Unite the Union

4 min read

Labour risks looking like “middle managers” while the UK faces a “tsunami of redundancies” and the worst recession since the 1930s, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has warned.

The union chief argued the Labour leadership had shown an “element of timidity” and “fear” in failing to set out the party’s position amid the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an interview with The House magazine, Mr McCluskey also warned Sir Keir he would not win an election without the support of the left, as he urged the Labour leader not to deviate from his policy pledges during the campaign to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

“Currently, we are facing a tsunami of redundancies,” Mr McCluskey said.

“I’m genuinely not trying to scaremonger, that’s the last thing I’d want to do, but this could be the type of recession that would be even worse than the 30s.

“Now, the knock-on effect of that with an economy trying to pick itself up and breathe life back in itself is devastating.

“And Labour, in my opinion, at the moment, and Keir and his team should be arguing strongly with what they would do if they were in power. What should they do? How can you avoid this tsunami of redundancies? What can you offer people? Where is your strategy?

“I would like to see them argue a lot more on that. Just like the economic arguments, it seems to me there’s an element of timidity among some of the leadership team to come out and say what is needed for fear that they then get attacked about ‘Well okay, where’s the money coming from’ and ‘how are you going to do this’ or ‘how are you going to do that’."

The Unite chief added: “There is an element of I think fear rather than caution. I can understand people being cautious, but you can be cautious and confident. 

“Labour needs the politics of ideals and ideas. Otherwise, you just look like middle management, a middle management team. That won’t inspire anybody.”

Labour needs the politics of ideals and ideas. Otherwise, you just look like middle management, a middle management team. That won’t inspire anybody

While Mr McCluskey praised Mr Starmer for his “competent and disciplined” approach, he said he would be keeping “a close eye” on whether the Labour leader stuck to his campaign pledges, which he suggested would conditional for his continued support.

During the leadership race, Mr Starmer set out “ten pledges” which included taxing the top 5% of earners, abolishing tuition fees and support for common ownership of rail, mail, water and energy.

Mr McCluskey's intervention comes as Labour refuses to clarify whether it supports a wealth tax, arguing the party will set out its policies before the next general election.

“What I see coming out of [Labour’s] Treasury team and those that are in powerful positions, seems to me a view that tries to buy into the argument that the best way not to be controversial is to say nothing," warned Mr McCluskey. "That would be a huge, huge mistake.”

He added: “The other thing I know is he will not win an election next time around without the support of the left, and equally, he won’t win an election unless he presents an alternative economic strategy, unless he enthuses people with a view that says, another future is possible.”


In his interview with The House magazine on the future of the left, Mr McCluskey also issued a rallying call to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn – and said he will push for a meeting of left-wing allies in the coming weeks.

“It is absolutely essential that the left and the various strands of the left come together," he said.

"There is no doubt a demoralisation. It can be debilitating when something like 2019 happens and then the leader that you may have supported or the type of leader doesn’t emerge. My message is that we have to have a united party, but more than anything, we need a united left.

“I believe that it will be important for an appropriate gathering of the left to take place. I will be urging that and it needs to take place soon in order to do our pledges of what we believe in policy-wise, what we stand for.”

And he declared: “I would say that the reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated. The left is a powerful force.”

Elsewhere in the feature, Richard Burgon, the former shadow justice secretary and member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, said: “We don’t think when we’re going into an economic crisis of the severity that is predicted, that managerialism or tinkering around the edges will suffice.”

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