POLITICS

Former Labour Party Boss In Spat With Top Union Official: 'People Think You're Weird'

02/06/2014 12:41 BST | Updated 03/06/2014 22:59 BST
Owen Humphreys/PA Archive
PA News 1/10/98 Labour Party General Secretary Margaret McDonagh has a quiet word with Prime Minister Tony Blair during the Labour Party conference in Blackpool.

On Saturday the Blairite Labour think-tank Progress held its conference in central London. The group, which flies the flag for New Labour and counts several shadow ministers in its ranks, had a bitter run-in with some on the left of the party when in 2012 one union leader tried to get it banned.

Ed Miliband rejected demands by GMB general secretary Paul Kenny that the organisation be "outlawed" as part of the Labour Party. But two years on the tensions clearly remain.

Labour’s former general secretary, Baroness Margaret McDonagh, had a public spat with Andrew Murray, the chief of staff of the Unite union, as the pair took part in a discussion about how Labour could win in 2015.

McDonagh, who ran the party machine from 1998 to 2001 and also played a key role in Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide election victory, branded Murray "weird" in ill tempered exchanges. Murray had told the audience that Labour members possibly had to choose between being members of Progress or supporting the unions.

"I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with a magazine and people getting together to talk about politics. It is really weird and people do think you’re weird for it," McDonagh said.

"I think people in the Labour Party are perfectly capable of liking both,” she said. “I think this is a weird obsession, a really weird obsession."

Murray insisted he had been joking, before taking on a audience member who complained about Unite general secretary Len McCluskey taking pot-shots at Progress and its aims. "Get over it," Murray said. "Whatever cracks are made by my boss about Progress, they are infinitesimal compared to the attacks on my union by people in the Labour Party."

During the meeting McDonagh also said that with one year to go until the general election, Labour had become too focused on polling data.

"The Labour Party has become obsessed with, and I hate them, marginal constituency polls," she said. "It all seems to me about us winning, us getting something, and nothing about what we want to do for people."

She added: “Someone at this point quotes [former governor of New York] Mario Cuomo: ‘We campaign in poetry in and we govern in prose'. He didn’t say 'we campaign in numbers'."