Len McCluskey has attacked Tom Watson for engaging in a “world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots”, after Labour’s deputy leader said the Unite union was involved in a “hard-left” plot to take over the party.
Writing for The Huffington Post UK today, McCluskey said at a time Labour needed “loyalty” from its MPs, Watson was “sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab”.
McCluskey, who is seeking re-election as general secretary of Unite, accused Watson of behaving like a “low-budget remake of The Godfather” and trying to to control the union by installing Gerard Coyne as his “puppet” at its head.
The influential union leader and Jeremy Corbyn-ally said Labour councillors would lose their seats in May’s local elections as a result “divisive outbursts” from Watson.
An explosive public row erupted over the weekend after The Observer published a recording Jon Lansman, the founder of the Momentum campaign organisation, claiming there were plans for Unite to affiliate to the group.
Watson yesterday said Lansman was trying to use Unite funds to help Momentum take over Labour and warned there was now a “battle for the future existence” of the party.
And voices were raised at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) last night as tempers boiled over at briefings that Watson had been “reckless” in raising concerns about the grassroots movement.
Watson hit back at McCluskey’s blog on Tuesday afternoon. “It is only by being in power that Labour can change the lives of millions of people. So when I heard the covert recording of Momentum head Jon Lansman setting out plans to interfere in the selection of MPs and councillors I had a duty to speak out,” he told HuffPost UK.
“I am sorry that Len McCluskey has to use personal insults instead of arguing his case. It would be more productive if he would state categorically that Unite will never fund Momentum or give any form of financial support to an organisation that directs its members to take control of Labour Party structures and organise inside other trade unions.”
Corbyn and Watson yesterday admitted there had been “robust” discussions over the role of Momentum in the party, but issued a joint statement calling for “unity”.
However in his strongly worded HuffPost UK blog, McCluskey denied he was “secretly in cahoots” with Lansman to bankroll Momentum and blasted Watson.
“When Labour has needed loyalty he has been sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab. When unity is required, he manufactures division,” McCluskey said of Labour’s deputy leader.
“It is small surprise that he has then worked to split the Party again this week. He has form as long as his arm. And now his sights are set on abusing the internal democracy of Unite.
“Who can forget his notorious ‘curry house’ conspiring under the last Labour government? Or the way he suddenly pulled the plug on our discussions to avert last year’s disastrous PLP coup, which has done lasting damage to Labour?”
McCluskey said Watson was “a product of the manipulative and authoritarian culture of the old trade union right-wing, for whom power was an end in itself, and all means acceptable to attain it.
“So it is good that the Shadow Cabinet came together to slap him down yesterday after his latest spiteful attempt to stir up strife.”
He added Watson “may well have been blaming the Unite caretaker for digging a secret tunnel linking Unite HQ to Jon Lansman’s home.
“The fact is that I have never had a private meeting with Lansman about anything in my life, let alone on this alleged scheme.”
McCluskey said there was now “unprecedented interference from Labour Party politicians” in Unite’s election.
“I know Tom. I am still proud to have privately and publicly supported him when he was under great personal strain because of his courageous campaign against the Murdoch empire,” he said.
“How sad then that he should turn on those of us who supported him in his darkest hour, and how sad that his candidate, Gerard Coyne, should now be using The Sun, to attack his own union – a rotten tabloid and an instrument of the establishment that has led the charge against the working class and trade unionism for generations. Such behaviour is what happens when values are trashed by ambition.”
He added: “The men and women at the sharp end want a focus on jobs, investment and protection at work.
“They don’t want their union democracy turned into a low-budget remake of The Godfather and they certainly don’t want the politicians taking over the union.
“Sensible Labour politicians – and there are many – know it too. That is why they have told Tom to put a sock in it. As the great Clement Attlee told a truculent and over-talkative minister – “a period of silence from you would be most welcome.”