The leader of Britain’s biggest union has been caught on camera boasting about an “entryism” plan to take over the Labour party, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told a meeting of left-wingers that he wanted to “recapture” the party and “reclaim” it at every level from local constituencies to regional and national levels, including annual conference.
Speaking alongside John McDonnell at the Labour Representation Committee event, McCluskey made a reference to party infiltration that has long been associated with 1980s faction Militant.
“Somebody called ‘Aye, aye, this looks like entryism again’. Well I don’t know, call it what you want, but you know full well that if suddenly 20 trade unionists turn up as new delegates to the constituency Labour party, you’d take the party over.”
His remarks, made in 2012, came after a bitter war of words broke out between the Unite leader and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson.
Watson had lashed out at Jon Lansman, the founder of leftwing group Momentum, after a secret tape showed him predicting it would use Unite’s money and organisation to take over Labour from enemies of Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour MPs at the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting angrily challenged Corbyn and rallied round Watson over the claims.
The row took a new twist as McCluskey blogged for HuffPost UK on Wednesday, hitting out at Watson’s “world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots”.
McCluskey, who is facing a battle with challenger Gerard Coyne in the election for the general secretary post, accused Watson of “a spiteful attempt to stir up strife” that could cost Labour councillors their seats in the coming May elections.
He denied he was “secretly in cahoots with Momentum founder Jon Lansman to bankroll his pressure group”, adding “I have never had a private meeting with Lansman about anything in my life.”
But the video published by HuffPost today shows McCluskey suggesting Unite members should infiltrate Labour at all its levels.
“We can move Labour left, we have to move Labour left. In my union … we have a political strategy that says, if we are serious about recapturing our party then we have to do something about it.”
“Our task at the moment is going out and getting members to join the Labour Party, so that we can be active at CLP [constituency Labour party] level, so that we can reclaim the regional Labour parties, the national Labour party, the national conference.”
Some Labour MPs fear that left-wing unions want to create new branches with the sole intention of influencing selection meetings ahead of the next general election.
Watson told HuffPost UK: “’These remarks provide further evidence that there is a long-standing plot by the hard left to take control of the Labour Party by employing the same methods Jon Lansman outlined when he was covertly recorded at a Momentum meeting earlier this month.”
But a Unite spokesman said: “Len was encouraging trade unionists – ordinary, decent working people - to join the Party, just as the Party was advocating, and encouraging them to argue in support of union policies within the Party, which we have always said, and openly too. To describe this as entryism is fatuous.”
And a spokeswoman for the Unite4Len campaign said: “Len was talking about trade unionists getting more involved in Labour generally.
“This isn’t about entryism, it’s not about Momentum, it’s about ordinary working people, people who work in our hospitals, drive long hours to put food on the shelves and who look after our children supporting and getting active in the Party, even becoming MPs. Surely that’s something that any Labour supporter would want to see?”
In his blog, McCluskey also took a swipe at Coyne for writing in the Sun newspaper, claiming it was “sad” that he was using “an instrument of the establishment that has led the charge against the working class and trade unionism for generations”.
But Coyne on Wednesday published his own mini-tabloid, 150,000 copies of which were sent to Unite workplaces across the country, attacking his rival.
A Unite4Len campaign spokeswoman said: “Members have been contacting Len’s campaign today to say they do not want the Unite Herald anywhere near their workplaces.
“It is exactly the kind of publication we can expect from someone who peddles fake news, particularly given the tabloid he is most associated with today is the union-busting Murdoch Sun.”
Watson, who has said he does not want to interfere in the Unite election, said: “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.
“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.”
Ballot papers for the Unite general secretary election are to due be sent out in coming days, with the closing date for votes April 28.
Labour MPs see the contest as a crucial way to build an ‘anti-Corbyn’ majority on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, where Unite currently holds four out of the 33 seats.