Unite leader Len McCluskey has blamed Labour’s election disaster on Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to apologise for anti-Semitism, his party’s “metropolitan” focus and an “incontinent” mess of unbelievable policies.
In an outspoken article for HuffPost UK, the general secretary of Britain’s second biggest union also slammed future leadership contenders such as Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry for the party’s “slow-motion” decision to back a second Brexit referendum.
Releasing the manifesto’s raft of policies all at once to offer “everything to everyone” had “strained voter credulity”, he said
McCluskey said Labour now has to elect a replacement for Corbyn “in the near future”, but added whoever gets the job has to make sure the party “is heard in Stoke as well as Stoke Newington”.
Unite, whose boss has long been a staunch supporter of Corbyn, could prove a powerful player in the leadership race as its 1.2m members can join other unions and 500,000 Labour members in determining the outcome.
Its members include many pro-Brexit workers who were likely to have been among those backing the Tories or staying at home in the 2019 election.
McCluskey said Corbyn had suffered a sustained assault on his character from the media “but alas some of the mud stuck and his leadership became an issue on the doorstep”.
“Now we need to rebuild, reflect on what went wrong and inevitably elect a new leader early in the near future,” he added.
But he also rounded on Corbyn and John McDonnell’s strategy for the entire election, as well as the leader’s own personal failure to get a grip on the anti-Jewish hatred that has dogged the party since 2016.
Corbyn refused to apologise several times on TV when asked about Labour’s failure to sort out its anti-Semitism problems, only finally expressing regret during the campaign when cornered by ITV’s This Morning.
“Labour made mistakes,” McCluskey said. “Firstly, the incontinent rush of policies which appeared to offer everything to everyone immediately, and thereby strained voter credulity as well as obscuring the party’s sense of priorities.
“Secondly, failure to apologise for anti-Semitism in the party when pressed to do so, capping years of mishandling of this question.”
But he stressed that it was “Labour’s slow-motion collapse into the arms of the People’s Vote movement and others who have never accepted the democratic decision of June 2016 for a single moment which has caused this defeat”.
In a swipe at the perceived London-centric, middle class focus of Corbyn’s Labour party, McCluskey said: “The next leader needs to understand the communities that gave birth to the labour movement, and realise that the whole country is not very like Labour London.
“As important as it is, too often, Labour addresses the metropolitan wing of its electoral coalition in terms of values – openness, tolerance, human rights – and the ‘traditional’ working-class wing simply in terms of a material offer, as if their constituencies did not have their own values of solidarity and community. That must change.”
The Unite boss said that Corbyn’s instinct to reach beyond the UK’s Leave-Remain divide was “right and honourable”.
“But it was fatally undermined from the outset by leading members of the shadow cabinet rushing to the TV cameras to pledge that they would support Remain in that second referendum come what may, never mind the ‘deal’.
“Given that these were the politicians supposedly responsible for negotiating that deal with the European Union, it was always going to be difficult to be taken seriously.”
McCluskey told HuffPost UK earlier this month that Brexit was Labour’s ‘Achilles Heel’ in the election. He highlighted “the very real issues we’ve got over Brexit and with Jeremy in some places”.