Unite chief Len McCluskey fires warning shot over Labour antisemitism payout

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The chief of Labour’s biggest union backer said his organisation would “no doubt” review its financial support for the party in the wake of the decision to offer payouts to whistleblowers who accused the party of failing to tackle antisemitism.


General secretary of Unite Len McCluskey used an interview with the Observer to issue a warning to Labour leader Keir Starmer. It came after the party agreed to pay “substantial damages” to whistleblowers who contributed to a TV expose of its handling of antisemitism.

McCluskey, an ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, said the payouts were “an abuse of members’ money”. He told the paper:

A lot of it is Unite’s money and I’m already being asked all kinds of questions by my executive.

It’s as though a huge sign has been put up outside the Labour party with ‘queue here with your writ and get your payment over there’.


Under Corbyn’s leadership, the party faced allegations that it failed to take action over members accused of promoting antisemitism. Seven former employees from the party’s governance and legal unit, who were responsible for the investigation of allegations of misconduct by party members, sued Labour after it issued a press release describing them as having “personal and political axes to grind”.

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The legal action followed the broadcast in July 2019 of a BBC Panorama programme titled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?. The Canary has published several articles covering problems with the documentary. The Labour Leaks scandal has also suggested that members of Labour’s HQ purposefully avoided tackling antisemitism to discredit Corbyn.

Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took over the running of the party in April (Joe Giddens/PA)

The party has refused to disclose how much the settlement would end up costing, but the Telegraph reported that fees and damages were likely to amount to nearly £375,000. Corbyn called the decision to settle “disappointing” and claimed it was a “political decision, not a legal one”. He also said his team was advised while he was leader that the “party had a strong defence”.

Panorama reporter John Ware is taking legal action against the Islington North MP following the remarks. A legal fund setup to support Corbyn has reached more than £327,000 at the time of writing.

Labour declined to comment on McCluskey’s donation review, but Starmer’s spokesperson previously said all three candidates in the final of the party’s leadership contest, which concluded in April, had agreed they wanted to see the case settled.


In his interview, McCluskey also warned Starmer over the direction of the party, suggesting it would “constitute a problem” if he moved away from his leadership campaign pledges. His position included keeping left-wing policies adopted during Corbyn’s time, such as higher taxes on the wealthy, abolishing tuition fees, and public ownership of rail, mail, energy, and water.

Jeremy Corbyn
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was critical of the decision to pay damages to ex-staff who aided a TV investigation into the party’s handling of anti-Semitism cases (Hollie Adams/PA)

Starmer has so far ruled out speculating what will be in the next election manifesto, but has regularly emphasised that the 2019 Labour platform was defeated at the polls in December. McCluskey said:

He has to recognise that the ship he is sailing, if it lists too much to the right, will go under.

We’ll have to wait to see how the situation unfolds.

Unite is financially a very powerful and strong union. We have a political fund that is the largest in the whole of Europe.

So of course, my members would expect that we are influential in that respect.

The 70-year-old also ruled out standing down as Unite leader before his term is due to come to an end in April 2022.

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  • Show Comments
    1. About time to, now what about the same reaction from other unions. Lets get Stormers true political stance and direction for this Labour party out into the open. I fear it will not be to my liking, but hey lets at least have an idea where this lot are taking the party.
      “Starmer has so far ruled out speculating what will be in the next election manifesto, but has regularly emphasised that the 2019 Labour platform was defeated at the polls in December.
      Says it all really.

    2. How many members have been expelled or suspended for their support of Palestine?
      And here is the question which no one in the leadership would dare to answer; how many of them are Jewish? A high-proportion certainly are. It looks as if groups within the party and close to the leadership are conducting a witch-hunt aimed specifically against anti-Zionist Jews.

    3. Proof, as if it were needed, that the Unions run the Labour Party. The Unions seem to be riddled with anti semitic racists, much like the Labour party who can’t grasp that what they say and do is racist. When Len pulls the funding and splits the left it’ll add another ten years to the waiting list for them to get back into power. Bloody funny to watch.

        1. I would like nothing more than credible opposition. I wouldn’t have had an issue with Socialist opposition, were they credible, organised and not racist to the core. Unfortunately that was Corbyn’s tenure. I don’t think Sir Kier is the answer either.
          Len is only likeable to the very left leaning. I know union members who despise the bloke.

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