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”.
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.
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.
Today’s settlement is a misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court. The leaked report on how anti-semitism was handled tells a very different story about what happened.
— Len McCluskey (@LenMcCluskey) July 22, 2020
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.
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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