Labour war: McCluskey attacks ‘timid’ Starmer for lack of leadership on job loss ‘tsunami’

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Mr McCluskey – a close ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn – warned a “fear” of being attacked is preventing Sir Keir from clearly setting out what the opposition would do to stop a “tsunami of redundancies”. The Unite general secretary, who’s term at the UK’s largest trade union ends in April 2022, also warned the former Shadow Brexit Secretary he won’t defeat Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party in a general election without the backing of the Left. Mr McCluskey added he will be “watching very closely” to see if Sir Keir sticks by his leadership campaign pledges, primarily including maintaining radical policies developed under Mr Corbyn.

In an interview with The House magazine, the Unite boss also poured cold water on reports of the demise of Labour’s Corbynite wing, labelling them “greatly exaggerated”.

He also appealed to those on the Left not to quit Labour, calling for a “gathering of the Left” to decide the policy positions around which they should fight for.

Mr McCluskey is also “worried” about the possibility to Labour’s Treasury team distancing themselves from the economic plan drawn up by former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, which he insisted had a “significant amount of credibility and support”.

But in a huge warning shot to Sir Keir, in assessing Labour’s leadership response to the coronavirus crisis, he said: “It seems to me there’s an element of timidity among some of the leadership team to come out and say what is needed for fear that they then get attacked about ‘Well okay, where’s the money coming from?’ and ‘how are you going to do this or how are you going to do that?’.

“There is an element of, I think, fear rather than caution. I can understand people being cautious, but you can be cautious and confident.

“Labour needs the politics of ideals and ideas. Otherwise, you just look like middle management, a middle management team. That won’t inspire anybody.”

Mr McCluskey also warned his support for Sir Keir is “very much based on the pledges that he made to get him into leadership”.

This includes continuing Labour’s radical values, hiking taxes on the highest earners, improving union rights and nationalising the rail, mail and utility sectors – all key policy pledges under Mr Corbyn.

But in another huge warning to Sir Keir, the Unite general secretary said: “It can only happen, and he can only become Prime Minister, if he has the support of the left.

“If he moves away from the Left, if he doesn’t get the balance correct, then all that will happen is we will find ourselves into internal wrangling again on policy issues that have been decided.”

Speaking ion the possibility of Labour moving away from the economic platform of redistribution and renationalisation, he added: “I’ve even heard certain inside members of the frontbench, whose names I won’t mention just yet, suggest that the last five years on economic policy has been a disaster.

“Now, I hope that doesn’t reflect Keir’s views, because it is simply untrue.”

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Mr McCluskey also lashed out at Shadow Cabinet ministers who may have been questioning Labour’s “economic credibility”, warning Sir Keir to keep a “very close eye on that”.

He continued: “There is no doubt in my mind that in the period from 2015-2017, John McDonnell and Jeremy set about presenting an alternative economic strategy that gained a significant amount of credibility and support…

“When I listen to shadow cabinet ministers trying to present in a subtle way a question mark over Labour’s economic credibility, that worries me.

“I don’t know whether it’s these individuals who take it upon themselves and if so, then Keir needs to keep a very close eye on that.”

The warnings to Sir Keir come as a fierce critic of Sir Keir edges towards a breakthrough in the battle to succeed Mr McCluskey as general secretary of Unite.

Northern Ireland-born solicitor Howard Beckett is the current de facto deputy to Mr McCluskey, previously accused the Labour leader of punishing the working class for the coronavirus crisis.

A crucial point in the race to be the next Unite general secretary comes on Saturday when United Left, a group of activists from the trade union, provide their endorsement.

The winner of that will be the favourite to succeed Mr McCluskey, with the contest beginning next year or even in 2020 if he decides to resign.

Mr Beckett has been tipped to see off the challenge of Steve Turner, a union official that has played a leading role in industrial disputes involving industry sector giants British and Bombardier.

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