by Len McCluskey, General Secretary of UNITE.
This is an excerpt of his speech today to Unite Policy conference, read the full speech at Huffington Post
Let me now turn to the issue which I am sure is in many of your minds – the political crisis, particularly the extraordinary events in the Labour Party.
After the EU referendum, the Tory government was plunged into a deep crisis. Cameron going. Osborne eclipsed. Johnson knifed. Gove derailed. Just a year after being elected, a government rudderless and to blame for dispatching the country, via an unprepared referendum, into a pit of uncertainty. How ironic that a manoeuvre designed to overcome Tory divisions has ended up creating the mother of all splits.
What a chance for Labour to step forward and speak for the country. To offer itself as the strong opposition and government-in-waiting that millions are looking for in this situation. It was time for unity and a calm voice. Instead we have seen a cowardly attack launched against the Party’s elected leader which has deprived the country of ALL parliamentary opposition and let the Conservatives off scot-free in their moment of turmoil.
This is the responsibility of people who had never accepted Jeremy Corbyn’s victory last year – they never accepted his overwhelming democratic mandate.
I know that not all Unite members are of one mind about Jeremy Corbyn or about the political situation. It would be extraordinary if we were. Some may want us to stay out of the political arena altogether.
Some will have doubts about Labour, or about its leadership. But our union is guided by its rules and values, by this conference and by our Executive Council in how we intervene in politics. Not by Len McCluskey.
And the clear message – shared by tens of thousands in that extraordinary summer of 2015 – was to seize the chance of a new kind of politics, radical, engaging, and pro-trade unions that Jeremy offers.
Of course it has been a bumpy ride since. Mistakes have been made. But most of the attacks on Jeremy are deeply unfair, such as over the EU referendum where his position of remain-and-reform was very close to the centre of gravity of Labour voters, two-thirds of whom backed him.
But whatever doubts there may have been, surely the whole movement could agree that here was an opportunity after the referendum. To speak for Britain. To provide real opposition to a broken government. Instead, powerful interests saw it as a different opportunity – overturning a vote of just ten months ago by launching a squalid Westminster bubble coup.
Sisters and brothers, this was an attempted political lynching, designed to bully and bludgeon Jeremy Corbyn, this deeply decent and kind man, out of the job he was elected to do.
This is not just about Jeremy and his position. The coup has snowballed into a wrecking operation against the Labour Party itself, destroying it at least temporarily as a parliamentary force.
I know some of those who quit did so with a heavy heart, and some with a measure of dignity. But the instigators of this – we know who they are – will be branded forever with the mark of infamy for betraying their party and their country, for putting their selfish personal interests first when the times called for solidarity and statesmanship.
Let me ask Angela Eagle, who I regard as an old friend, but who resigned as shadow business secretary a question – did you give thirty seconds thought as to how this would help the workers at Tata, fighting for a future made still more uncertain by Brexit? And the oil and gas industry facing obliteration? Or have they been abandoned in their moment of need?
On the other hand, I have nothing but praise for those people who stayed in the Shadow Cabinet and those comrades who stepped forward, often unprepared, to fill the gaps in order to make sure that there was something like a functioning Labour frontbench able to hold the Tories to account. They are heroes of the movement and they too will not be forgotten.
Unite made its views clear from the start. We stood by Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity message which is in line with our own union’s position. How could we not? Not only was he the democratically-elected leader of the party with an unprecedented mandate, here was a man who had always – ALWAYS – stood by us, stood on the picket lines, joined our campaigns, argued our case in parliament, advocated for workers’ rights.
He stood by us. What sort of people would we be, had we joined in the witch-hunt. Never mind that I could not have come to this conference, I could not have looked myself in the mirror, had this union done anything other than stand by Jeremy.
But I also recognise the traditional role of trade unions in the Labour Party to stabilise and find a way forward in a crisis. We have been here before more than once.
There also needs to be a reconciliation with the PLP. We must re-establish mutual respect and unity and address real concerns over campaigning, policy, image and the rest. That is what I was working for over the last week – to try and hold our Party together, as the trade unions have done so many times in the past when politicians have let us down.
It is regrettable that these efforts have been sabotaged. I will however continue to work with trade union colleagues and others to chart a way forward, including meeting the legitimate concerns of Labour MPs. Since there is now to be a leadership election, I must warn that any attempts to keep Jeremy Corbyn off the ballot paper risks a lasting division in the Party.
It is time for everyone to commit to a democratic and dignified procedure as the only way to avert such a disaster for working people.
There could yet be an early election. Whenever it comes it is an opportunity, not a threat as some see it – an opportunity to get rid of a hopeless, hapless, divided Tory Party which has led the country to disaster and then walked away, turned inwards on its own leadership row.
And for that Labour must unite, and speak both for those in its heartlands who, in despair, voted for Brexit as well as those millions deeply angry and fearful at the way the Tories have taken us out of the EU.
This union is up for the struggle, both to reunite Labour and take the fight to the Tories. In doing so we will be expressing the profoundest interests of all working people in our country.
Sisters and brothers, more than ever, we need our unity.
Len McCluskey is the general secretary of Unite the Union
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