The chief of Labour’s biggest union backer said his organisation would “no doubt” review its financial support in the wake of the decision to offer payouts to whistleblowers who accused the party of failing to tackle anti-Semitism.
General secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, used an interview with the Observer to issue a warning to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer after the party agreed to pay “substantial damages” to whistleblowers who contributed to a TV expose of its handling of anti-Semitism.
Mr 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’.”
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”.
Sir Keir Starmer made an ‘unreserved’ apology for suggesting that ‘whistleblowers’ involved in last year’s widely-criticised Panorama programme were not reliable, the apology comes after legal advice stated that the party had a strong defence. The former Director of Public Prosecutions ignored the legal advice and made a political (personal) decision to make the apology and fork out members money with over a six-figure payout to the so-called whistleblowers.
Len McCluskey’s robust intervention will intensify the infighting prompted by the party’s decision to apologise and pay damages to seven staff who turned whistleblower for a BBC Panorama documentary on antisemitism. The party accused them of acting in bad faith, but settled as part of an attempt to draw a line under the antisemitism row. Former leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the payouts.
“We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying. We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress, embarrassment and hurt caused by their publication.” -Sir Keir Starmer
The apology came after the Party’s lawyers said they were confident of winning the case brought against them, but Sir Keir Starmer was determined to issue the apology and agree a settlement said to be in six figures around £600k.
“It’s an abuse of members’ money,” Len McCluskey said. “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’.
These are the same Labour staffers who actively worked to remove thousands of Left-wing Labour Party members by creating a program to trawl social media accounts looking for keywords to use in suspending and excluding members from the party.
These are the same staffers that need to answer questions in their role and involvement relating to the inquiry being conducted by Martin Forde, an enquiry addressing the internal report that has uncovered of evidence racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign.
Black voters are still reeling from the aftermath of the leaked report and many have told us that they now feel “politically homeless”.
The lengthy document revealed that Labour officials used a string of insults, racism, and sexism in their private WhatsApp groups to describe senior Black MPs and officials including Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis.
The messages about Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott are a visceral reminder of the discrimination black women face in the workplace
Many black British women feel a particular, protective kind of kinship toward black female MPs, grateful for their representation both figuratively and literally in the face of media attacks.
So the leak of an internal report from Labour HQ, which alleges senior staff exhibiting the very prejudice they claim to fight against, has been especially hard to digest.
The 860-page document has unearthed a plethora of party horrors: allegations of misuse of funds, the continued undermining of the 2017 electoral campaign and the then-leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to investigate anti-Semitism in the party, as well as vicious criticism of leading Labour figures by staff members in private messages.
The entire dossier is hard to swallow, but the messages regarding Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott left a singularly bitter aftertaste.
One staff member “engaged in a classic racist trope” by referring to the Hackney North MP as an “angry woman”, while another called her “repulsive.”
When Ms Abbott was found crying in the toilets in the wake of abuse in 2017, a female staff member suggested telling a Channel 4 journalist of her whereabouts. Another replied that he already had, followed by a wink emoji.
Yomi Adegoke writes One can only fathom the level of dehumanisation that has taken place, for peers to gleefully relish in bullying that has brought a colleague to the brink and then contribute to it.
The report appears to shows party staff organising against Labour candidates and to undermine MPs, hoping the party would fail at elections, and failing to work as instructed by the elected leadership and National Executive Committee. It appears too that this behaviour was not just protected but encouraged and co-ordinated by the most senior levels of management.
Any loss of financial support from Unite would pose a major problem for Labour. While its large membership provides some income, the union remains its biggest donor by far. It has given the central party more than £7m since the start of 2019, according to Electoral Commission records.
In a wide-ranging interview, McCluskey put Starmer on notice that he would fight any shift to the right. He said it would “constitute a problem” if Starmer edged away from his 10 leadership campaign pledges, which included Corbyn-era policies such as higher taxes on the wealthy, abolishing tuition fees and “common ownership” of rail, mail, energy and water. “He has to recognise that the ship he is sailing, if it lists too much to the right, will go under,” he said.
“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. There will be some interesting debates and discussions in the coming months with Keir, not only for myself but all the unions on the left who are equally in a situation at the moment where they’re wondering where we are, what direction are we going.
”He also warned Starmer against the timidity that he says sank Ed Miliband’s leadership. “There’s nothing wrong with caution, so long as that doesn’t slip into fear or timidity,” he said.