The Huffington Post had a great scoop the other day with a recording of Unite Len McCluskey at a Labour Representation Committee event where he spoke of the need to move the trade unions and the Labour Party 'to the left'.
Now this really is just back to the 1980s again as far as the Labour Party is concerned, but the job of trade union leaders is of course to represent their members effectively - whereas Len clearly believes he is part of a 'leftist' political vanguard whose mission is to pursue an old-fashioned, socialist agenda whether oak and file members agree with this or not.
Here are two newspaper headlines which illustrate McCluskey's fondness for throwing his weight around, but have a read of the full story via the following link to the Huffington Post.
Len McCluskey Talked Of ‘Entryism’ Plan To ‘Recapture’ Labour Party For The Left
CHRIS J RATCLIFFE VIA GETTY IMAGES
By Paul Waugh - The HuffingtonPost UK
The leader of Britain’s biggest union has been caught on camera boasting about an “entryism” plan to take over the Labour party, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told a meeting of left-wingers that he wanted to “recapture” the party and “reclaim” it at every level from local constituencies to regional and national levels, including annual conference.
Speaking alongside John McDonnell at the Labour Representation Committee event, McCluskey made a reference to party infiltration that has long been associated with 1980s faction Militant.
“Somebody called ‘Aye, aye, this looks like entryism again’. Well I don’t know, call it what you want, but you know full well that if suddenly 20 trade unionists turn up as new delegates to the constituency Labour party, you’d take the party over.”
His remarks, made in 2012, came after a bitter war of words broke outbetween the Unite leader and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson.
CHRISTOPHER FURLONG VIA GETTY IMAGES - Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson
Watson had lashed out at Jon Lansman, the founder of leftwing group Momentum, after a secret tape showed him predicting it would use Unite’s money and organisation to take over Labour from enemies of Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour MPs at the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting angrily challenged Corbyn and rallied round Watson over the claims.
The row took a new twist as McCluskey blogged for HuffPost UK on Wednesday, hitting out at Watson’s “world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots”.
McCluskey, who is facing a battle with challenger Gerard Coyne in the election for the general secretary post, accused Watson of “a spiteful attempt to stir up strife” that could cost Labour councillors their seats in the coming May elections.
Here's an interesting article by Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian - which makes the case that the scandal over vote rigging in Falkirk really matters - even though it seems relatively trivial.
I agree and the reason it matters so much is that the selection process is not about getting more working class Labour MPs - instead the aim is to ensure the selection of people who agree with the politics of Len McCluskey and the small band of union officials who run Unite.
Len and his chums don't just want any old Unite member to succeed - they want someone who will do their bidding and take directions from the union hierarchy - otherwise they'll be out on their ear as well.
Now this would not be so much of a problem if Unite reflected in a proper sense, the wider political views of ordinary union members - but it does not do that of course since the most senior figures in Unite are all cut from the same 'left wing' cloth.
Yet in Len McCluskey's eyes this is quite OK because Len and others see themselves as part of an 'elite' political vanguard which doesn't need to reflect the views of ordinary Unite members - because the leaders know what's best for ordinary Unite members.
To be fair to Len he was elected as the boss of Unite in a democratic ballot - but on a tiny turnout of members, if I remember correctly. So while he has a mandate of sorts - the key thing is to use it wisely, in a way that commands support from the members who did not vote for you (the vast majority) - as well as those that did.
In other words, being elected to a leadership position democratically is quite different to behaving in a democratic and inclusive way - once you get the top job - and if you need an example to illustrate the point, then look no further than ex-President Morsi of Egypt.
Falkirk may seem minor, but for Labour it really matters
The Unite union's tactics in the selection of parliamentary candidates are a direct challenge to Ed Miliband's leadership
By Martin Kettle
On the face of it, the fraught selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk may seem a pretty minor issue on which to hang such portentous words. Labour simply needs a candidate to replace Eric Joyce MPin 2015. As often happens in such contests, there is a battle about who gets the nod. Egos are at stake. Noses are out of joint. But the Labour party has acted swiftly to deal with alleged abuses. End of story, so Labour would have you believe.
Many will also say: so what? In some respects, many will have a point. A disreputable selection battle in a safe Labour seat in central Scotland is not exactly a unique event. Unions have always cracked the whip at such times, often pretty blatantly. Scottish Labour politics were never exactly a byword for Athenian democracy. And if Scotland votes for independence next year, Falkirk's new MP in 2015 will probably have to withdraw a year later anyway.
Don't forget too that all political parties have their little local difficulties from time to time. All occasionally choose candidates by processes that would not win the approval of John Stuart Mill. All have MPs whose behaviour embarrasses the leader at Westminster for some reason or another. The Conservatives have Nadine Dorries. The Lib Dems have Mike Hancock. Labour has Eric Joyce. And after 2015 Labour may have Joyce's successor.
But it used to be much worse not so many years ago. In the 1980s Labour had a famous handful of Marxist entryist MPs from the Militant Tendency. But they were some of the most boring men in British politics, and Labour survived even that. In the 1970s, there were far more Labour rotten boroughs than there are today – not just in some union seats of left and right but in Irish Catholic seats. Even a few Soviet agents got in on the act too.
The Times made great play today of a story that 13 other Labour constituencies are in "special measures" – Labourspeak for control from party HQ – along with Falkirk. That's true, but none of them is there for the same reason as Falkirk. Almost all the others are seats with large Asian populations in which various forms of political skulduggery have been alleged. Many of them have been in special measures for at least eight years. The striking thing is that it hasn't made any discernible difference to Labour's wider standing.
The difference with Falkirk is that the alleged skulduggery is not in the local grassroots but appears to be nationally orchestrated by the leadership of Unite, which is by far Labour's largest affiliated union and biggest paymaster, and one of Miliband's key backers in 2010. As many as 150 Unite members are said in some accounts – Labour has not released the figures – to have been signed up to Labour in Falkirk and paid for by a single cheque from the union. So far, Falkirk is the only confirmed case. Yet if Falkirk, why not elsewhere?
Unite officials are not exactly discreet about their broad strategy. Dave Quayle, chair of Unite's political committee, said a year ago that Unite had two options in its relationship with Labour: "Disaffiliate, or campaign to change the way the relationship between the union and the party worked." For 2015, Quayle said, "we want a firmly class-based and leftwing general election campaign". The aim was "to shift the balance in the party away from middle-class academics and professionals towards people who've actually represented workers and fought the boss". Meanwhile Len McCluskey wrote in the Guardian in May that Unite's aim was to recruit members and then encourage them to endorse union-supported candidates in selections.
None of this is illegal. Most of it is not against Labour's rules either, though the buying of memberships undoubtedly should be. And none of it, at a certain rather general level, is unworthy. Labour is an unpleasantly centralist party. It is dominated by young middle-class career politicians. It ought to be a more open, more democratic and a more broadly based participative party than it has become.
But there are three massive problems with what Unite is trying to do. The first is that it annoys the hell out of almost everyone else in the Labour party. It's not just the other unions who resent Unite's excessive influence – garnered from a series of union mergers. It is also ordinary members, who feel pushed to one side if they are not part of the McCluskey hegemon. If Labour life seems inert these days, part of the explanation lies in the fact that Unite is too big to stop but too weak to win an open argument.
The second big problem is that it is indisputably a direct challenge to Miliband. The overbearing glee with which David Cameron laid into the Labour leader over McCluskey and Unite at prime minister's questions today shows a Tory party that thinks it has found a winning issue in Miliband's weakness. Miliband's personal ratings as a leader are already poor. His standing as a potential prime minister is fragile. If he is now also widely seen to have bent the knee to Unite, Miliband could be toast in 2015. But this is also why Falkirk may actually be an opportunity, not an embarrassment. If he can turn the tables on McCluskey, Miliband's leadership image could be transformed for the better.
But the third and overwhelming problem with the Unite strategy is simply that it is suicidal. A Labour party campaigning on an old industrial class-based agenda, with extra powers for unions that are in other respects withering across British life, led by quisling politicians manipulated by union officials who in some cases are old Stalinists, in pursuit of a state-owned economy that would not work and would not be popular, may appeal to a few romantics. But it is an utterly bankrupt strategy.
Britain has changed even if Unite has not. The electorate won't vote for it. They will turn their backs on it, and look elsewhere. It will force Labour back into a few post-industrial ghettos, on to the political margins, leaving the party powerless and its former voters angry, twin victims of a process of mutual abandonment. All the clever political fixers in the world won't be able to mend the Labour party if that happens. Which is why Falkirk really matters, in spite of all.