Unite behind Keir Starmer to cleanse Labour’s shame

JVL Introduction

Last week Len McClusky, general secretary of Unite the Union, made a strong statement following the leaked internal Labour Party Report.

It is more important than ever that there is a full enquiry into the political sabotage and the cynical, abusive and factional conduct the report exposes.

McCluskey stresses that transparency and accountability need to be key in Labour’s response – and  his confidence that Keir Starmer and Angie Rayner will be guided by these values.

This article was originally published by LabourList on Wed 15 Apr 2020. Read the original here.

Unite behind Keir Starmer to cleanse Labour’s shame

The whole labour movement will be shocked by the revelations contained in the leaked report concerning how Labour HQ has handled complaints over antisemitism over the last few years. Even those of us well aware of the dislike many officials held for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership did not imagine that their bile would go so far as actively wishing for – even working for – Labour’s defeat in elections, including the 2017 general election.

Every activist will remember how agonisingly close we came to defeating Theresa May then. I have no doubt that had the party leadership enjoyed the full-on support of all Labour MPs and of Party HQ, both of which it had the right to expect, the result would have been closer still.

Let us be clear what the officials whose cynical, abusive and factional conduct has now been exposed were actually doing. In working for a Labour defeat, they were working for a Tory victory – that is to say, empowering the party that stood for austerity and a “hard Brexit”.  These politically-crooked officials were prepared to risk dramatic damage to the interests of the British economy and working people just in order to scratch their factional itch.

Their conduct is a reminder of the truth of what was said by the eminent socialist writer Stuart Hall: the only thing the Labour right are interested in, the only thing they are good at, is fighting the left. Bear in mind that these are the people who accused Corbyn supporters of only being interested in political purity and not in winning power. Even the most demented sectarian on the left has not championed a Tory election victory to win an inner-party argument.

And some of these officials have now secured peerages or been dubbed this-or-that of the British Empire “for services to the Labour Party”. If they are to keep these distinctions, at the very least the citations should be changed to “services to the Tory Party”.

This is not about legitimate political disagreement. A large minority of the Labour Party membership never supported Jeremy Corbyn and they had a right to their views. If they were employed by the party they had every right to keep their jobs, provided they continued to do them diligently, loyally and professionally.

But that is a world away from the rancid, and very cruel, political culture revealed in the report on Labour’s governance and legal unit (GLU). The atmosphere exposed in the exchanges varies between what one might expect to hear in the toilets at a teenage nightclub – “she’s so fat”, “she smells” – and the banter at a Trump rally – the black woman is “disgusting”, that left-wing activist should “die in a fire”. Mean Girls meets Mississippi Burning.

They seem to regard the Labour Party as their private property and anyone a millimetre to the left of Tony Blair as a “Trot”.  Andy Burnham has spoken out about how he feels the same apparatus undermined him on NHS policy.

And we – the labour movement – were paying for all this. Indeed, it seems we were also handing over money that was, unbeknownst to the national executive committee, allegedly being squirrelled away into secret slush funds devoted to supporting those MPs who party officialdom favoured. At first glance there would appear to be a case to answer for breaches of electoral law as well as party governance procedures. Since Unite was by far the largest single donor to the 2017 election campaign, giving around 75% of total union donations, we have the right to expect an honest accounting for this.

Some of the responses to the report have been deeply revealing. One might have expected groups and individuals who have campaigned loudly against Labour antisemitism in recent years to welcome its frank admission of the party’s failings in respect of handling complaints and its honest exposure of what went wrong and when.

Yet Labour Against Anti-Semitism and Labour MP turned Tory supporter Ian Austin, to take two examples, have instead rushed to denounce it. This can only fuel the suspicion that they are only interested in challenging failings in addressing antisemitism when they think these can be exclusively attributed to Jeremy Corbyn and the left, and are prepared to turn a blind eye to the negligence of those they consider their political allies.

And I have not noticed a peep from journalist John Ware, whose Panorama programme on Labour antisemitism can now be seen to fall a long way short of the standards expected of the BBC, in that it failed to interrogate his interviewees at all concerning their own shortcomings in handling antisemitism allegations.

The movement should keep the focus on the content of the report and not be distracted by secondary issues regarding its commissioning – clearly it formed part of the necessary work being done to assist the EHRC investigation and the party’s response – or its leaking. Those named in the report have of course the right to defend, contextualise or explain what is set out. They could even just apologise. We should not pre-empt any outcome, either legally or in terms of party rule.

But this cannot be swept under the carpet. First of all, the party should make a properly-redacted version of the report publicly available. This should not be a crisis for Keir Starmer. His desire to unite the party is almost universally shared, and certainly has Unite’s full support. He has rightly reached out to the leading organisations of the Jewish community to rebuild relations. He bears no responsibility for the state of affairs the GLU report reveals. It is absolutely right that his full focus now should be on the coronavirus crisis. But it falls to him and the party NEC to direct the clean-up.

In my view, where there is clear evidence of a party member having engaged in misogynistic or abusive conduct, or having worked to undermine the party’s election campaign, or even having broken the law, there is a case for suspension pending a thorough investigation (with no presumption of guilt).

I know there are tens of thousands of Labour Party members, many of them also in my union, whose dismay at these revelations may lead them to wonder why they should stay in a party where such things can happen. Let me urge them to remain with the party and get behind our newly-elected leadership as they handle this crisis.

Labour can, will and must move on. Transparency and accountability will be key. I am confident that Keir Starmer and Angie Rayner will be guided by these values, and will allow no return of the poisonous environment which prevailed when the hard right of the party last ran the machine we all pay for.

Comments (7)

  • geoff rouse says:

    Comrades, we have just suffered the greatest kick in the teeth socialism in this country has ever experienced. We all have good reason to question our failings and why the electorate showed us such little support.
    Well, here’s an idea. We wuz robbed!
    If you, like me, prize democracy and hold it as the most precious right any state can achieve then, also like me, you must have wondered what went wrong when we had the greatest ground roots socialist intake in the party in generations.
    Ok, let’s wake up and smell the toast burning. No nation can call itself truly democratic if a handful of billionaires and media moguls can usurp and pervert that democracy by openly lying about those they find a threat and sending a tidal wave of propaganda out with the sole intent of hijacking the democratic process. Why has nobody challenged the lies that stole the election. Is it not treason to undermine that democratic process and why did we not challenge the blatant lies spread by the far right including the government. Why were there no court challenges? Libel cases? Counter allegations? When foreign powers threaten to influence the democratic elections here and in other supposedly democratic nations we are quite rightly furious and call for international action but when our own politicians and their friends do the same we stand by impotent and silent. We have to win back true democracy in this country. If there were a ‘factual information act’ that made it illegal to make any statement in an election without irrefutable evidence proving what they say then half of our present government would be in prison now.
    Democracy is worthless if it has no protection in law. When you think we fought the most devastating war in history supposedly to save democracy where is it now. In the pockets of the most wealthy and powerful hidden from and denied to the working class.
    Elections also are worthless when the process is already bought and paid for.

  • Les Hartop says:

    Unlike Len… Les is not “confident” in Keir Starmer, nor “Angie” Rayner.

    They need to be made to understand, that this is a massive test for them.

    We have the right to demand that people who deliberately undermine Labour candidates and misuse party funds face justice.

  • Michael Westcombe says:

    I am truly surprised that JVL have bothered to publish this utter nonsense. I will not be tweeting this!!!

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    Presumably the last paragraph is tongue-in-cheek. In which case McClusky must look like an overfed hamster.

  • Ann Lewis says:

    Taking sides on this issue makes me too angry. I am thankful and relieved to read what Len McClusky says. I just want Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner to try, in good faith, to deal with the situation, keeping true to Labour values. Let us see what they can do. I personally support them in their endeavours.

  • Oh come on Len, you know only to well what went on in the party and who was behind it ,if as i feel this report is turned the other way you use some of the money given to your union to fight these ratbags in the court and see them get their just deserts.

  • childeroland says:

    “Transparency and accountability will be key. I am confident that Keir Starmer and Angie Rayner will be guided by these values.” They weren’t apparent when as DPP he oversaw the failure to deliver proper accountability to Ian Tomlinson’s family, or to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes. His support for the circus currently extraditing Julian Assange goes further than Boris Johnson’s. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but every time I see Keir Starmer’s he reminds me of the school prefect who never made it to head of school but enforced the rules far more diligently than the person who did – not so much wedded to the status quo as welded to it. The only confidence I have in him is that he will never – ever – put a foot out of line, or do what he is not expected to do, such as challenge the existing state of affairs. Len McClusky must be desperate if he thinks otherwise.

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