The leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, has warned Sir Keir Starmer not to “take for granted” continued funding from Labour’s biggest donor.
McCluskey warned that Labour would “go under” if Starmer steered the party too far to the right, and confirmed plans for a “major gathering” – likely to feature his close ally Jeremy Corbyn – as a signal that the left has not gone away.
Speaking to The Observer, Mr McCluskey voiced fury at Sir Keir’s “extraordinary” decision to reach a financial settlement with former party workers who turned whistleblower over antisemitism allegations, which he said was “a huge miscalculation”.
The Unite general secretary played down suggestions that he might scale back his political interventions ahead of his retirement in 2022, and said he would be keeping a close eye on Sir Keir to ensure he keeps to his leadership election pledges to carry forward parts of Corbyn’s “radical” programme.
“The fact is that Keir Starmer ran on a radical programme, some might say a Corbyn programme, and of course I keep this to hand,” said Mr McCluskey. “I intend to keep that front and centre for the coming months and years.”
Starmer had enjoyed a “honeymoon period” after defeating left-wing candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey for the leadership in April, said McCluskey.
And he said his message to left-wingers had been “Look, just calm down until we get to the stage of whether there’s a shift in and a move in policies, because that would constitute a problem”.
He added: “For me, he has to recognise that the ship he is sailing, if it lists too much to the right, then it will go under.”
Asked whether a move to the right could prompt the withdrawal of financial backing from Unite, which gave Labour almost £6 million last year, he replied: “It would be a mistake if anybody took Unite for granted. I think that would be a mistake.”
Insisting that Labour’s left wing remained a force to be reckoned with despite December’s general election defeat and Starmer’s victory in April, Mr McCluskey said: ”The scale of the defeat was difficult to contemplate and therefore, of course, the left and the so-called Corbyn project, socialism, took a major hit.
“The election of Keir against the perceived left candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey was a further disappointment. So people have to brush themselves down, but the reports of the left’s death are greatly exaggerated.”
He said he had “no doubt” that some people would view his planned gathering of the left as an alternative to the traditional Labour conference.
“I’ve no doubt that people may see it as an alternative,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be an alternative. It’s supposed to be a declaration that we are here. We are going nowhere. And we stand for those principles of radicalism and socialism that we’ve fought for all our lives.”