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The world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots

For the last three months I have been touring the country meeting working men and women as I campaign to be re-elected as Unite’s General Secretary.

I have been listening to their hopes and fears in the factories, bus garages, building sites and hospitals. They are worried about their jobs above all, about Theresa May’s “hard Brexit”, about the public services they can see crumbling around them after seven years of Tory austerity.

They are – every last one, no matter whether they support me or not – decent people, committed to doing their best for their families, their workplace and their communities in a troubled world. They are the sort of people who make me proud to be a trade unionist, and proud to be able to help them in their daily struggles.

But there is another world in our movement, alas. A world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots.

That is where you will find Tom Watson. When Labour has needed loyalty he has been sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab. When unity is required, he manufactures division.

It is small surprise that he has then worked to split the Party again this week. He has form as long as his arm. And now his sights are set on abusing the internal democracy of Unite.

Who can forget his notorious “curry house” conspiring under the last Labour government?

Or the way he suddenly pulled the plug on our discussions to avert last year’s disastrous PLP coup, which has done lasting damage to Labour?

Or his divisive “bring back new Labour” speech at last year’s Party conference, when everyone else was trying to re-unite?

He is a product of the manipulative and authoritarian culture of the old trade union right-wing, for whom power was an end in itself, and all means acceptable to attain it.

So it is good that the Shadow Cabinet came together to slap him down yesterday after his latest spiteful attempt to stir up strife.

They are all too aware that decent Labour councillors fighting in this May’s local elections will pay with their seats for divisive outbursts like Watson’s.

This time, the allegation is that I was secretly in cahoots with Momentum founder Jon Lansman to bankroll his pressure group.

That was at breakfast. By lunchtime I was no longer the scheming mastermind, but Unite Chief of Staff Andrew Murray was doing the conspiring instead. By evening, he may well have been blaming the Unite caretaker for digging a secret tunnel linking Unite HQ to Jon Lansman’s home.

The fact is that I have never had a private meeting with Lansman about anything in my life, let alone on this alleged scheme.

Anyway, backing groups like Momentum is not my decision to take, as Watson will know. Only Unite’s Executive could decide to support such an organisation, and there is no proposal that it should do so.

Why the untruth? Watson wants to control the Unite election. He is not ready to leave the matter in the hands of the ordinary working people who make up our union. He has been masterminding a nasty tabloid-style campaign against me – standard fare in political elections, alas, but something new for the trade union movement.

His transparent plan is to install a puppet who can take the union back to the bad old days when unions like the one he worked for were in the pockets of employers and failed to put their members’ interests first.

I know Tom. I am still proud to have privately and publicly supported him when he was under great personal strain because of his courageous campaign against the Murdoch empire.

How sad then that he should turn on those of us who supported him in his darkest hour, and how sad that his candidate, Gerard Coyne, should now be using The Sun, to attack his own union – a rotten tabloid and an instrument of the establishment that has led the charge against the working class and trade unionism for generations.

Such behaviour is what happens when values are trashed by ambition.

Indeed, we have had unprecedented interference from Labour Party politicians in this election. Incredibly, the Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor, whilst enjoying the backing of the Unite union, entered into an agreement for mutual support, not with Unite but, with the Gerard Coyne campaign.

They are trying to turn Unite’s democracy into a party political football. It won’t be allowed to happen but it at least provides Unite members with a looking glass to what the future of a union led by an agent of the right wing would look like.

So I’ll continue to campaign on the ground and in the workplaces – today I’m with health visitors in Hull and steel workers in Scunthorpe – whilst my opponent can continue to tour the TV studios attacking his own union.

His campaign and that of the union-hating establishment will fail.

The men and women at the sharp end want a focus on jobs, investment and protection at work. They don’t want their union democracy turned into a low-budget remake of The Godfather and they certainly don’t want the politicians taking over the union.

Sensible Labour politicians – and there are many – know it too. That is why they have told Tom to put a sock in it. As the great Clement Attlee told a truculent and over-talkative minister – “a period of silence from you would be most welcome.”

This blog first appeared at Huffington Post


  1. jeffrey davies says:

    ah the greedie ones of the party tom w hmm hes become just another puppet used by those who need to keep the peasants down yet untill they all deselected then loose their seats then more trouble ahead with these greedie ones

  2. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I will say this about you Len, you have some front, “Indeed, we have had unprecedented interference from Labour Party politicians in this election”.
    That is priceless coming from you.
    Len, as they say in Scotland, ‘you’ve been found out’. Watson is quite rightly backing the other guy it doesn’t matter who it is, he knows this is a chance to get rid of you. You are massive vote loser to Labour. They like the Unite funding but you lose them votes. Why? because you overstep the mark. You are a trade union general secretary, your job is to negotiate wages and conditions. It is not to interfere in politics or political parties.
    If The Labour Party has any sense it will take this golden opportunity to rid themselves of your toxic influence and persuade Unite members to back the other guy whoever he is.

    1. JohnP says:

      A genuine question to our Left Futures admin/moderators. What useful purpose does it serve Left Futures to have the obsessive economically illiterate , Margaret Thatcher worshipping, Right Wing Troll , Mackinnon, constantly vomiting his ignorant Daily Mail prejudices onto our discussion forum ? We can read every one of his “lines” on any issue any day in the mainstream press. We don’t need to read this guff here.

      It stopped being amusing a long time ago.

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        You might not understand why but my comments should be considered. They do serve a useful purpose. It is advice that might just help save Labour from extinction.
        If you don’t want to see Labour as a credible and serious political force in the future then of course you will see my comments as “obsessive economically illiterate”.
        By the way JohnP, you don’t know anything about me. You don’t know who I vote for, what I believe in. You don’t know what papers I read or who I worship.
        Your appeal to the Labourfutures moderator to block my comments is not going to work. This is a serious political site that recognises serious political comments.
        And one final point worthy of consideration; the name calling and the vitriol is all one way. If I offend you it is not by calling you names. It is what I think, it is my ideas that you object to. What you should therefore do is explain what it is you object to in my comments rather than complain about having to read them. That way you might learn something.

    2. James Martin says:

      Richard, you do know don’t you that the Labour Party was founded to act as the political voice for… trade unions?

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        100 years ago. Trade unions are an anachronism in the 21st century.

        1. Tim Barlow says:

          Better do away with them, then! Jeez!

          I’m ashamed to say I voted for Watson (cos of his anti-Murdoch work) but he and the likes of MacKinnon are the enemy within. If McClusky isn’t the soul of the Labour Party, I don’t know who is.

          1. Richard MacKinnon says:

            Len McCluskey is a trade union leader not a politician. That is an important distinction.
            If you are under 50 you will have to take my word for it but back in the 70s trade union leaders wrecked the economy. Because of strikes industry only worked 3 days a week. Electricity was rationed. Parks in the middle of cities were stacked full of rubbish. Mortuaries were full. Inflation hit 30%.
            All this was down to trade unions and their crazy leaders. Why did they strike? I don’t know. It wasn’t about money. The labour government at the time (Callaghan) had tied wages to inflation. Nobody knew. It was all about power. It was a bizarre time in British history.
            That is why Labour need to distance themselves from the likes of McCluskey.
            Most working people these days (70%?) are not union members. Unions only exist in the public sector. Private sector workers don’t see the point of unions. They don’t understand them. They see people like Len McCluskey and whoever it is these days that are organising strikes on London tubes and railways as nutters. They know that train and tube drivers earn 45k+. These people are trying to get to work to earn half that. These people are seriously pissed off. They are angry. They will never vote for labour if they see a connection with unions.
            Labour has to understand this. Union leaders like McCluskey are the best advertisement The Conservative Party has. Why cant Labour see how damaging the McCluskey’s are?

          2. Tim Pendry says:

            I was there at the time so don’t patronise me. However, you make one interesting point amongst the right-wing claims.

            That is, that the trades unions long ago ceased to represent the full range of people who are subject to insecurity under late liberal capitalism. Trades unions swing between being a sectional interest based on their membership needs and agents of political change. The Labour Party was a federal coalition where the unions effectively funded a movement in return for support for legitimate interests which aimed to cover all working people with a particular relationship to capital. It was always an unstable alliance with socialists inside the trades unions and liberals straining against the unions but it worked for a long time.

            The point you make is a fair one that an imbalance took place in the late 1970s (the earlier crisis was in 1926 which definitively tested organised working class power and showed it to be weaker than the class-state) and this led to the cataclysm of 1979 although this cataclysm was partly triggered by the liberals in the Party (still then calling themselves socialists) placing control of the State machine ahead of speaking for the people.

            Since then, things have got worse. The unions lost much of the working class completely, reduced their commitment to socialism in practice (albeit sentimentally attached to its history) and became little more than the representative of the vast numbers employed in various capacities by state or previously state or declining industrial operations.

            This meant that struggling working class people moving from job to job in the services and light manufacturing sectors or the self-employed servicing the construction or domestic or repair industries and so many more simply saw unions trying to maintain high taxes in order to keep their own people employed and comfortable but did nothing for them.

            Back in the early 1990s an associate of mine had the brilliant idea of centre-left Association of the Self-Employed to work alongside the trades unions following the model of Clive Jenkins’ organisation of managerial and technical staff. It was sat on or rather ignored – imaginative union officials simply did not get it.

            There was some significant attempt to unionise new workers in the most vulnerable areas – I particularly admire the unionisation of sex workers – but the volume of change boosted the general unions yet made no significant impact on the huge swathes of working class insecurity linked to the private sector.

            And, of course, corporations discovered the arts of human resources which is basically the art of treating human beings like assets in order to dispose of them easily when required while they fixed employment law with the trades unions to create a sort of low level social corporatism that was vaguely progressive.

            All this eliminated the need for a socialist struggle in the employed sectors and set only bare minimums for those without representation (and incidentally created some nice public sector jobs).

            So far so awkward but the other side of the equation was the determined capture of the commanding heights of the Labour movement by the middle class intellectuals who were once merely junior partners and dependent on the mass trades union movement.

            This reached its apogee with Blair and Blairism and this class steadily shifted its interest from the people in the council estates and on the shop floor to its new market of liberal middle class white collar workers, university graduates and even migrants to create what is now a new coalition in which the unions remain funders of something in which their stake is little more than to fight ‘austerity’ and conservatively maintain employment legislation against Tories strengthened by the asinine strategies of the liberals, with no fundamental vision beyond that.

            The unions sold the pass in 1996 at the Party Conference when they gave (in the NEC on the Sunday) carte blanche to Tony Blair in return for just one thing – a say in employment legislation which then led to their belief in embedding it in the European Project.

            Blair even tried to renege on that deal at one point and was checked in one of the few checks (other than the first NEC Constituency Elections) that he ever received.

            This is where we are – a professional liberal-minded political class serving a constituency that is largely middle class or public sector (and therefore sectional), using the trades unions as tool in return for the bits of policy that matter to it, without vision and having abandoned the white collar and blue collar private sector first to Blairism (which was very clever in appealing to it in boom times) and then, after 2008, to anyone who could give it what it wanted – less government and more freedom if government could not give it economic security.

            The Tories may not give this neglected class security but they give it freedom and this class simply does not trust Labour not to make things worse. if the economy does grow in two or three years, Labour is truly stuffed in this market and is stuck as a liberal progressive operation with nothing to offer the mass population as a whole.

            Having employment rights guaranteed by the EU rather than through indigenous socialism was another nail in the coffin, alienating one third of voters who are ‘Labour patriots’. Go back half a century to the regime of Harold Wilson and this turn of events would be incomprehensible.

            We had a ‘trahison des clercs’ in favour of internationalist liberal economics converging with a lack of judgement and imagination of trades unionist coming up with unfeasible radical solutions to national problems followed by a switcheroo of power that led the unions into a state little different from the AFL-CIO in its relation to the Democrats – that is, a coalitional liberal progressivism that ran the country into the ground in favour of cultural politics and parcelling out favours to its constituents.

            But none of that means that the unions are the problem any more. They could be a problem if they go back to fighting their sectional interest without some socialist vision operating at a national level because their demands would then be seen as thieving from the other half of the people who are just as vulnerable and low paid as their members.

            However, if unions can construct a vision of inclusion in which the members’ interest and that of the people are brought together, then unions might be popular – as it is, they are not actually unpopular except amongst older Tory voters, they are just not particularly relevant outside their activists. Imagine if the unions then took this wider vision and restored their power within the Party to parity with the ‘intellectuals’, weeding out the opportunists and Rightists! But grand strategy has never been a strength on the Left.

            So, we’ll see, but the Unite struggle does suggest the possibility, no more, of a trades union experimenting with a broader political vision again rather than just simply sitting there like a pudding or rather as mere grit in the remorseless of neo-liberalism.

    3. Ed says:

      Utter fantasy

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        I don’t know what age you are so I am not patronising you.
        Here’s my personal history of the trade union movement.
        I was in the NUR back in the 70s. Active member, went to all the branch meetings. (this next piece in inverted commas was been cut and pasted from Wikipedia) “At the Labour Party conference in 1982, the NUR delegation decided to vote for the National Union of Mineworkers, led by Arthur Scargill. Weighell, however, secretly voted for the EETPU, a fact quickly discovered by conference officials.
        Branded a cheat, Weighell was forced to offer his resignation, which a union conference convened in Birmingham accepted 41–36. Despite the scandal he maintained he had done the right thing, saying “I’m glad to have been a casualty if it means that the party executive does not fall into the hands of militants.”” Callaghan gave Weighell a knighthood for betraying 500,00 NUR members.
        That taught me a big lesson, and I resigned my membership of the NUR, with some difficulty as I remember.
        I saw way back 35 years ago what trade unionism and union bosses were all about.
        Between the wars they had a purpose.
        After the war they became gradually more obsolete until by the 70s they had become out of control vehicles for power mad screw balls. In the 21st century they are an anachronism. A through back to another time. The only place they can survive is in the public sector and that in itself should tell you something.

        1. Tim Pendry says:

          There is some truth in your comments but I would be reluctant to throw the baby out with the bath water … collective solidarity permitted the creation of the political force that created, in turn, the welfare state and much of what we saw that was corrupt derived from the Cold War. For ‘militants’, read ‘communism’ between the 1940s and 1970s and we should not underestimate the interference of the super powers and the British State in that struggle. That was then and this is now.

  3. chris gibson says:

    McKinnon knows nothing about the Labour Party and Unions. The unions created the LP, they own it.

    So McCluskey is meeting workng people. Well, that is good news. It’s amazing what he will do to get votes. Then back to the comfort and safety of the well padded ivory tower.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      “The unions created the LP, they own it”.
      They’ll be privatising it next.

    2. Richard MacKinnon says:

      I don’t know what age you are, I suspect you are too young to remember just how mad things were back in the 70s. It is hard to believe the trouble trade unions caused. Electricity had to be rationed because of strikes.
      People have a healthy suspicion of trade union leaders that think they can influence politics.
      If Labour are really serious about ever being in power again they have to rid themselves of the likes of Len McCluskey. He needs to be put in his place. It has to be done in the full view of the press and public. McCluskey has to ousted as leader of Unite and his association with the LP.
      If Watson can pull this off Labour need to look no further for their next leader.

      1. Ed says:

        Mr McKinnon– your ideas are off the right wing scale. What is not going to happen, as in not going to happen is a return to the neoTory politics of the previous thirty years. The !embership os irrevocably committed to thevbest traditions of radical politics and while some are woerfully in denial about this, they would help themsrlves by catching up with reality. Len ain’t going no lace.Others are. Anjy thing else is a laughable fantasy. You haave a lot to learn?

        1. Richard MacKinnon says:

          I cant understand what you are talking about. Your grammar and spelling is incomprehensible.

          1. ed says:


          2. ed says:

            actually the errors are typos

  4. SimonB says:

    So much for a calming voice when we need unity. The Tories must be loving this.

    Don’t say “They started it!”. It’s no justification for stupidity.

    Oh well, if there’s a snap election, which I’m sure we’d lose, at least we’ll be shot of Corbyn and his useful idiots.

    1. Mervyn Hyde says:

      The Trolls are out in force today, is this a co-ordinated attack by Labour First. I hear in my locality they have been holding secret meetings, one of whom we suspect as a Labour First actually attended momentum meetings, obviously reporting back, but the beauty of momentum is that we want open meetings to explain what these people hide behind closed doors.

      Yes as a Unite member I will be voting Len McCLuskey.

    2. JohnP says:

      And there you have it , from a Troll himself – the “suicide vest strategy”of the Labour Right. They long for the day that their constant sabotage of Corbynite Labour , in league with the utterly fair weather friends of the capitalist billionaire owned press, has brought about a catastrophic electoral outcome for our Party. Then they can at last be “free of Jeremy”, his mildly reformist Left politics, and the majority of the membership, they boast triumphantly !

      Great plan guys! And if your great strategy works out – you can offer the same old neoliberal, austerity supporting Tory mimicking crap to the electorate again that has proven so toxic in two UK General Elections now, and destroyed neoliberal Social Democracy across Europe .

      So Labour in Wales and England then follow Scottish Labour, PASOK, the Dutch Labour Party, and the rest of European Social Democracy, into oblivion – along with the political careers of all the Right Wing neoliberal puppets of Big Business who brought this disaster about !

      Progress and Labour First are just the paid for creatures of Lord Sainsbury and the other hedge fund types who have hollowed out the Labour Party as a useful party of working class advance for 30 years. Unfortunately for you stooges, if Labour is destroyed there wont be comfy V&A sinecure jobs handed out to most of you .

  5. Tim Pendry says:

    What odds have Ladbroke’s got on an all-out civil war by May (to the benefit of another May)?

    1. John Penney says:

      I agree,Tim, from the “total Troll mobilisation” across the internet, even here on Left Futures, at present, to the frenzy in the Guardian in its anti Corbyn articles, and now the fevered dross about Momentum and Len, it does indeed look like a very bad Labour local election result in May might be followed by PLP Coup number 2.

      But the Right/Centre of the PLP still have no credible candidate as party leader. The current posterboy for all things neoliberal, Kier Starmer has all the member or voter appeal of a rather pompous headmaster of a 1960’s provincial Grammar School, ie, NONE !

    2. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Where have you been these last 25 years? The civil war has been going on since The Labour Party elected Tony Blair as their leader. What you are witnessing now is the endgame.
      Ian Davidson ex Labour MP for Govan said, (in reference to how Labour must deal with the SNP post the Scottish referendum) ‘that all that had to be done was to ‘bayonet the wounded’. (as it happened it didn’t work out that way and Ian got a big surprise as did all of Labour’s other Scottish MPs).
      Although I found Ian Davidson’s metaphor distasteful at the time as did all decent people, it is undeniable, he left no one in any doubt as to what he considered was the necessary course of action.
      And I think that is where we are now Tim; Labour’s civil war is near its unavoidable conclusion, and after every war, the bodies need to be buried and the field of battle put right.

      1. Tim Pendry says:

        Yes, but who will win? What is the conclusion? Will the Party collapse, like Syria, into multiple warring factions.

        After all, Labour First does not really have a lot in common with Progress. Watson and Mandelson are not exactly bosom buddies.

        The Soft Left loathe Labour First but are happy to work with the Blairites against the Hard Left: What’s Left loathed the Campaign Group more than the Blairites and the Soft Left in general loathe Brexiters more than they loathe anyone.

        The Trot factions won’t speak to each other and one of them can’t decide whether it is a quasi-Islamic Party on the quiet – I know about the first because I once had to spend months passing messages between the factions to get the slate to hold together for the NEC Elections back in the day.

        And the ‘tankies’ would rather work with the Bruges Group than the so-called ‘Progressives’ [aka neo-liberal opportunists]. I have a lot of sympathy with that.

        Even the Blairites can’t decide whether they are Tory-hating tribal Labour through-and-through (which at least we can say is true of Alastair Campbell) or closet ‘progressives’ ready to work with the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and any bunch of dancing snowflakes that fall into their laps from the clouds above.

        And whatever happened to the Compass militia and the boot boys of the Euston mob? And we haven’t even got on to the unions yet.

        If there is no win for one side with the hardliners on the other side going into exile (like a good old clean Syrian coup of the old days), this whole thing could seriously implode … and neither side is particularly appealing either in itself or to Joe Public. What a mess!

        1. Richard MacKinnon says:

          You sum up exactly what is wrong.
          Labour First, Progress, Momentum, nobody knows what these groups are about, and all the other smaller groups, all trying to use the labour party to further their own particular prejudices. As I said above, I think its too late. The situation is beyond recovery.
          If Watson can engineer McCluskey’s defeat in the election for leader of Unite, chuck him out of Labour massive public humiliation, and then persuade Corbyn and McDonnell to step down maybe there is a chance. But to get rid of McDonnell that would take 150 Labour MPs to threaten 150 by elections and that is not going to happen. In fact that is probably the best case scenario; schism. A break away new party.
          I have to say it is a beautiful thing to watch. The Labour Party devouring itself. Doing a Corbyn.
          Tim, remember where you heard that first. Im quite proud of that. ‘Doing a Corbyn’.
          From now on doing something really stupid like when your sat nav tells you to drive off a cliff and you do it, then it is going to be known as ‘doing a Corbyn’.

          1. Tim Pendry says:

            But I don’t draw your conclusions … to have a another round of a middle class Labour Party dominated by Blairites is the worst of all options (even than a national interest sensible Tory Party) but the Labour Party can be reinvigorated if we see Corbynism as a necessary purgative process with a new generation synthesising it with a sensible Labourism that offers a strategy of re-engagement with the majority.

            I am more sanguine – maybe 2020 is lost but a serious ‘national’ socialism (not in the obvious sense) is possible for 2025: a humane socialist-liberal alliance that has jettisoned the European Project and can build something that looks after the interests of the British people. But then I am the last optimist left standing …

  6. Bazza says:

    Yes perhaps it would help to get power back to the grassroots members in Labour by having a Deputy Leader who is a non-MP?
    I am reminded of a poem.
    The Tories are split down the middle over Brexit – Neo Liberal Lumpen Right v Pro EC Big Buiness/City of London but they have discipline for their class interests and try to keep their gobs shut!
    So does the left, we love the working class/working class but the Right show themselves for what they are by what they do and demonstrate a complete contempt for working class/working people.
    We need representation by diverse left wing democratic socialists.
    We would never hurt our class in fact everything we do, every sacrifice we make is for them; perhaps others should look in the mirror.
    As a working class Unite member I will VOTE 4 LEN!

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      You are paddling in that big African river again.
      “The Tories are split down the middle over Brexit”. No they are not. The opposite is the case. They have never been more united. That is an undeniable fact.
      You just don’t get it do you? Do you know who Theresa May wants to be the next leader of Unite? Ever thought about that?I don’t know how to explain this to you Bazza but Jeremy, John, Dianne, Emily and lets not forget Len are the guarantee of a Tory government as long as they remain in place. That is another fact.
      So good luck with your VOTE 4 LEN I hope he wins.

      1. ed says:

        You confuse fact with your own strange opinions. Take the crystal ball in for repair.

  7. Robin Edwards says:

    Britain First, America First and now Labour First. Barely distinguishable from fascists. This troll assault on trades unions in order to discredit McLuskey sounds identical to what the far right are saying. New Labour, utterly dead and discredited in electoral terms, really would rather see the party destroyed than allow it to become a vehicle for socialist politics and exists now only to destroy it.

    1. ed says:

      Looks very much like it!

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