Mandelson takes a swipe back at McCluskey

Labour peer says the Unite head is "the man who reminds us of where we came from and what we left behind" after McCluskey's attack on him in the NS.

In my interview with him for the NS, Len McCluskey reserved some of his fiercest barbs for Peter Mandelson. With particular reference to the Labour peer, the Unite general secretary said of the Blairite grandees who have warned Ed Miliband not to "tack left":

It may be easy for these people, who are sitting with the huge sums of money that they’ve amassed now - they’ve done pretty well out of it, remember it was Mandelson who said he was comfortable about the filthy rich, presumably that’s because he wanted to be one of the filthy rich. But the fact is that under Labour the gap between rich and poor increased...that’s a stain on what Labour stands for.

Unsurprisingly, Mandelson felt the urge to respond. A Labour source informs me that the former Business Secretary declared at last night's Friends of Labour Students dinner that McCluskey was "the man who reminds us of where we came from and what we left behind". 

But Mandelson's riposte is mild compared to that issued by Miliband, who accused McCluskey of a "reprehensible" and "disloyal" attempt to divide the party. 

McCluskey, whose union helped secure the Labour leadership for Miliband in 2010, told me that Miliband would be "defeated" and "cast into the dustbin of history" if he was "seduced" by "the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders". Of Liam Byrne, the shadow and work pensions secretary, he said: "Liam Byrne certainly doesn’t reflect the views of my members and of our union’s policy, I think some of the terminology that he uses is regrettable and I think it will damage Labour. Ed’s got to figure out what his team will be."

The irony of Miliband's denunciation of McCluskey is that the Unite head has rarely been more well disposed to the Labour leader. McCluskey told me that he thought Miliband was doing "a very good job of holding the party together" and that while there were "disgreements" between the pair, he was happy with the course he had taken since 2010. 

But it is precisely for this reason that Miliband felt it necessary to rebuke the Unite head so swiftly and explicitly. He couldn't allow the impression to form that he was willing to tolerate McCluskey's attack on the "Blairite" shadow cabinet ministers and the suggestion that they should either be ignored or sacked. As I noted in the piece, those associated with Blair are troubled by what they regard as Unite's excessive influence over European and parliamentary candidate selections. Rather than rejecting claims that the union had "stitched up" selections, McCluskey suggested to me that he was simply beating the Blairites at their own game. 

The truth is that this is a process that was set up by Tony Blair, and the right-wing and organisations like Progress have had it their own way for years and years and have seen nothing wrong it.
 
Because we're having some success, suddenly these people are crying foul. Well I’m delighted to read it. I’m delighted when Tony Blair and everyone else intervenes because it demonstrates that we are having an impact and an influence and we’ll continue to do so.
After David Miliband's departure for New York, the Blairites are increasingly anxious about their standing in the party. Miliband's intervention was an important signal that there are lines he will not allow McCluskey to cross. 
Former Labour business secretary Peter Mandelson speaks during an interview at the foreign correspondents club in Hong Kong. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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