Leader: Labour not so United

The union link keeps Labour rooted in the history of collective mobilisation against injustice.

The Labour Party’s relationship with its affiliated trade unions is a source of strength. The unions provide a connection, increasingly rare, between professional politicians and workers. The link keeps Labour rooted in the history of collective mobilisation against injustice. Yet it is naive to suppose that unions today inevitably embody those ideals. A dispute over the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk has exposed allegations of ballotrigging and coercion against Unite, the party’s biggest affiliated union – and, in that capacity, its financial lifeline.

Unite has an explicit strategy to influence Labour by placing sponsored candidates in important positions. This, says the union, is about advancing workingclass representation, although “working class” is defined by ideology, not income. It entails resistance to public-sector cuts that are inevitable whoever wins the next general election.

It is quite rational for the body that pays Labour’s bills to expect something in return, which is a reason why the party needs new sources of funding. That is not an argument for ignoring unions but for raising Labour’s ambitions to be a party that represents a wide cross-section of British society. Ultimately, union members will be better served by a Labour government that has a broad mandate to deliver wide-reaching social change. Unite’s strategy should focus less on increasing control over the Labour party machine and more on increasing union relevance in society.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite. Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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