Why Len McCluskey's idea of general election "success" for Labour matters

Len McCluskey said a "successful" campaign would be one in which Labour holds onto 200 seats.

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Well, they've broadened the debate alright: to the question of whether or not losing 32 seats and a third election on the bounce is "success".

That's the question raised by Len McCluskey's interview with Politico in which he said that a "successful" campaign would be one in which Labour holds onto 200 seats.

Unison boss Dave Prentis has fired back on Twitter, saying that "Success = a Labour government. That's what care workers, nurses and teaching assistants need."  (Readers in the Lords: it's what the kids call a subtweet: a tweet that is about you but not at you.)

At face value, of course, they've both got a point. 200 seats would be Labour's worst performance since 1935 and mean, effectively, that the 2022 election would be a foregone conclusion before it starts. But bluntly the truth of the polling and the local elections is that a parliament in which the combined strength of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens will be lucky to get nearer than 150 than 200 seats. If you talk to almost anyone in the trade union movement or elsewhere in the Labour party, the priority, whatever they may say publicly, is to bunker down and save as many Labour MPs as possible, not to defeat Theresa May. (And as far as that battle goes, that the Guardian's splash is "Labour won't win, says top union backer" is not all bad news for Labour's chances.)

But of course no-one is really taking anything anyone else says in the Labour party at face value at the moment. Just as the argument over whether or not Labour are going to match or surpass Ed Miliband's vote share is really about laying the groundwork for Jeremy Corbyn to stay on as leader after defeat on 8 June, so too are these arguments about what constitutes success.

As far as Corbyn and the trade unions are concerned, what will matter in the days after 8 June is a) how bad the loss and b) what McCluskey, Prentis and the other two general secretaries of Labour's big four - Dave Ward of the CWU and Tim Roache of the GMB - agree together.

So while the division between what Prentis and McCluskey are saying "success" looks like today matters a bit, what matters most of all is that neither target looks like one that Jeremy Corbyn will hit in June.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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