Len McCluskey’s attack comes at a bad time for Labour

Electorally speaking, it couldn’t be less helpful to Corbyn. So, what’s the Unite general secretary’s motivation?

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Len McCluskey’s attack comes at a bad time for Labour. This is the question that Labour MPs are asking following the Unite boss’ explosive piece in this week’s New Statesman . (Or, at least, it’s the PG-friendly version of the question.)

McCluskey attacked the leader of the Israeli Labor party, as well as the “half a dozen” Labour MPs “who appear to wake up each morning thinking only: ‘how can I undermine Jeremy Corbyn today?’”. And he’s named five of them: Chris Leslie, John Woodcock, Ian Austin, Neil Coyle and Wes Streeting.

From an electoral perspective, the timing could hardly be less helpful to Labour in general and to Corbyn in particular. It will add to the party’s difficulties with Jewish voters, which, as Jim Pickard reports in the FT, are throwing Labour's hopes of taking control in Barnet next week into doubt.

But some in Labour believe that McCluskey has another election in mind: a possible re-run of his razor-thin victory over Gerard Coyne in the last Unite general secretary race. They are looking at the looming verdict from the trade union certification officer about whether to uphold Coyne's complaints and redo the contest, and then at the increasing publicity given to McCluskey's industrial relations work, and putting two and two together. That his long-time ally Jennie Formby has now been installed as Labour general secretary adds to the suspicion that McCluskey is trying to inoculate his allies against defeat in the replay.

Are they right? Well, there are plenty of things that are widely believed in the Labour movement – and I've heard this version of events from senior Unite people across the country – that aren't true. This may be one of them. And my read is that Coyne would have a more difficult task defeating McCluskey the second time around. But it's a reminder that the interests of “big L” Labour politicians and “small l” labour politicians don't always converge, and that the balance of forces in both may be less permanent than some in Team Corbyn might wish.

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. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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