Unite cuts funding to Labour as Len McCluskey issues warning to Keir Starmer

Unite cuts funding to Labour as Len McCluskey issues warning to Keir Starmer
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Unite has cut its funding to the Labour Party as general secretary Len McCluskey issued a warning to Keir Starmer.

The union’s executive voted 25-23 on Tuesday to cut 50,000 affiliate members’ cash from the party – a 10% dip in affiliate funds that will deprive Labour of £150,000 per year.

Mr McCluskey hinted funding may be cut further if Sir Keir drifts too far from the left-wing course set by his ally Jeremy Corbyn.

He told BBC Newsnight: “I have no doubt if things start to move in different directions and ordinary working people start saying, well, I’m not sure what Labour stand for. Then my activists will ask me, why are we given so much money?”

Unite is Labour’s largest donor and has given more than £20million to the party and its politicians since 2016.

Affiliate members’ contributions only make up a proportion of Unite’s donations to Labour. One left-wing source told the Mirror the £150,000 cut was “symbolic” and meant more as a warning shot than to cripple the party.

Keir Starmer succeeded Jeremy Corbyn as leader

Another said it was a “signal to Keir that our people are fed up”, but the Unite leader was also “trying to be balanced” and had faced a knife-edge executive vote.

A Unite source told the BBC Mr McCluskey would likely redirect the money to left-wing grassroots organisations to support a socialist programme.

However, the general secretary added: “I don’t see at the moment any dramatic move to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The Labour Party is our party. We created it at the beginning of the last century. It’s our party.”

Mr McCluskey is due to stand down as general secretary in 2022 and the battle over who will replace him is already under way.

Multiple sources told the Mirror allies of left-wing hopeful Howard Beckett are pushing for Unite to officially affiliate to Momentum, the campaign group which was set up to back Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

But one source close to the union predicted there would be no such affiliation – an idea mooted on and off for five years – because of a “generational divide” among senior members.

Sources also claimed allies of Mr Beckett want a new senior figure to be installed in Momentum.

It’s understood James Schneider, a former senior figure in the group who left to be Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman, has been approached.

However, others are thought to favour Andrew Fisher, another former senior Corbyn advisor.

Mr McCluskey was particularly critical of Labour’s payout to whistleblowers over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism under Mr Corbyn.

He said there was “a lot of anger over that” and claimed “we shouldn’t have paid them anything”.

In July the party withdrew “defamatory and false” claims it made about seven whistleblowers, and agreed “substantial” damages.

Mr McCluskey was particularly critical of Labour’s payout to whistleblowers

A spokesman for Keir Starmer said the Labour leader spoke “regularly” to Mr McCluskey.

He added: “Unite has taken these decisions and we have seen Len’s remarks. But Labour will continue to take decisions which are in the best interests of the country.

“That means tackling the coronavirus and sticking up for people’s jobs across the country and restoring public trust in Labour so we can win in 2024.”

The Mirror understands some other left-wing unions affiliated to the party are also unhappy.

But they do not want to appear to undermine the new leader as he establishes himself and steers the party through the pandemic.

Labour insiders are concerned about the potential blow to the party’s finances, depleted after a costly general election.

The party’s ‘short money’, cash from the public purse to run their work as the official Opposition, was slashed in the wake of election which saw the party lose seats.

A Labour insider told the Mirror: “Politically, this doesn’t really matter.

“Financially, we’re going to be in a tighter spot in the next few years, but the whole country will be.

“We’ll just have to become more ruthless about prioritising policies and tactics which win to get rid of the Tories – and that means a Labour party that looks more like Keir Starmer than Len McCluskey.”

Insiders at both Unison and the GMB said that while there are no serious plans to revisit their contributions to Labour ahead of local elections next year, that the knock-on effect of a pandemic on members’ subs could see increased pressure on support.

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