Len McCluskey, general secretary of the UK’s biggest union, will hit out at the 'cabal' of Labour party malcontents plotting against Jeremy Corbyn, challenging them to embrace the much-needed change his leadership offers – and to take the fight to the Tories instead of scheming against their own party.
In his address to the Oxford Union tonight (20:00 hours, Tuesday 9 February), McCluskey will say that last summer’s Labour leadership election saw an exhausted New Labour collide with rising public discontent about the inability of business-as-usual politics to tackle growing inequality. Against this backdrop, an electrifying campaign based on the promise of real political change propelled Jeremy Corbyn to Labour leader.
McCluskey, the first modern day trade union leader to address the Oxford Union, speaking on the subject Jeremy Corbyn: Blast from the past or leader of tomorrow? will say:
“Some have sought to excuse their disloyalty to Corbyn by pointing to his own rebellious past on the backbenches. But who can seriously argue that his votes in parliament against the Iraq war, identity cards or university tuition fees now diminish his ability to lead the Labour party today? On all these issues he was not only right, I believe, he was giving voice to the views of most Labour supporters.
“I’m not saying that any Labour MP should have to abandon his or her own views, or cease to articulate them within the party’s democratic structures. But I am saying that this continual war of attrition is achieving nothing beyond taking the pressure off the government.
“So my clear message to the plotters is – stop the sniping, stop the scheming, get behind Jeremy Corbyn and start taking the fight to the Tories.”
The leader of the 1.4 million-strong union will remind those undermining Jeremy Corbyn that they have failed to grasp why their brand of politics was roundly rejected by the Labour electorate – and dismiss the term ‘moderate’ as wholly inappropriate for MPs advancing further foreign wars or versions of austerity:
“These MPs, who refuse to accept the overwhelming mandate Jeremy Corbyn got from Labour’s membership, are generously described as the “moderates” in the party. It’s an abuse of language – there is nothing “moderate” about voting to bomb Syria or agreeing more public spending cuts, anything more than it’s “extreme” to vote for peace or for an end to eye-watering austerity.
“Such labelling simply obstructs the debate we need to have which is what went wrong with New Labour, what lessons can we learn, and how can we craft an appealing electoral pitch for the reality of 2020, not 1997?
“Their analysis of Labour’s defeat in 2015 was unconvincing, their proposals stale, minimalist and uninspiring - and for the most part they have still not shaped up after Corbyn’s victory. Until they can do that, they are a plot without a programme; a cabal without a critique.
“Labour cannot simply go back to where it left off in 1997, 2007 or 2010. Jeremy Corbyn’s message, his authenticity, his radical challenge to the status quo is part of an international movement against business-as-usual politics.”
McCluskey will further say that that the efforts of some in the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) to present the May elections as a referendum on the leader should be thoroughly dismissed:
“This is a sensitive issue and I am not a supporter of going back to mandatory re-selection or other changes designed to intimidate or undermine Labour MPs. But I also believe that we need to issue a clear warning to those who are advocating the PLP being used as a lever to force Jeremy Corbyn out.
“The bizarre plans outlined by Joe Haines and pollster Peter Kellner, the call to arms by Damian McBride in his Times article and the ludicrous 99 days' notice given by Michael Dugher to the arch-Tory Mail on Sunday – all have to be dismissed with distain by any real Labour supporter.
“If the Labour MPs want something constructive to do, then start working out policies and ideas that might help attract voters back to Labour. The leadership election revealed just how much the New Labour faction had run out of political impetus. They offered no answers to the big questions of inequality, economic management, and 21st century social justice. There were certainly no big ideas from what were dubbed the “mainstream candidates” during the last leadership election.”
Turning to the need for an alternative to austerity, McCluskey will advance that Corbyn represents the best chance the UK has to reverse Conservative policies that have rendered this the most unequal of the major western nations:
“The global political and economic problems are so stark that they can no longer be ignored. Politicians who are willing to talk frankly about them will be listened to. Under Jeremy now, we have a clear message: one that rejects austerity economics and promises investment and growth instead.
“Fairness, tackling corporate greed, tax avoidance and tax evasion, and holding power and wealth to account – all popular proposals which are resonating on both sides of the Atlantic.
“What Jeremy Corbyn offers – like Bernie Sanders in the US – is a calling out of corporate corruption, a rejection of the austerity that has made the UK the most unequal economy in the G8 and the promise that politics and politicians can and will put things right for ordinary working people.”
Media looking to attend the event must pre-register. To do so, contact the Oxford Union press officer Jack Lennard or call 07928 606 362.
The speech followed via @OxfordUnion
A video of Mr McCluskey’s speech will be available after the event at www.youtube.com/oxfordunion
A copy of Mr McCluskey’s speech can be downloaded here.
For further information, contact Alex Flynn on 07967 665869 or Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861
Notes to editors: Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.