Don Brind explores the intriguing silence of Len McCluskey in the post Copeland debate

February 27th, 2017


Has he started to worry about the Corbyn effect on working class voters?

Some time ago I went up to introduce myself to Angela Rayner. I wanted to congratulate her on her debut speech to the Labour conference as Shadow Education Secretary.

“You don’t need to introduce yourself, she said. “ I know who you are. You helped get me here” She went on to remind me that she had taken part in a training scheme for potential parliamentary candidates organised by Unite. The aim was to make sure that working class candidates who hadn’t been to university and didn’t have working for an MP or a front benchers on their CV had the skills to shine at selection conferences.

It was the brainchild of Unite general gecretary Len McCluskey and senior Unite MP Jon Trickett. I was an enthusiastic (pro bono) trainer because I shared their belief that the Labour party needed more working class MPs.  Angela Rayner is a celebrated product of the scheme and it was because of McCluskey’s role in setting it up that gave him her backing for re-election as general secretary of the country’s biggest union. Nominations have now closed in the contest, which I argued here few weeks ago is a potential game changer for Labour.

Following last week’s two by elections one of Jeremy Corbyn’s union backers, Unison leader, Dave Prentis was quick to come out and declare that Copeland was “disastrous” adding “The blame for these results does not lie solely with Jeremy Corbyn, but he must take responsibility for what happens next.”

By contrast, there was an intriguing silence from Corbyn’s other big union backer Len McCluskey. Was it a sign that he fears the connection could be damaging him? Certainly his challenger Gerard Coyne is making McCluskey’s “obsession with Westminster politics” a key point of attack. He accused him of putting “thousands of pounds of Unite’s money into helping Jeremy Corbyn gain and retain the Labour leadership, knowing that he is a lifelong opponent of nuclear power. What sort of message does that convey to the nearly 3,000 Unite members employed at the Sellafield plant, in Copeland?”

McCluskey is probably still favourite but does his silence suggest he is having doubts about the Corbyn leadership?

I think he should be having a rethink because of the evidence that he is driving away working class voters from Labour

An analysis of polling over the 18 months since Corbyn was elected shows that the drop in Labour’s working class support has been “catastrophic”, according to Theo Bertram, who worked for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He says: “Labour’s core vote is in crisis. It is collapsing on a scale that is worse than any point in history.”

He says “Jeremy Corbyn may claim to represent the working class but they do not agree. Under his leadership, working class support for Labour is down to 23 points the lowest it has ever been. Since September 2015, Labour has gone from 5 points ahead to 15 points behind the Tories among C2DEs.

Bertram’s killer fact is that “the big change came in the first two months of Corbyn’s leadership.” That collapse was masked by the fact that “David Cameron put off working class voters, Theresa May does not.”

In April 2016, he shows, Cameron had a net satisfaction rating among working class voters of minus 35%. 62% of them thought he was doing a bad job (nearly as many as Corbyn). In July 2016, in her first month as Prime Minister, Theresa May’s net satisfaction rating among working class voters was +16%.

“So while Labour flat-lined under Corbyn, the Tories changed their leader and their working class approval leaped by 51 points.”

Bertram argues: “Changing leader won’t in itself solve Labour’s core vote problem. But sticking with Corbyn is making things worse. Never has the Tory party had such a big lead among the working class. The longer Corbyn chooses to stay, the more damage he is doing to Labour’s claim to be the party of the working class.”

Frankly, that terrifies me. I hope it’s worrying Len McCluskey.