UK Politics

Labour can't win on austerity agenda, says union boss

Unite boss Len McCluskey
Image caption Mr McCluskey was recently re-elected as general secretary of Unite, Labour's largest financial backer

One of the UK's top union leaders has voiced doubts about whether Labour can win the next general election.

Unite boss Len McCluskey said the party would only be elected if it offered a radical alternative to the "gloom and despair" of the coalition government.

He told BBC Radio 5Live that if Labour say they "believe in an austerity programme but won't cut as deep or as fast, it is my view they will lose".

Unite, which has 1.5 million members, is Labour's largest financial backer.

Mr McCluskey's comments come as there is increasing pressure on Labour to give specific details of future policies and set out how its spending plans at the next election, scheduled for 2015, would differ from the Conservatives' and Lib Dems'.

'Offering hope'

He told the BBC: "I want Labour to be re-elected but Labour will only be elected if it offers a radical alternative, a real alternative to the doom and gloom and misery and despair currently offered by this government.

"If Labour go to the next election and argue, 'We still believe in an austerity programme but we won't cut as deep or as fast', then it is my personal view that they will lose."

Mr McCluskey said he feared David Cameron could be elected on a message of "stick with us in difficult times", suggesting this was the successful approach used by President Obama last year.

To stop this happening, he said Labour should be investing in people, not cutting public spending. Mr McCluskey added: "No country in the world can cut its way out of a recession."

"I'm urging Ed [Miliband] to be brave enough to offer hope, to say I'm on your side."

Mr McCluskey has clashed in the past with the Labour leadership over its support for a two-year freeze on public sector pay introduced by the coalition government when it came to power and a subsequent 1% cap on pay increases until the end of the Parliament.

Labour has defended its position, saying that when faced with either protecting jobs or giving pay rises, it was "absolutely right" to prioritise employment.


The Unite boss, who was recently elected for a second five-year term in the job, said pay curbs were "a stupid thing" for Labour to agree with.

However, he said he believed Mr Miliband had been "brave enough" to spell out where the previous Labour government had gone wrong and the Labour leader was confident he would set out clear policies over the next 18 months.

Asked about recent comments by Tony Blair that Labour must solve problems rather than become a "repository of people's anger", Mr McCluskey said he was a "consummate politician" but the economic philosophy he embodied had "blown up in his face".

Mr McCluskey also played down talk of a general strike before a debate on the issue by TUC members on Wednesday. He said the majority of unions were opposed to a mass walkout and the talks would focus on co-ordinating campaigns against future austerity measures.

He called for a "coalition of resistance" against the government, which he said was taking the UK "on a path to poverty".

More on this story