During the Labour leadership race in the summer, the trade unions as a bloc openly supported Jeremy Corbyn as their preferred candidate. There were probably many easily understandable reasons for this. One of them could have been that they wanted to try and push the other candidates to the left on certain issues, thinking Corbyn could never win so it was a free shot. Another is that they generally thought he would make a decent leader. However, comments by GMB general secretary Paul Kenny are revealing as to how things stand between the trade unions and Corbyn and his inner circle.
It should be noted that Paul Kenny is stepping down from his post in a few weeks time. But I think that makes his comments more relevant, not less; he’s clearly saying what he thinks, not politically manoeuvring. What was said came from a Times article – behind a paywall, or I would have included a link. I can summarise it for you, however:
- Jeremy Corbyn will not be leader of the Labour Party by the time of the next general election, as he has not provided “a credible alternative to the Tories”.
- Corbyn’s senior team should stop treating leading the Labour Party like a “wine bar discussion”.
- That Labour members who “have gone along to rallies and meetings and people have cheered us….this must be what the rest of the country thinks” should “get out more. It is not what the rest of the country thinks.”
A lot of this has to do with Trident – either Corbyn and his team don’t understand how core an issue it is for trade unionists, or they simply don’t care if it is or isn’t. Coming back to their support for Corbyn in the summer of 2015, assuming they actually wanted him to win, what did the unions expect? I think they possibly thought that if Corbyn did become leader, his inexperience would cause him to surround himself with some wiser heads. So they would get the left-wing tilt they were after on certain economic issues, but Corbyn would be steered away from things they didn’t like and would be politically troublesome, such as Trident. Instead, Corbyn has mostly surrounded himself with people he sees eye to eye with politically more than anything else. So an increasingly erratic Ken Livingstone, for instance, or Seamus Milne.
Now a showdown at this year’s Labour conference in Liverpool beckons on the issue of a nuclear deterrent. And it won’t make any difference to whether Trident gets renewed or not, because it most definitely will get renewed no matter what, given the numbers in the Commons are clearly there regardless of what happens in Liverpool in September 2016. After all that, the gap between the unions and Corbyn could become profound quite quickly. What that then does to the current Labour leader’s prospects of holding the job until 2020 will be interesting to watch.