Yesterday, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, thought it a good idea to talk about just what the unions might get up to should the Tories win the general election. It essentially involves striking no matter what.
This is all in response to the Tories looking to create laws around strike thresholds. Namely, that at least 40% of members must support any industrial action in order for it to be considered a legal strike (I should add here, members of the relevant union – not the Conservative Party). What McCluskey has said is that essentially the unions would be prepared to simply ignore any such law and order their workers to strike anyhow.
I’m going to set aside any questions about whether or not it’s right for Unite to consider such an action. What I’m much more interested in is the politics of the whole thing. Does Unite think saying this stuff will make people more sympathetic to Labour and less towards the Tories? I’d be interested in some research on this, but my gut tells me that, no, it would probably have the opposite effect.
For one, it reminds people of the militant aspect of the Labour movement, which tends to scare swing voters. Secondly, it makes them feel like McCluskey is giving this same group of people an ultimatum. Vote Labour or else. People generally don’t respond well to this sort of thing. Particularly when it seems to imply that under a Labour government, the same people making these threats to behave illegally will be given great leeway in helping to forge government policy.
I get that McCluskey doesn’t like the Tories’ plan to create strike thresholds, nor the whole idea of a Tory majority government in the first place. Actually, rewind for a moment here: throughout his statement yesterday, McCluskey kept referring to a “Conservative majority” pejoratively, with the idea surely being that a Tory led administration with other players involved might not be quite so bad. Len, can I just say that as a Lib Dem, I welcome you finally acknowledging, however covertly, the positive influence of the Liberal Democrats in restraining the worst of the Tories’ instincts this parliament. I had to wait five years for you to say it, big guy, but when you did it was all worth it.
But seriously, in closing: someone from Miliband’s team really needs to ask McCluskey to just shut up for the next 47 days. Every time he speaks, a few more votes leak away from the Labour Party.