The head of Labour’s biggest union backer has ordered a review of its donations to the party following Keir Starmer’s decision to pay damages to former staff who became anti-Semitism whistle-blowers.
The party agreed in the High Court last month to pay undisclosed six-figure settlements for making “false and defamatory” comments about seven ex-employees who spoke out last year in a BBC Panorama documentary titled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?, The Telegraph reports.
But Len McCluskey claims that “a lot” of the funds used to pay the settlements came from Unite. “It’s an abuse of members’ money,” McCluskey told The Observer this weekend.
“I’m already being asked all kinds of questions by my executive. It’s as though a huge sign has been put up outside the Labour Party with ‘queue here with your writ and get your payment over there’.”
He added that Starmer should not to “take for granted” continued funding from Unite, which gave Labour almost £6m last year, and warned that the party could “go under” if it steers too far to the right.
McCluskey has been praised by left-leaning Labour MPs for ordering the funding review, reports The Guardian. “Len said what a lot of us have been thinking,” said an unnamed politician.
The union chief is a close ally of former Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn, who claims that his team was advised while he was in charge that the “party had a strong defence” against the complainants.
However, according to The Telegraph’s political correspondent Harry Yorke, Corbyn has been accused of “unleashing a wave of legal claims against Labour that threaten to leave the party at risk of bankruptcy” as a result of his handling of anti-Semitism allegations.
Yorke has reported that Labour is facing “at least 40 further civil claims”, many of which relate to a leaked internal report compiled during the last few months of Corbyn’s leadership that “included allegations over the conduct of former Labour Party officials and named complainants in anti-Semitism cases”.
Corbyn’s criticism of Starmer’s decision to pay damages to the anti-Semitism whistle-blowers has reportedly further “infuriated Jewish campaigners” and prompted new legel claims against the former Labour leader and the party.
Mark Lewis, the libel lawyer who represented Panorama journalist John Ware and the former Labour officials, confirmed last month that he had been instructed by 32 people to take action over the leaked report.