The head of the UK’s largest trade union has warned that Ed Miliband has yet to “close the deal” with workers, days after it was cleared of vote-rigging in Falkirk.
Len McCluskey, of Unite, said the Opposition leader had a challenge ahead of him to convince working people that the Labour Party still had their interests at heart.
Mr McCluskey also offered Mr Miliband some breathing space, suggesting Unite would not immediately follow the GMB path of withdrawing funding to the party.
Asked if Unite intended to cut its affiliation funds, he said: “No. I understand exactly what Paul [Kenny, GMB general secretary] has done.”
Mr McCluskey who is a “close friend” of the GMB chief, said that Unite would “examine the proposals that are being put forward by Ed” before making a decision on party affiliation.
He said, however, that GMB’s decision to cut the donations it gives Labour from £1.2m to £150,000 from next year meant implications for all trade unions which “will have to examine where they stand in relation to the affiliation”.
The Unite chief, who has consistently said he welcomed Mr Miliband’s suggestions to review Labour’s relationship with the trade unions, added a word of warning, telling him to be careful what he wishes for.
Mr McCluskey rubbished suggestions that the union had had a hand in determining the outcome of an internal investigation by Labour into claims it had rigged the selection of a party candidate in Falkirk after demands were made for the report to be published.
Instead, Mr McCluskey said there was no need for an apology after his party was cleared of any wrongdoing.
He added: “As leader he will take us into our election and he will have my support and Unite’s support to do that.
“He is the guy we support but his challenge is to make sure that Labour demonstrates to ordinary working people ... he still has to close the deal with ordinary people.
“Unite are not looking for an apology, we want to move on now, it’s time now to concentrate on the real things that matter to our members, which is what does Labour stand for, how is Labour going to be different from this government?” said Mr McCluskey.
He insisted that under the guidance of its election strategy chief Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives were doing everything it could to smear Ed Miliband with the “trade union baseball bat”.
Mr McCluskey said: “We’ve got to expect this.
“As soon as the Conservative Party drafted in the Bush kangaroo Lynton Crosby we knew full well that their campaign was going to be dirtier, full of smears, more than normal.
“And they’ve hit on something that seems to give them an opportunity to hit Ed Miliband with the trade union baseball bat, and they want to create a division.
“Now it’s our task to make sure we don’t fall into those traps, so we’re going to work to create unity in our party so we can take them on.”
However, in a perfect example of the challenge that lies ahead – not just for Mr Miliband, but also the trade unions – Mr Kenny said an apology was necessary.
He described Labour’s reaction in the wake of the Falkirk allegations as a “disgrace” and said Mr Miliband needed to acknowledge this. “I think the manner in which – the language that was used about trade unions was absolutely appalling,” said Mr Kenny.
“If there is an apology owed – and I think there is – then the apology should be collectively to the trade unions.”
“There needs to be a recognition – it doesn’t need to be a public climbdown or humiliation”, but he rebuked those “who went off with half cocked... old attitudes”.