U.K. Labour Split and Faces Defeat, Union Chief Says

The U.K. opposition Labour Party is split on its strategy for next year’s election and faces defeat unless it offers an alternative to austerity, according to the leader of the country’s biggest trade union.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, which has 1.4 million members and has donated 10.8 million pounds ($18 million) to Labour since Ed Miliband became leader in 2010, told journalists in London yesterday that the party is at a “crossroads.”

“There’s an argument going on between those who want a transformative agenda and those who want to shrink the offer,” McCluskey said. “If we do that, we’ll lose. I believe that the British electorate are of a mind, unless there is a real alternative, to say ‘We had better stick with the devil we know.’ Ed’s got to give hope to people.”

Labour’s poll lead over Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives has shrunk to as little as 1 percentage point since the March 19 budget in which Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne laid out measures to help savers and pensioners. A year ago it was more than 10 percent. Cameron will today begin a four-day tour promoting his economic policy and an increase in the starting rate for paying income that takes effect next week.

Miliband has focused in recent months on proposals to mitigate the rising cost of living for consumers, such as capping energy prices if Labour wins in 2015, while the party has failed to spell out expenditure plans.

Workers’ Concerns

McCluskey said Labour needs to address the concerns of his workers, who want improved public services and an end to spending cuts. Cameron and Osborne have overseen Britain’s biggest austerity program since World War II.

“If Unite members are only seeing that what’s on offer is variations of austerity, that won’t excite them to go to the polls,” he said. He said that if Labour were to lose the election, it was possible to imagine Unite dropping its support for the party.

“We created it,” he said. “At the beginning of the last century, ordinary working people sat down to create a party of labor so we had a voice in the political arena. Is Labour still that voice? I’m hoping the answer to that is yes. If Labour lost the election next May, I fear for the future of the Labour Party.”

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