Labour’s largest union donor Unite refuses to endorse party’s election manifesto

Move came as a shock to members of Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet, including David Lammy who said he was ‘surprised’

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Friday 07 June 2024 21:17
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Keir’s Starmer’s election campaign has suffered a blow after Labour’s largest union donor Unite refused to endorse the party’s manifesto.

The decision by the union was such a shock it even caught some shadow cabinet members by surprise.

Party figures had described a crunch meeting on Friday, in which shadow ministers, union representatives, MPs and Labour members gathered to set the final manifesto, as "positive".

But it is thought that the party’s stance on practices like fire-and-rehire meant it could not support the plans.

Keir Starmer holding a card bearing Labour’s pledges
Keir Starmer holding a card bearing Labour’s pledges (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said he was surprised the union Unite has failed to back Labour's election manifesto insisting "there was a big sense...that we had all adopted" the plan.

Labour's shadow international development minister Lisa Nandy said there had been “constructive discussion” with the union.

A Labour spokesperson said: "Today's meeting has endorsed Labour's manifesto. On July 4, the British people will have the chance to vote for change - to stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country."

(PA) Unite’s Sharon Graham
(PA) Unite’s Sharon Graham (PA Wire)

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, who has previously called for the party to offer stronger employment rights, cancelled planned talks with reporters after the gathering.

The union donated £3 million to Labour's campaign in 2019.

But it warned last year that there were "no blank cheques" for the party as it told it to offer "bolder" policies.

Meanwhile, left-wing group Momentum also said it was "deeply disappointed" the party had not committed to free school meals or scrapping the two-child benefit cap.

"We need to kick out not just the Tories, but Tory policies too," a spokesperson said.

Mr Lammy explained his surprise at the Unite decision.

"I'm surprised to hear that, because genuinely, hand on heart, I'd say that wasn't the mood of the room," he told Times Radio.

Unite sources also cited Labour's stance on oil and gas as another reason for the union's opposition.

The SNP said the fallout was "damning".

Depute leader Keith Brown said: "It's damning that a major trade union has refused to endorse the Labour Party manifesto because of the threat to thousands of jobs in Scotland's energy sector - and the watering down of workers' rights proposals.”

The manifesto will be based on the party's five missions for government - the economy, the NHS, energy, education and planning reform.

Labour has been accused of watering down some of its previous commitments, including on plans to spend £28 billion a year on green energy projects, blaming the economy.

Labour has confirmed recognition of Palestinian statehood as part of any Middle East peace process would be included in the document.

Sir Keir suggested that such a move should not be blocked by a neighbouring country, saying it was an "inalienable right" of Palestinians and not in "the gift of Israel".

Labour struggled in the local elections in some previously safe areas with large Muslim populations, which has been blamed on Sir Keir's stance on the Gaza war.

Labour will also block individual firms from sponsoring work visas if it believes they was not doing enough to carry out domestic training in key sectors such as care and construction.

The manifesto is expected to be officially launched on June 13.

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