UK Politics

Labour Conference: Ed Miliband in union pay freeze row

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Media captionEd Miliband on Unite's Len McCluskey: "He's wrong, and he's entitled to his view, but he's wrong"

Ed Miliband has hit back at a trade union leader who described his backing for a public sector pay freeze as "crazy".

Unite leader Len McCluskey - whose union is one of Labour's biggest financial backers - said his members were "furious" with the Labour leader.

And he threatened to pull funding for Labour MPs over the issue.

But Mr Miliband told the BBC Labour had no future if it was dominated by pressure groups like the unions.

The row comes as Labour gathers in Manchester for its annual conference.

Mr Miliband is expected to use the conference to expand on his theme of the need for more responsible capitalism, telling the BBC's Andrew Marr that if banks do not separate their retail and investment arms, a future Labour government will "break them up".


He is also expected to repeat his promise for better training for young people to get them into work, saying in a party political broadcast, which airs on Wednesday, he could "do a much better job" than the coalition.

But he is also under pressure to bolster Labour's financial credibility and prove that he is not in the pocket of the unions.

Len McCluskey, whose union gives millions of pounds to Labour every year, told the Sunday Times Mr Miliband needed to "kick the New Labour cuckoos out of our nest" and reconnect with the union movement - and stop listening to the "Blairite dead".

Some unions believe those on the right of the party remain too influential and want the New Labour pressure group Progress, which was founded in 1996 by Lord Mandelson, to be "outlawed".

But Mr Miliband told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I am not for pushing people out of the Labour Party. I want more people in the Labour Party.

"There is no future for this party as one sectional interest of society. We must be the party of the private sector just as much as the party of the public sector."

He said he would not break the party's link with the unions because "at its best" it puts Labour in touch with working people across the country.

The Unite general secretary confirmed his union had a strategy to "reclaim Labour" by persuading 5,000 trade unionists to join the party by the end of the year to increase pressure within constituency parties to select "union-friendly" candidates for the next election.

Asked whether this strategy could be viewed as an attempt to take over the party, Mr McCluskey replied: "Of course we are trying to influence the party again.

"It really is a question of us having to go to our activists and get them to join the Labour party. The answer we get back is 'why?' and we have got to be able to say that we are trying to win Labour back for our core values: a belief in collectivism, a belief in fairness, justice, equality, decency and respect and to kick the New Labour cuckoos out of our nest."

Mr McCluskey told the newspaper union members were "furious" with Labour's "crazy" decision to back a pay freeze in the public sector and he threatened to withdraw constituency funding for MPs who were not in line with the union's position.

"We should only be supporting those constituencies where their vision of the type of future that we want is in line with ours," he said.

Mr Miliband said the union boss was entitled to his view on public sector pay but he was "wrong".

"We've got the right policy to say we put jobs in the public sector ahead of pay rises. That's what we said we would do this parliament," he said.

"It is a difficult decision but it is the way to keep jobs in the public sector."

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said shadow chancellor Ed Balls needed to "get closer to what is happening on the ground", accusing him of being out of touch on public sector pay.

He said the Labour party's MPs were now "truly unrepresentative" of working people and dominated by career politicians, such as those like Ed Balls and Ed Miliband who worked as advisers to Gordon Brown before becoming MPs.

"It doesn't look like the country and it has to do that," he told BBC News.