Wednesday, July 03, 2013

If Len is the Answer, what is the Question?

Regular readers of this column will know that Prime Ministers Questions has only one guarantee - no answers.
You can therefore share the shock of discovering today that there is in fact an answer to all Qs at PMQs - Len McCluskey.
For those from foreign lands, or Surrey, it should be pointed out that the answer in question is also the General Secretary of the Unite trade union. Len had probably planned to spend the day going about his normal business of subverting democracy. But, all that had changed by lunchtime as Prime Minister David Cameron named him as the answer to everything.
To set the scene it should be pointed out that Len comes straight from central casting to an ever grateful Tory Party. A Liverpool docker, who supported Militant, he cut his teeth in the Transport and General Workers Union at a time when the T and G was used to frighten small children to sleep. Having happily been dubbed Red Len by the usual suspects in Fleet Street he was elected and re-elected to run Unite, an amalgamation of the TGWU and some other 20th century nightmares.
But, it is the Brother's sub-business in funding Labour MPs, not to mention the party itself, which brought Len to new found fame today. Constantly under attack for having his hands in the pockets of the rich and infamous, David Cameron has often tried - and usually failed - to turn the tables on Labour over its union finances.
He gained some serious traction when the unions, Unite in particular, formed part of the "Anyone-but-David" campaign which saw Ed Miliband elected leader. But, it is the burgeoning spat over Unite's attempts to "discover" new members of the Labour Party in Falkirk to replace outgoing MP Eric Joyce which brought him to David Cameron's aid this morning.
The charge is that Unite suggested paying the joining-up fees for members who might just be happy to support the unions nominee for the job. Len apparently takes the view that even-newer Labour is a bit short of  those for whom working with their hands is not a job for somebody else. Instead of parachuting in another jobsworth from head office he proposed parachuting in his own.
Ed had parked this problem for the morning and instead, fresh from drubbing Dave last week, was up for fun and games over school overcrowding. But that was before when the PM lobbed a loose Len into his answer. 
Ed has suspended just about everything that moves in Falkirk to get a grip on the situation but Unite won't back down. Whatever the reason, instead of the scaffolders having to scrape the PM off the ceiling as usual, it was Ed up there with the Pugin paintings.
Dave suggested Ed was spending his spare time in Len's voluminous back pocket, partying away with dozens of his MPs. It was Len who was leading the Labour Party and Ed was just his creature - or words to that effect.
The stung Labour leader protested he needed no lecture from "someone who gave a tax cut to his Christmas card list ."  He tried a "dinner for donors" retort on the PM but Dave had clearly struck home.
Even Ed B, himself sponsored by Unite, was momentarily silenced by the attack as MPs around him seemed to find the floor worth closer scrutiny. And emboldened by his success it soon became clear that a plan L had been drawn up by the PM's back office.
As Unite has its hand up the backs of more than a few Labour MPs, to paraphrase Tory paranoia, the No 10 spin-meisters had obviously listed them for their boss. So, whatever difficult question Labour MPs asked - Len was the answer - and Labour did not like it.
The usual dummies had been signed by the Tory whips to keep the game going until even Speaker Bercow lost his cool. He gave Dave his usual "I-never-liked-you-anyway" grimace as he finally lost it with a Tory MP  who had forgotten his instructions and was slow to raise his Len opener. Stopping Dave from inflicting more pain, he declared the whole campaign "a waste of time."
By now the heady cocktail of an angry Ed mixed with an angry Bercow and a dash of Red Len had the Tory benches in paroxysms of pleasure. Chancellor George showed the opposition his teeth, Jeremy Hunt looked suitably stupid and Michael Gove would have been beside himself if that place had not been already taken.
As  Labour stuttered its way through the rest of the session the PM looked ready to lick himself if his members had left any exposed area un-tongued. With Falkirk still to be settled and Len ready to strike again this one will run and run. 
Mind you, Dave might just remember there are 6m trade union members - and they don't all vote in Falkirk.