Leaders: Rebuilding Labour | Migrant issue

A blazing public row has erupted between the Unite trade union leader Len McCluskey and Jim Murphy. Picture: Getty

A blazing public row has erupted between the Unite trade union leader Len McCluskey and Jim Murphy. Picture: Getty

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UNION row could be catalyst to rebuilding Labour

Barely a week after its resounding defeat in the general election and near total wipe-out in Scotland and the Labour Party has succumbed to something akin to a breakdown.

There is widespread and bitter disagreement as to the causes of its defeat, and in particular its catastrophe in Scotland. There is no stand-out successor to Ed Miliband as the party leader – and still less a set of coherent ideas that could form the basis for fresh policies and a credible revival.

Now a blazing public row has erupted between the Unite trade union leader Len McCluskey and Jim Murphy.

The departing Scottish Labour leader has accused Mr McCluskey of being “the kiss of death”.

Mr McCluskey said Murphy represented “the ideology that has completely alienated [voters] … not just in the election, not just in the [independence] referendum, but for years”. He has also threatened that Unite might disaffiliate from the party, a step that would trigger a major financial crisis for Labour.

A war of words was always to be expected. And bitter though it is proving to be, it is perhaps to be welcomed. Clearly it has released long pent-up divisions and disagreements within the party that could not be aired while a general election was on the horizon. But the range and depth of the public outbursts point to deep soul-searching over the purpose and direction of the party.

Such acrimonious soul-searching might not be an ­edifying spectacle in politics. But it can be seen as a necessary purgative – and indeed one to be welcomed if it enables the party to sort out its differences, and find a new rhetoric and leadership style that will enable it to mount a credible alternative to the Conservatives.

The issue of trade union influence on the choice of party leader is one that has dogged Labour for years with no successful resolution.

Perhaps the bigger surprise is not the suddenness or vehemence of today’s wrangles, but how long it has taken for the demographic erosion of the party’s traditional support in Scotland to manifest itself in a near total collapse. The party that was once so prominent – and dominant – in Scottish life now has to find the strength and wherewithal to rebuild itself from the bottom.

Many of its constituency branches are run-down and the party has struggled to attract younger members and develop an appeal anything like as resonant and powerful as that achieved by the SNP. Scottish Labour could be in the wilderness for a generation unless a radical overhaul is undertaken, and it is able to provide a fresh, attractive proposition to voters.

It is also one that needs to be speak clearly to voters and is not a fabricated patch-up on which little trust can be placed.

Migrant issue needs co-ordinated action

With almost every day, reports of migrants risking hazardous sea journeys to flee poverty and ­oppression grow ever more harrowing.

Thousands of migrants are now estimated to be adrift in South-East Asian waters, denied permission to land. Some 700 survivors rescued from a boat off Indonesia told of horrific conditions, with about 100 people dying after a fight broke out over the last remaining food.

The reports will add to the growing international pressure on Asian countries to find a solution to this crisis. The migrants had wanted to land in Malaysia but say they were driven away by the Malaysian navy.

The boat had reportedly been at sea for two months and had been recently deserted by its crew when it was rescued by Indonesian fishermen on Friday. Pictures show scenes of unbelievable wretchedness.

Separately come claims from Libyan government sources that members of Islamic State (IS) are using the Mediterranean route to put terrorists into Europe. IS, he said, was allowing the boat owners to continue their operations in exchange for half of their income. Officials in Italy and Egypt have also previously warned that IS militants could reach Europe by migrant boat.

These latest developments provide yet more compelling reasons why this terrible trade must be tackled at the root. There needs to be co-ordinated international action to track down the smugglers, smash the organised gangs and halt their appalling activities. This trade in misery without regard to human life is an offence to the conscience of the world and needs immediate intervention.

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