Len McCluskey criticises Jeremy Corbyn over shoot-to-kill policy comments

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey has criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s comments opposing a “shoot-to-kill” policy against terrorists and warned him that he cannot say the first thing that comes into his head.

In his first critical comments about Corbyn, the union leader told an audience of students in York that Corbyn “has to come to terms” with his leadership.

According to a report of the event in the York Press, McCluskey said it was “inappropriate” for Corbyn to have said he was unhappy with a policy of shoot to kill in the event of Paris-style attacks.

McCluskey told the students on Thursday: “He has been a very principled MP and been able to say what he likes, but now he’s a leader and in leadership he can’t necessarily say the first thing that comes into his head. He has to take some balance.

“The only way for Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister is if he puts forward a credible economic alternative that the British people can sign up to.”

Asked about the comments, Unite sent a copy of McCluskey’s full speech in which he praised Corbyn for “succeeding against all expectations and against all the odds” because he had challenged the establishment.

McCluskey’s remarks come after Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said in an interview at the weekend that “divisive rows over Trident or shoot to kill are distractions no one needs”.

“It’s got to stop. If it doesn’t, Labour stands little chance of winning back the millions who deserted the party in May,” Prentis told the Independent on Sunday.

The unions were a powerful force behind Corbyn’s successful bid so any sign of frustration with his performance is bad news for him. He has come under mounting criticism from some of his own MPs in recent weeks over his approach to the Paris terror attacks, war in Syria and Trident.

But his position was strengthened on Monday by polling by YouGov for the Times, which suggests that 66% of those who were eligible to vote in the Labour leadership election think he is doing well.

Around 59% of party members, supporters and affiliates put Corbyn in first place on their ballot papers in September’s leadership election.

According to the polling, 86% of those who voted for Corbyn have been impressed by his leadership, compared with 49% of Andy Burnham voters and 29% of those who backed Yvette Cooper.

Labour suffered only a minor rebellion over the party’s policy on Trident on Tuesday, after the Scottish National party called a vote opposing the renewal of the nuclear deterrent. Corbyn himself opposes Trident but has ordered a review of the party’s position and asked his MPs to abstain.

Fourteen Labour MPs defied the leadership and voted in favour of renewing Trident, including former Progress chair John Woodcock, former leadership contender Liz Kendall and former shadow cabinet minister Emma Reynolds.

However, the majority of Labour MPs stayed away from the debate, including shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle, as they were not whipped to attend.

McCluskey later clarified that Corbyn has his “full support” as leader of the opposition, although Unite did not dispute that he made the comments.

“He has opened up debate and democracy across the Labour party and that can only be a positive move for the future,” the Unite general secretary said.

“It is exactly his brand of conviction politics and principled opposition that has won him so many supporters and his leadership is stronger for it.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 24th November 2015 19.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010