Len McCluskey insists he fully supports Jeremy Corbyn after party ratings remark
Union chief Len McCluskey has insisted that Jeremy Corbyn continues to have his "full support" after appearing to indicate that the Labour leader could step down before the general election if the party's poll ratings remained "awful".
The Unite general secretary, a key ally of Mr Corbyn, used a series of social media posts to say the Labour leader was a "genuine, decent man fighting for a fairer Britain".
His comments came after he said in a Daily Mirror interview that Mr Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell would examine the situation if Labour was still polling badly in 2019 and were not "desperate to cling on to power for power's sake".
Mr McCluskey's comments triggered a bitter exchange with his rival for the Unite leadership, Gerard Coyne, with the challenger claiming that the union chief was acting as Labour's "puppet master".
The union boss shot back, claiming that Mr Coyne's campaign was being orchestrated by the "failed plotters" who had sought to oust Mr Corbyn.
In his Daily Mirror interview, Mr McCluskey said Mr Corbyn should be given the time to prove himself as Labour leader.
But he added that the situation could change if Theresa May did not call an early election and Labour was still struggling in 2019.
"Let's suppose we are not having a snap election. It buys into this question of what happens if we get to 2019 and opinion polls are still awful," he said.
"The truth is everybody would examine that situation, including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell."
Mr Coyne said: "I am astonished and deeply concerned that, at a time like this, Len McCluskey should deliver what amounts to a public ultimatum to the leader of the Labour Party.
"My criticism of his handling of the role of general secretary of Unite is not whether he has backed the right leader or the wrong leader of the Labour Party, but that he appears to think it is his job to be Labour's puppet master.
"In 2015 and in 2016, he decided the Labour Party should be led by Jeremy Corbyn, and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of Unite members' money to make that happen.
"It is not in the interest of Unite's members that the general secretary should spend so much of his time and their money playing politics."
But Mr McCluskey responded: "He claims that I decided that Unite should support Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 and 2016.
"Yet the truth, as he is well aware, is that in 2015 this was a decision of our elected lay executive council, and in 2016 of our 600-strong policy conference, by a vast majority.
"To claim otherwise is to disrespect our membership and our democracy, while asserting that our union is a political 'puppet master' panders to the worst anti-Labour stereotypes of the media.
"These unscrupulous remarks show that Gerard Coyne's campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members' interests.
"It is being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party, for whom Unite would be collateral damage in their political project to bring back Blairism."