The tragedy of Len McCluskey’s re-election as head of Unite


THE deformation professionnelle of the British establishment is its habit of rewarding failure: mess things up, get a promotion. The Brexit referendum provided a particularly dispiriting case study of this. Remain was repeatedly out-thought and out-manoeuvred by Leave: there’s no doubt where the brainpower lay. But the leaders of this fiasco were duly garlanded with honours: a CBE for Will Straw, the leader of Stronger In (and the son of a former British foreign secretary, Jack Straw), knighthoods for Craig Oliver and Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s point men in Downing Street. The “winners” of the most important political battle in recent British history are mostly now on the margins of British life. Douglas Carswell, who did as much as anybody to make Brexit happen, has decided not to contest his Clacton seat in this election. The “losers” are in clover. Edward Llewellyn, who bears as much responsibility for the failure as anyone, is Britain’s ambassador to France and sits in the House of Lords as baron Llewellyn of Steep (I live a mile away from Steep and have never come across him in any local function).

The left-wing establishment is just as prone to rewarding failure as the conservative establishment. Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian from 1995 to 2015, left the paper’s finances in what might politely be called “difficulties” with his unconventional business model of boosting spending while giving a lot of stuff away for nothing. He is now head of an Oxford college (Lady Margaret Hall) and chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford. But even by the standards of Baron Llewellyn and Mr Rusbridger, Mr McCluskey’s re-election to the headship of the Unite union was a shocker.

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