First things first, we don't know what Labour's 'austerity lite' is going to look like. Ed Balls has made the usual noises about "tough choices", and is not making any promises about what cuts - if any - will be reversed. Furthermore, Labour is right now carrying out a zero-based budgeting exercise. Quite rightly, every penny of public spending should be justified. Where waste and duplication occurs, as it does to a ridiculous degree in marketised public services, it should be got shot of. So there is austerity and there is austerity. There's the austerity of kicking the poor and taking money directly out of the economy, as the Tories and LibDems have done; and the austerity of spending carefully so money isn't squandered on socially and economically useless schemes. I'm sure Len and most people, including the "no cuts!" brigade would have little problem with the latter.
Second, this happens with such regularity it's a pantomime, nay a simulation of political argy-bargy. Truth be told an occasional public ticking off of Ed Miliband by Len serves the interests of both men. Len burnishes his street cred as a lefty, working class trade union leader. He shows his members that he's fighting their corner in the party, trying to keep it honest, attempting to steer the party to the kind of programme he thinks can win the election next year. And for Ed it shows up the absurdity of the Tory attacks against him. Far from being in Unite's pocket, every time Len takes to the airwaves he shows how baseless that accusation is. Not that it matters to ordinary voters outside the Westminster bubble anyway.
But truth be told, as a Unite and Labour member I'm bored with Len's sniping. Fine, criticise away. It's not as if he isn't in a position to change Labour's direction of travel. Remember how the Blairite rump panicked when Len pledged to recruit thousands of Unite members directly to the party? That didn't happen. Sure, Unite funds research and more or less has its own think tank but in my experience does not engage or encourage its rank-and-file to get involved in Labour, despite being official policy. What Len's public rebukes do is cover for an absence of a serious orientation. Perhaps Len should stop listening to the anti-Labour, Putin-loving people surrounding him and come up with a strategy that deepens Unite's commitment to the party at the same time as influencing it. Because if Unite do walk away after 2015, it won't be because Labour didn't listen to Len - it's because he didn't seriously try to make himself heard.