Tuesday, 13 July 2021

In the most important union election in decades, Coyne is the only choice to rehabilitate Unite and Labour

This is not an idle claim. In the 1980s, the unions were still largely regarded as centrist ballast against the worst excesses of a hard left spearheaded by figures such as Derek Hatton, Ted Knight, Eric Heffer, and Tony Benn. But they are so no longer: over the last decade, unions have been way to the left of the party, and that has had a major impact on its political direction.

And never, prior to Corbynism, has the party been so much under the thumb of a single union leader. Len McCluskey’s place-people sat for five years at the heart of power in the party.

Admittedly, it is less so now – scandal-hit McCluskey is now a busted flush and Unite in an interregnum until the new leader is chosen – but that could easily turn out to be a temporary state of affairs. Choose the wrong leader and, doubt it not, there will be a return to the bad old days.

At this point there is the clearest of choices: forward into a world where corruption, far-left politics and what can only be described as political blackmail become a thing of the past in the party; or backwards, Unite once again dragging Labour towards an electoral abyss and providing a rallying-point – and, most importantly, deep pockets – for the far left.

Its propaganda. Its vexatious prosecutions. Its expensive-yet-futile legal defences of its chosen sons and daughters and its vanity projects. All areas on which it openly squanders its members’ subs.

Gerard Coyne has not only shown himself an honourable candidate, looking to wipe out corruption in the face of terrible attacks on him personally and professionally (you may recall he was sacked by McCluskey in 2017, on apparently trumped-up charges). But he is self-evidently the only candidate interested in prioritising the labour rights of Unite’s members over far-left politicking.

Yes, it is a relief that McCluskey’s most obviously-annointed successor, the tainted Howard Beckett – currently suspended from Labour after a race-tinged tweet about Priti Patel and previously embroiled in a miners’ compensation fund scandal every bit as dodgy as that of another Corbynite, Ian Lavery MP – has withdrawn.

But the two remaining candidates, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham, despite seeming marginally less combative towards the Labour Party under Keir Starmer than Beckett, both have pretty much exactly the same far-left politics as him. Furthermore, after the deal Turner did with him to drop out, it seems a reasonable bet that Beckett will have a significant role in any Unite led by him.

No, it has never been a question of a broad spectrum of candidates in this election, rather one of complete polarisation; one moderate candidate pitted against three extreme ones, two of which are still standing and both endorsed by the toxic McCluskey.

If you doubt Turner’s far-left credentials, listen to this. Whereas even McCluskey never owned up to being a member of Militant, the far-left grouping which nearly destroyed Labour in the 1980s, Turner did. Yes, sometimes teenage Trots change their politics later in life, but Turner has shown little sign of doing so. He is backed by the Communist Party and still pushing for restoration of the whip to Jeremy Corbyn.

On the issue of graft, he has half-heartedly said there should be greater “transparency” about the union’s pissing away of £98m on a hotel and conference centre, built by a friend of McCluskey, while at the same time happily endorsing said development as “world class”.

But Graham – supported by Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (rs21), among others – is no slouch when it comes to the politics of the far left, her politics are still full-fat-McCluskeyite, outlined here. She is in charge of the “Organisation and Leveraging” Unit: “leveraging” meaning Unite’s unpleasant practice of intimidating corporate bosses, sometimes in their own homes, as the Ineos dispute of 2013 evidenced. As for “organisation”, insiders say that, with her in charge of membership, recruitment has dropped off a cliff.

Now, all other things being equal, there is a good Labour case for electing another woman general secretary, following the election of Christina McAnea at Unison. Graham has also stated – and this seems highly believable in the trade union world – that she has been the recipient of sexist, online abuse during the campaign.

But all things are not equal. Furthermore, even the most ardent feminist might pause before putting their ‘X’ next to Graham’s name. The far left is not exactly known for its zero tolerance to misogyny in the first place: but she is also supported by the house journal of the Socialist Workers Party, from which even hard-left fellow-traveller Owen Jones disassociated himself, as “a cult which covered up rape”. For once, Jones was correct, as the “Comrade Delta” scandal amply demonstrated.

In other words, if you truly want a Unite which can dig itself and Labour out of the mire of the Corbyn years, there is only one realistic choice, and that’s Gerard Coyne.

A vote for Turner or Graham means a return to constant battle over the coming years, and the maintenance of a power base for the forces which have poisoned the Labour well for too long.

Yes, they may struggle to be as wily, or as allegedly corrupt, as McCluskey.

But frankly, if one of them wins, the only winning option for Labour is to detach itself from Unite entirely and seek other sources of funding. We don’t need Unite’s tainted money so badly that we should be willing to throw the next election and the one after that.

The choice really is that stark.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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