Unite General Secretary Runners & Riders

The battle to lead Unite is now well underway, with the four top candidates for General Secretary fighting to control the ideological direction of Labour’s biggest and most influential paymaster. Under McCluskey’s leadership, the union lurched leftward, pumping £3 million into Labour’s 2019 campaign and working in close alignment with the Corbyn team. He’s been far more critical of Starmer – claiming the party now ‘lacks authenticity‘ and is heading for “the dustbin of history” – so the upcoming election is seen as a chance for Starmer to wrest influence away from Labour’s far left. It’s also an opportunity to mend the union’s image, after McCluskey faced calls for an inquiry into the spiralling costs of a hotel contract awarded to his personal friend. Team Starmer will be paying close attention to the results…

Nominations close on 11 June, with the results to be declared on 26 August. 174 nominations are required to secure a place on the ballot, up from 50 in the previous contest – a change which McCluskey’s opponents claims is a “stitch-up” by the leadership. In any case, here are the runners and riders for the job:

Steve Turner – One of the union’s current assistant general secretaries. Sources tell Guido he’s the favourite to win unless Gerard Coyne manages to clinch enough nominations, which could swing it in Coyne’s favour. Just about managed to win the endorsement of the United Left faction of the union (narrowly beating Howard Beckett), so has the momentum on his side for the moment. Owen Jones also backs him, although Jones has since deleted his endorsement tweet because he wanted to ‘phrase it differently‘. Sits on the left of the union, though claims he has “no interest a public spat with the leader of the Labour Party.” Starmer’s team think they could work with him if necessary.

Howard Beckett – The troublemaker. Made the headlines today after putting out a tweet calling for the deportation of Priti Patel. The far-left’s favourite candidate. Backed by Skwawkbox, Socialist Telly, and The Canary. Led a left-wing walkout of Labour’s NEC last year after Starmer blocked the nomination of Corbynista Ian Murray to the chairmanship. Also supported cutting Unite’s donations to Labour by £150,000, with speculation that he could move to make further cuts should he win. Starmer’s nightmare candidate, though today’s headlines could derail him. 

Sharon Graham – Looking to break the glass ceiling and become the first female general secretary. Positioning herself on the industrial wing of the union by leading a campaign for Amazon workers’ rights. Runs Unite’s Organisation and Leverage unit. Keen to distance herself from internal Labour disputes. Seen as a rising star within the union, though unlikely to take the top prize this time.

Gerard Coyne – The “right-winger” of the race, at least in union terms. Starmer’s man for the job. Narrowly lost to McCluskey for the role back in 2017, 41.5% to McCluskey’s 45.4%. According to his supporters, he already has over 200 nominations, which could make the race against Turner a competitive one. Splitting the left vote between the other three candidates could work to Coyne’s advantage under FPTP…

mdi-tag-outline Runners and Riders Unite the Union
mdi-account-multiple-outline Gerard Coyne Howard Beckett Sharon Graham Steve Turner
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