There are three left-wing candidates for general-secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest union and Labour’s main paymaster, vying to replace Len McCluskey. They are Howard Beckett, Sharon Graham and Steve Turner. The moderate candidate is Gerard Coyne.
Despite Steve Turner winning the most branch nominations, the other two left-wing candidates are unwilling to stand their campaigns down, both arguing that they each have the best chance of beating the Coyne campaign.
Howard Beckett, who has the implicit backing of Len McCluskey and Karie Murphy, is running a noisy social media-led campaign supported by the alt-left media. Currently suspended from the Labour Party, he is a lawyer who sold his law firm for a £2.6 milion to Thompson Solicitors, Unite’s main law firm for industrial litigation, in a deal brokered by McCluskey. That dodgy deal made Beckett, the far-left’s candidate, a millionaire.
Beckett became Unite’s legal director after the transaction, overseeing the multi-million losses resulting from backing Swawkbox in their defamation case against Anna Turley. McCluskey is supporting Beckett, say rivals, because he has done McCluskey’s dirty work over the years and will ensure his mentor’s financial shenanigans don’t get exposed by his successor.
Sharon Graham would become Unite’s first woman general secretary, and has the support of the vocal minority of dedicated Socialist Worker Party activists who managed to secure her more nominations than Howard Beckett. The trots are running a slick campaign on her behalf, as you’d would expect from the experienced Unite organiser. Opponents say a Unite led by Graham would be a wildcard. She might expose the goings on of the McCluskey era, or she might focus on bringing down the Tory government.
Steve Turner is supported by the Communist Party and is the “official” left candidate. He is said to feel betrayed by Len McCluskey’s support for Beckett: after all, he ran Len’s campaign for general secretary – twice. Starmer is said to expect him to win, and sees him as someone who will be pragmatic in his relationship with the Labour Party, since he has previously said he has “no interest in a public spat with the leader of the Labour Party.” Beckett, on the other hand, wants to cut funding for the party.
Turner is the establishment left’s candidate, backed by the likes of the Owen Jones and many of the union’s top officials. McCluskey might be worried that murky financial dealings could be exposed if Turner won. He won by far the most branch nominations. If a deal is brokered by McCluskey for Turner to be the left’s single candidate, it would probably require a promise that Beckett would be given a finance job and a guarantee that nothing would come out about past financial misdemeanours. That’s still the most likely outcome.
Gerard Coyne is the “right-winger” of the race, at least in union terms. Starmer’s man for the job. The moderate narrowly lost to McCluskey for the role back in 2017, 41.5% to McCluskey’s 45.4%. He surprised the other candidates by winning enough nominations to go to the vote, because McCluskey and allies had deregistered a lot of the branches that supported him last time. Splitting the left vote between the other three candidates will work to Coyne’s advantage under FPTP and be the first bit of luck Starmer’s had…
Ballot papers will be sent out to more than one million Unite members at the beginning of July and the result will be declared at the end of August.