Left candidates in Unite compete to succeed Len McCluskey

Elliot Chappell

Howard Beckett has confirmed that he intends to stand against fellow assistant general secretary and left candidate Steve Turner in the Unite the Union election to succeed general secretary Len McCluskey.

Despite not securing the backing of the biggest left grouping within the union, United Left (UL), politics and legal chief Beckett has told the BBC that he will be pressing ahead with his bid for the top job.

The UL group, open only to Unite members, backed Turner over Beckett in the race to succeed McCluskey following a virtual hustings last month. In a very close vote, Turner won with 370 votes to 367 on a turnout of more than 65%.

Supporters of Beckett released a dossier outlining 30 alleged “violations” in the ballot process, including claims that some members didn’t receive a ballot, although both candidates had signed a legal agreement not to challenge the result.

Concerns have been raised by some on the left of the union, who say having more than one left candidate in the race could make it less likely that someone with McCluskey’s politics will succeed the outgoing general secretary.

The campaign video put out by Beckett, an ally of McCluskey and Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, set out a manifesto that included proposals such as a new Unite TV channel.

Beckett has been critical of Keir Starmer since the new Labour leader took the job, particularly on the sacking of left-wing figures Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery and Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet.

Turner, who is also seen as close to McCluskey, began his time at Unite as a bus conductor in 1982, and soon became a shop steward who was active in the T&G’s youth section. He is now national chair of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

He protested the sacking of Long-Bailey, but has been less critical of Starmer. He has focused on the manufacturing sector, for which he is responsible in the union, and authored a ‘Build Back Better’ series on LabourList.

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham is also understood to be standing in the 2021 general secretary election, but the organising unit director – who works on the #BABetrayal campaign – did not seek United Left’s support.

Former West Midlands regional secretary Gerard Coyne, who lost by 5,523 votes to McCluskey in 2017, is rumoured to be considering standing again and would join the race as a centre-left candidate.

Two other large trade unions are also set to decide on new leaders in the near future, with UNISON’s Dave Prentis retiring at the end of this year and GMB needing to replace Tim Roache who resigned in April.

Unite provided Labour with £3m in funding in the run-up to the last general election, which represented the party’s biggest single donation, and with over £400,000 in the first three months of this year.

Earlier this month, McCluskey declared that executive members of the affiliated trade union “want questions answered” on the BBC Panorama libel case settlement and said they were “angry” about the pay out.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview, McCluskey described Labour’s settlement in the libel case involving former Labour staffers and journalist John Ware as a “clear miscalculation” and an “extraordinary decision”.

Jeremy Corbyn ally McCluskey was first elected as general secretary in 2010, and twice re-elected to the position. His term is due to end in 2022 but a successor will be chosen earlier with the election taking place next year.

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