Last time I wrote about three things that had happened in the general secretary election campaign. More recently I’ve been thinking about things that aren’t happening, but which might have been expected to.
First, there seems to be little or no real challenge to Len McCluskey’s record in office from his challengers. Yes, Ian Allinson has said, in a rather non-specific way, that more should have been done to challenge the Trade Union Act pushed through by the Tories, and that the union should have abandoned its members in Barrow (more on this below).
That seems to be as far as it goes. Where is the alternative programme, the challenge to McCluskey’s industrial and managerial stewardship of the union? Nothing. Just vague smears which, all considerations of truth and decency aside, don’t really cut through with the membership. McCluskey’s claims regarding support for members in dispute, legal wins on industrial issues, leverage campaign triumphs and the like are not only going unchallenged (because they are true?), but no one is suggesting how they could be built upon. This silence speaks volumes.
Second, Allinson’s campaign is getting little or no traction. There are two main reasons for this. The media framing of the contest as one of left (McCluskey) against right (Coyne) leaves Allison no space. His pose as “Corbyn’s real supporter” is somewhat undermined by his non-membership of the Labour Party – he prefers something called Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century.
By contrast, Jerry Hicks in 2013 was the only challenger to McCluskey and therefore placed to get every oppositional vote available. In 2010 he could manoeuvre in a field of four with left/right lines blurred by the Amicus/T&G standoff. For this reason alone, projections that Allinson will get anything like Hicks’ 75,000 votes of 2013 are, I think, deluded. He is also boldly demanding the sacking of much of the union’s membership. This can be seen as either principled or insane, but when he promises to scrap Trident, HS2, Hinckley Point, Heathrow expansion etc (and there is a lot of etc) he is destroying tens of thousands of industrial jobs in the here-and-now (or very near future) on the promise of “one million climate jobs” on the never-never.
Allinson may be the first candidate in a major democratic election to campaign on a platform of abolishing much of the electorate. At any event, the penny may be dropping that any branch nominating him is voting to fire thousands of fellow-workers – they are not to be invited to the 21stcentury revolution, it appears.
Third, the grown-ups still haven’t turned up at Coyne campaign HQ. I’m not being facetious here. There may be time for that later. What I mean is that the person-with-the-plan seems stuck in traffic. Take last week’s big news – transparently planted stories about a disciplinary procedure targeting Coyne last year. Unite Observer has no information on that, or whether he is indeed on a written warning. But look at the detail: Coyne’s apparent/alleged offence had been to speak, without permission, at a gathering of Labour MPs in Westminster. That’s right. Labour MPs. In Westminster. Somebody thought that it was a good wheeze to leak a story that the candidate whose whole platform is no playing Westminster politics, no focus on Labour had err….taken time out to play Westminster politics with Labour MPs.
If McCluskey’s team miss this open goal, then they are not the operators of legend. A little bird has suggested that this counter-productive PR brainwave is on the account of Jack Dromey MP. If true, Coyne should remember this: Jack Dromey stood for T&G deputy general secretary against Communist traditionalist Jack Adams – and LOST. He stood for general secretary against gloomy centrist Bill Morris – and LOST. He stood for GS once more against ebullient agitator Tony Woodley – and LOST. So, broadly, the union candidate Dromey can’t lose against has not yet been invented. Whatever, this lack of coherence is becoming embarrassing.
Rule three of being a puppet – only cutting the strings gets you your self-respect back.
Is any of this impacting out in the field? A slightly glum Coyne supporter I spoke to admitted that their candidate is struggling outside his Midlands base, although there are hopes that anti-Corbyn, rather than anti-McCluskey, sentiment may deliver something in Wales. But that is in any case a small region. McCluskey backers are confident of landslides in the huge London/Eastern region and in the second-largest, the North-West, at least at the nomination stage.
If this happens, the danger is that Coyne will double-down on the smear-and-spin approach for want of a potent positive message. Unite deserves better.