Voting in the contest for the General Secretary’s position in the Unite union has opened today and Unite members should receive ballot papers shortly.
The SKWAWKBOX has made no secret of its recommendation of Len McCluskey as a union leader who understands the critical role unions – and Unite is the UK’s biggest – in not just industrial disputes and negotiations but also in the wider political and social scene.
Coyne, by contrast, imagines a Trump-like isolationism for Unite, claiming to want to pull back from any involvement in Labour politics – although even in this he’s been more than ready to depart from his principles when the right wing of the party has needed his support.
Party politics is not the only area in which Mr Coyne has been willing to forget principles if he sees a short-term political gain in it, for example in his decision to ‘throw mud’ in relation to a Unite ‘loan’ (actually an equity investment) to his rival Len McCluskey to purchase a flat the latter needed for the execution of his duties as General Secretary.
Gerard Coyne is backed by two senior Labour politicians – deputy leader Tom Watson and Birmingham Mayoral candidate Sion Simon. Coyne’s campaign head and Watson’s comunications chief were seen meeting in Westminster recently.
There has already been significant controversy over the Watson’s and Simon’s backing for Mr Coyne, with Watson’s attempt to smear Len McCluskey via a nonsensical and hypocritical attack on Jon Lansman and Momentum – and the revelation that Coyne had made an agreement specifically with Simon for ‘mutual support’, when the union rather than Coyne had made a contribution to Simon’s campaign.
The ‘mutual support’ agreement and the meetings with Watson’s team are possible areas where data may have leaked in what appears to be a huge breach of the Data Protection Act by Mr Coyne’s team.
But both Watson and Simon also have history that bears directly on Coyne’s decision to try to weaponise what was a perfectly standard union transaction to provide London accommodation for its General Secretary.
In 2005, Tom Watson was involved in a property purchase via his parliamentary expenses that caused controversy when it became news in 2009, because as well as buying the flat he also claimed expenses for the purchase of the freehold, which significantly increased the value he would personally receive on the sale of the property.
Watson also had his expenses reduced – on more than one occasion – for claiming more than the allowed limit.
In 2012, Watson was again in the news for renting an expensive room from a Unite official on his parliamentary expenses.
Mr Simon, former MP for Birmingham Erdington, Progress member and current Member of the European Parliament, has even more form in the accommodation arena. He breached parliamentary rules by renting his MP’s second home from his sister, which meant that she received around £20,000 in tax-funded cash – which he later had to repay, one the eve of the exposure of his infringement:
There is no suggestion that Watson did anything illegal in his property dealings and rental arrangements. It’s on record, of course, that Mr Simon broke the rules in his. There’s also no indication – although lots of innuendo by right-wing media and smears by Gerard Coyne – that Len McCluskey did anything untoward in his arrangement with Unite.
Quite the contrary, in fact. As Unite stated:
The property was purchased under a shared equity arrangement designed to assist senior union officials required to move to London from elsewhere for their work,” the spokesman added.
Identical or similar arrangements have been used to assist previous general secretaries of the union over decades, and indeed other officials from time to time.
The arrangements are commonplace across unions, they avoid the issue of expenses (such as with MPs) and provide good investment return for the union concerned
This has not inhibited Mr Coyne in his attempt to smear his rival. Could he possibly be ignorant of the fact that two of his main political backers have ‘form’?
It’s extremely hard to imagine, given that their involvement in his campaign has been anything but tangential. Indeed, in the context of their already-proven involvement in his campaign and the unprecedented lengths to which both men have gone to try to bolster his lacklustre campaign, it’s impossible.
Such lengths, in fact, that McCluskey last week launched a blistering attack on all three men, comparing Watson and Simon with Godfather-like gangsters. He accused Watson of incorrigible backstabbing and involvement in a
world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots
while criticising the Coyne-Simon support ‘pact’ and rounded off by observing that Unite members
don’t want their union democracy turned into a low-budget remake of The Godfather and they certainly don’t want the politicians taking over the union.
The well-known saying about those in glass houses not throwing stones comes to mind. The fact that Gerard Coyne has chosen to ignore that old maxim suggests a recklessness and lack of principle that Unite members would do well to bear in mind as they decide which way to cast their vote over the next few weeks.
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