As Channel 4’s Michael Crick has reported, Gerard Coyne – who challenged Len McCluskey for the General Secretary position of union Unite – is attempting a legal challenge to last April’s result and his subsequent dismissal. The news of the challenge has been exploited by some to make public assumptions that McCluskey would step down.
Coyne was suspended after the conclusion of the election campaign and subsequently fired for gross misconduct relating to misuse of his position and in doing so jeopardising Unite’s relationship with the Labour Party on a national and regional level.
He admitted on live radio his use of Labour Party data first revealed by the SKWAWKBOX, claiming it was ‘agreed’ – but was actually dismissed in relation to a ‘piggybacking’ campaign conducted on the back of calls by Labour’s candidate in the West Midlands mayoral campaign.
Those trying to pressure McCluskey to resign have been trumpeting ten points of Coyne’s claim that McCluskey and Unite ‘must answer’, as if that’s somehow intrinsically compelling and there is some new substance to his case.
However, the points actually date back months and have already been examined and rejected – by two independent professionals and a judge.
Now the SKWAWKBOX reveal what these ten points are and why they were rejected – and that in fact Coyne was judged to have broken the rules of the election rather than McCluskey.
The papers consist of reports by the Election Commissioner, Professor Keith Ewing, and the Electoral Reform Services‘ Returning Officer Simon Hearn and a legal judgment from a preliminary hearing.
Those complaints – some of which are reconstructed from information pieced together from a number of sources – and the key points of response and judgment are below.
1. There shouldn’t have been an election
Remarkably, Coyne’s first complaint about his dismissal, the conduct of the election and its eventual result is that there shouldn’t have been one at all. But the union’s decision to trigger an election fits perfectly within the union’s rule-book:
Len McCluskey tendered his resignation on 6 December last year but with an effective date of 28 April this year. He was in his notice period, the term of his leadership to end in April 2018. A vacancy existed and nothing prevented McCluskey from putting his name forward for that vacancy.
The Election Commissioner examined the details of McCluskey’s decision to resign and serve a notice period – and found that proper procedure had been followed in the way that the arrangement was approved by the union’s executive. While noting that the final decision would rest with the Certification Officer, he observed that process had been followed, with the decision being approved by both the union’s executive and a subsequent meeting of Unite’s Finance and General Purposes Committee.
Of course, by deciding to participate in the election, it could also be argued that Mr Coyne validated it. Certainly he recognised there was a vacancy, failed to raise any concern during the election itself and will of course, through his work as a Regional Secretary, know that it is common place for employers to advertise for the vacancy during a notice period.
2. Use of union resources
Coyne has alleged that McCluskey breached the union’s rules against the use of union resources to support a candidate, by obtaining data of Unite’s more than 3,000 branch secretaries for campaign mailings.
The Election Commissioner examined in detail two alleged instances of such data downloads and whether they had been made for proper union purposes or for campaigning.
After detailed discussion of the downloads in his report he concluded, with regard to the complaint against McCluskey, that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing in either case. He found that one of the downloads did not contain branch secretary data – and that the other:
and consequently was a normal, legitimate download for the union’s own purposes not made by anyone in McCluskey’s campaign team.
The Election Commissioner and the Returning Officer did, however, find that Gerard Coyne had obtained data unlawfully:
So Coyne not only used union resources in terms of a data download to which the rules did not entitle him – but also used union resources in the form of two employees who obtained the data for him.
The reports also note that Coyne admitted receiving the data and that his lawyer tried to justify this on the grounds that Coyne felt he needed it and should have it.
The Returning Officer’s conclusion was clear:
Not only that, but the Returning Officer reported Coyne also appeared to have obtained Labour Party data unlawfully from Sion Simon’s campaign for West Midlands regional mayor – the infringement for which Coyne ultimately lost his job – giving him access, to which he was not entitled, to up to 105,000 West Midlands Unite members.
By contrast, McCluskey had only used data that his campaign already possessed independently and was therefore using lawfully.
The reports also note that Coyne’s claim that Unite employees had campaigned for McCluskey during working hours – which would have been a breach of election rules if it had occurred – had no basis.
There are other allegations by Coyne relating to appearances made by McCluskey during the campaign – but the reports find that these were legitimate activities in his continuing role as General Secretary.
3. Constraint of campaigning
Coyne is attempting to claim that Unite ‘constrained’ his campaign in relation to his election address.
In his address, circulated by the union to all branches during the nomination period, Gerard Coyne misrepresented London accommodation arranged by the union for McCluskey for his duties as General Secretary, portraying it as some kind of corruption.
The union expressed concern about this misrepresentation and the likelihood that it would bring Unite into disrepute – and asked for the wording of the address to be amended to a more accurate portrayal.
Coyne objected – so the address went out without the clarification and he was not constrained in any way. In fact, he was able to raise the issue of the accommodation and did so extensively during the conduct of the campaign.
Getting his own way appears not to have inhibited Coyne from complaining about it.
4. Alleged Data Breach
This relates to complaint number one – for which there was no evidence. The McCluskey campaign had its own database, compiled over a period of years, that it used legitimately for the campaign.
By contrast, as the SKWAWKBOX exclusively revealed, Coyne not only used data from the West Midlands mayoral campaign, but also obtained data from someone at Labour HQ. He admitted this live on national BBC radio – and in spite of his claim that it was ‘agreed’, he was not entitled to it under the Data Protection Act.
Non-members of Unite were also contacted via email addresses that had not even been disclosed to the Labour Party, indicating that unlawful use of multiple sets of data may have occurred.
In contrast to McCluskey’s legitimate use of data, both the Returning Officer and the Election Commissioner found that Coyne had breached election rules – and probably the DPA – in his campaign’s use of both Unite data and Labour Party data to which he was not entitled.
5 and 6. Acting branch secretaries were a use of union resources
In one of the most obviously desperate Coyne claims, he alleges that acting branch secretaries were a breach of the rule against the use of union resources in the election – by convening nomination meetings.
Unite’s rules state that if a branch doesn’t have a secretary for any reason, a full-time employee of the union will carry out the basic duties to allow the branch to function. Coyne is attempting to claim that them doing so during an election was a breach of the rules.
Unite’s rule 17.11 also states that Officers have a duty to provide general support to branches. It would be unrealistic for such support to cease during an election period and would damage participation in the election.
Most importantly of all, such support is non-partisan – officers would be providing support to branches that had nominated Coyne as well as to those that had nominated McCluskey (or the third candidate, Ian Allinson – or for that matter, no candidate at all), so there is no sense in which it would break the rules about doing so to support a particular candidate – and officers did not have a vote in branch matters, so could not even support a candidate in that small way.
Without this support, branches would not have been able to nominate either candidate – and branches who received such support nominated Coyne as well as McCluskey.
This complaint smacks of desperation – yet Coyne makes it twice in different variants, as both number 5 and number 6.
7. An accidental email – to almost nobody
Coyne alleged that the McCluskey campaign was telling branches they had nominated him when they had nominated Coyne – and that this constituted a breach of the rule against giving false information to members about a candidate.
The McCluskey campaign did in fact send such a notification to twenty-four branch secretaries – who already knew whom they had nominated and so did not pass on the information to any members.
The campaign had sent a corrective email as soon as the error was noticed – but even if they hadn’t, the people wrongly contacted knew which candidate they had nominated and confirmed they had not passed on the information, so twenty-four people among a total of over 100,000 who voted could not possibly have a ‘material impact’ on the result.
On the other hand, Coyne put out a similar, inaccurate claim on social media – which would have given the claim a far bigger reach and potential impact.
8. We don’t like who investigated our breaches
Coyne has complained that he was unhappy that his own alleged wrongdoings were investigated by Howard Beckett, Unite’s head of legal services and another staff member. Coyne claimed – wrongly – that they were open McCluskey supporters and therefore biased.
In fact, neither had made any statement of support and they were not empowered to decide anything, merely to report facts to the Unite executive so the executive could decide on any appropriate action.
Not only that, but Coyne – astonishingly – even tried to claim that by using Unite’s head of legal to investigate him, the union was breaching its rule against using union resources in an election.
As the reports pointed out, applying the rule in the way Coyne wanted would mean the union could not investigate or report any breaches.
It would amount to carte blanche for any candidate to do whatever s/he wanted, as no investigation could be mounted into any alleged election wrongdoings.
9. There wasn’t enough time to send a form back
Coyne has attempted to claim that the election timetable breached the obligation to give members ‘a convenient opportunity to vote by post‘. He based this bizarre claim on the 23-day period for return and the fact that applications were sent out over a period of three days.
Unfortunately for Mr Coyne’s claim, Unite sources pointed out that 23 days is perfectly in line with the period used by other unions – and all requested replacements were sent out very promptly.
So tenuous is this complaint that Coyne was able to provide only a single example of someone who asked for a replacement ballot and didn’t vote – and that person did receive the replacement. That was it – no other examples were provided.
10. The membership dispute
Finally, Coyne complains that the membership numbers provided by the union are false. The union points out that the membership numbers are independently audited – and that Coyne and his team are using two-year-old numbers instead of current figures. Unite describes the slur against the employees who provided the figures as
hyperbolic and baseless accusations.
What a judge already said
One final point of relevance is that Coyne has already taken these claims before a judge, when he applied for ‘interim relief’ against his dismissal.
Coyne attempted to exploit legislation designed to prevent employees being dismissed for involvement in a union – by claiming that, in sacking him for breaches in his conduct of his campaign, the union had illegally dismissed him for taking part in union activities.
His case was rejected.
These already-debunked and frankly often hypocritical complaints against Unite and Len McCluskey are the reason some in the mainstream media have been giving credence to claims by Coyne and his supporters that McCluskey should step down.
Based on the information available, that behaviour has far more relevance to the state of mainstream journalism than to the merits of the complaint.
However much the ‘MSM’ may try to talk up the threat to McCluskey’s tenure for whatever purposes of their own, the complaints and responses portray a very different picture.
The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.
If you wish to reblog this post, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.