Today the SKWAWKBOX attended the latest hearing in the dispute between Gerard Coyne, the defeated and sacked candidate in last year’s contest for the General Secretary position and Unite, the union he tried to wrest from incumbent Len McCluskey.
In terms of topics and language, much of it was dry – a journalist there from the mainstream media confessed he found it heavy going.
But look past that and it was fascinating – and an eye-opener that this is the candidate on whom the moderates are pinning their hopes.
Coyne’s performance under cross-examination was an extraordinary portrayal of someone who seemed utterly out of his depth – and this was the man who had hoped to lead the union.
The only issue under discussion in today’s hearing was whether Unite and McCluskey acted lawfully and in accordance with the union’s rules when McCluskey gave notice of his intention to resign in December 2016, in order to call an election when the normal, fixed five-year term was not due to expire until April 2018 – and by remaining in post during the course of the election, as his notice of resignation specified.
Oliver Segal, counsel for Unite, probed forensically with questions about normal proceedings and whether, if McCluskey had stood for re-election at the end of five years, he would have been entitled to stay in post during the campaign.
Coyne seemed almost physically overwhelmed. Questions were followed by long, agonising silences; by non-sequitur answers; by repetitions of points already deemed irrelevant when they were made the first time. Yes/no answers to straight questions had to be prised out and sometimes could not be.
Coyne seemed to struggle even to articulate an answer. Even Segal seemed to have difficulty masking his disbelief at times.
Eventually, Coyne acknowledged that the incumbent remaining in post for a handover period would be normal at the end of a five-year term – possibly a killer point, as it supports the idea that McCluskey was entitled to stay in place until the result of the election process last year.
After a more routine questioning of Unite’s representative, Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail, the counsels for the two sides summed up and Jeffrey Burke QC, the retired judge who will adjudicate, will deliver his decision after Easter.
The hearing was highly important. In the unlikely event Coyne were to win, last year’s result would be annulled and a snap election would be called to decide a new General Secretary.
If Coyne loses, the case moves on to his other complaints, a number of which have already been judged – by the Returning Officer, the Election Commissioner and a judge – to be unsubstantiated against McCluskey, but to potentially implicate Coyne himself.
But at no point in today’s proceedings was the concept of McCluskey ‘cheating’ a topic of discussion.
Which makes what followed all the more remarkable.
Soon after the hearing closed, Coyne took to social media with a tweet that was so far from the substance of the hearing that you had to wonder whether he had been mentally present:
This is entirely without foundation, to the point of fantasy. The idea that McCluskey ‘cheated’ was not only unsubstantiated today, it was not discussed.
Nonetheless, one of Coyne’s tame backers in Labour First jumped on the bandwagon:
This not only prejudges Mr Burke’s decision – it propagates a completely misrepresentative fiction.
Coyne’s formal statement said:
For immediate release
Certification Officer hears Len McCluskey broke union rules in 2017 Unite General Secretary contest as Gerard Coyne begins legal fight to force election re-run
A hearing in London was told on Tuesday that Len McCluskey broke union rules by continuing to act as Unite general secretary after he “stepped down” from the post in order to force an early election.
Jeffrey Burke QC, acting on behalf of the Certification Officer, heard evidence that Mr McCluskey acted improperly by calling a contest for a post for despite the fact there was no vacancy.
The one-day hearing was held to consider a complaint brought by Gerard Coyne, who narrowly lost to Mr McCluskey in April 2017.
The hearing was told the Unite general secretary used members’ money to resource and staff his campaign, fund his election and meet the cost of travelling around the country.
Mr Coyne’s legal team argued that by using his position as general secretary Mr McCluskey gained an unfair advantage in a hard-fought contest he won by just over 5,000 votes.
Jeffrey Burke, a retired High Court judge, is expected to deliver his verdict in the case after Easter. If he decides Unite’s rules were broken the General Secretary contest will be declared null and void and a new contest will be called.
Mr McCluskey claimed to have ‘resigned’ in December 2016 in order to trigger a contest which he hoped would secure him five more years in office – but the hearing was told he continued to make public appearances during the election campaign in his capacity as general secretary and toured the country at Unite’s expense.
Mr Coyne’s legal team also amassed substantial evidence that Mr McCluskey retained control over Unite and had full time staff working for his re-election campaign during the months when he claimed to have resigned.
The hearing took evidence from Mr Coyne and Gail Cartmail, who was appointed acting general secretary during the four-month campaign.
Gerard Coyne said: “I decided to take legal action on behalf of Unite members who deserve a free and fair election. They didn’t get one last year”.
“This is not about me. It is about ensuring the voices of Unite members are heard”.
“Mr McCluskey resigned to force an election when no election was necessary.
“He styled himself during the campaign as ‘General Secretary of Unite’ when he was a candidate in an election he had called for his own benefit.
“He used the machinery of Unite to gain an unfair advantage.
“Mr McCluskey has serious questions to answer.
“Did he know that he was breaking his union’s rules? If he did not know, that was gross incompetence. If he knew, and thought he would get away with it, it was worse than incompetent; it showed contempt for the union and its members”.
Tuesday’s hearing was called to hear the first of ten complaints made by Mr Coyne to the Certification Officer about the conduct of the election.
If it finds in favour of Mr McCluskey and Unite the remaining allegations will be considered at a separate week-long hearing in June.
[Emphases by the SKWAWKBOX]
This statement piles further fiction into the fantasy:
- McCluskey’s use of union resources in the campaign – already rejected by the Returning Officer/Election Commissioner – was not discussed
- the idea of an unfair advantage was not discussed
- McCluskey’s appearances as General Secretary during the campaign – a normal part of his continuing duties – was not discussed
The only thing that was discussed was whether the union executive’s decision to begin an election process before the existing five-year term was over was lawful – and the judge has not made his decision on that.
Unite’s reaction was immediate and furious:
The statement issued on behalf of Mr Coyne following today’s Certification Officer hearing is extraordinary and unheard of in tribunals.
Mr Coyne’s claims as to evidence heard appears to be a deliberate act that misrepresents judicial proceedings. The claims as to evidence the Certification Officer heard today are entirely false; the claimed evidence was not submitted today in written statements, oral evidence nor Counsel submissions.
This is a very serious matter for anyone concerned to see that justice is done.
We are consulting lawyers about what action can be taken in regard to these incredible claims and such blatant misrepresentations.
Gerard Coyne engaged lawyers in his complaint against Unite in an attempt to salvage his 2017 campaign for the General Secretary position – a campaign that led to criticism of his ‘low road’ approach and led to his sacking for gross misconduct as a result of alleged breach of data protection laws.
But it seems he has now turned the tables on himself and is likely to face legal action by Unite for his ‘extraordinary and unheard of’ behaviour.
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