Analysis comment

Graham’s win discredits Unite nominations process – and destroys ‘blue-tick’ left’s credibility

‘Optics’ left shamed by their social media history during Unite contest, while nominations exposed as farce

Among the impacts of Sharon Graham’s win in the Unite general secretary contest are two items that the movement and the union need to bear in mind and act on in the immediate future.


First, Unite’s nominations process is not fit for purpose – and that needs to be changed urgently.

Steve Turner claimed more than five hundred branch nominations, though only a fraction of those was ever named – compared to around 330 for Sharon Graham, 350 or so for Howard Beckett and dubious 180-ish for right-winger Gerard Coyne. Beckett was the only candidate to publicly name and thank every one of his nominations – yet he dropped out of the contest in order not to divide the anti-right vote more than it already was.

Turner’s backers acted as if he was the left’s heir apparent, with his supporters using his nominations tally as justification for the left Establishment’s efforts to pressurise Beckett and Sharon Graham to drop out of the race.

But without the votes of Howard Beckett supporters who held their nose for the sake of the cause, Turner would almost certainly have finished last in this election, behind the dire Coyne – projected to be only 4,000 behind Turner’s total, with Turner some 20,000 down on Len McCluskey’s performance in 2017, which at the time was considered poor.

Skwawkbox received multiple reports from Unite members that their branch had nominated one of the three candidates who ultimately went to the finish line – without them ever being consulted, let alone given a vote on the matter. The absence of public detail on which branches nominated which candidate make it impossible to definitively assess the scale of the problem, but equally raise suspicions that the democratic deficit in the process was very large indeed.

If all branches had to be named – and all members have a vote in their branch nominations – the final list of candidates might have looked very different and there might have been a different result.

Blue-tick destruction

A corollary to the branch issue was the conduct of an array of so-called ‘blue-tick’ or ‘optics’ left figures who position themselves as influencers through their social media accounts and who were all too keen to deride the energy and enthusiasm of the Beckett campaign and to dismiss reports that nomination totals were misleading.

Figures such as Owen Jones, Matt Zarb-Cousin and Michael Walker were among those who jumped on the opportunity to insist that the only valid left candidate in the contest now was Steve Turner – and that this was indisputably proven because, you’ve guessed it, he boasted the biggest number of branch nominations. They and others were equally quick to tell the world that this meant that Howard Beckett, the candidate with clearly the biggest campaign momentum – and Sharon Graham, who went on to win the contest – had to drop out:

Those who, like Skwawkbox and the grassroots Beckett campaign, insisted that the nominations were unreliable and not a fit indicator of who had the potential to win the contest, were derided and scorned. We were right and they were wrong.

Without the votes of Beckett’s supporters – those who were willing to hold their nose for the cause – nominations-‘winner’ Turner would have come last, potentially by a big margin. A machine capable of delivering nominations showed itself utterly incapable of delivering a result in a ‘one member, one vote’ contest.

Sharon Graham’s win has stripped away the credibility of the nominations process and, for the sake of its members’ democracy, Unite must urgently find a better and far more transparent way to sort out the viable candidates from those with machine influence.

But that win has shattered the political credibility of the blue-tickers, in some cases highly-paid, who were oh so insistent that they knew best and the clanking nominations process – along with an equally shambolic ‘United left’ nomination that left that group in splinters because of the anger of Scottish and Welsh members at the abuse of democracy – were the be-all-and-end-all and that those on the ground and in the rank and file of the union should just shut up and toe their line.

And the movement needs to learn that, not just the unions.

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  1. “connect Connect CONNECT”

    timfrom, i knew nothing about any of them, so trusted steve’s judgement to support howard beckett.

    once beckett pulled out, he sunk in my estimation re ‘Left’ leadership we need. i will never support any puller outer / cave inner; no matter how the excuse is dressed up.

    bernie sanders pulled out for OBVIOUSLY unsuitable hillary clinton. base WAR MONGER clinton was defeated then blamed the Electoral College system which existed since b4 she was born. That shifting exposed another unsuitable trait; blaming externalities. ALL who repeatedly blame externalities rather than analysing their contribution to defeats, are GUARANTEED repeated defeats. BASIC.
    clinton therefore was defeated by Donald Trump then the predictable status quo corrupt racist wandering hands joe biden “trust him to F*** things up” according to Obama.

    HOW so? as we see on this side of the pond, enough people prefer switch off their powers of observation and INDEPENDENT thought. They pump with the thinest sheath of tritest ideas of virtue and “smartness” and give birth to bastards like heartless biden, conscience free blair & professionally deceitful starmer. Think of it; how many times have we heard people who have neither met nor looked into starmer’s vile record, call him “forensic”??? HOW? Because they unwittingly repeat EXACTLY as fed to them by others. U could not make it up.

    But timfrom, back to Sharon Graham. a month or so ago, Turner gave a poor excuse for being absent from a general public hustings. sharon graham surprised me+++. TOTALLY impressive. Content +++. Delivery+++. posted that on she was exceptionally brilliant. I’m unsurprised now to learn that she is doing well.

    coyne managed to be even lower than expected from the briefest scanning. worse yet, he claimed he’d not spoken to sir keith starmer. Many found his claim unbelievable. coyne seemed like “bad Bad BAD news” EXACTLY like SIR REMAIN starmer. MUCH less dull… (not difficult) but almost as shifty.

    but back to biden. predictable and predicted on IMMEDIATELY it was declared Pr. Elect, prepare for back to back back bombings and endless bloodshed as was THROUGHOUT the lifetimes of EVERY single person alive up to Biden managing to be declared President. Proxy wars by Saudi Arabia on The Yemen, and horrors in Mali and the Congo etc, but on the whole NOTHING compared to everything until Obama began raking in his millions.

    HOW are these catastrophees ALLOWED to be repeated over and over? EASYLY;

    EXCEPT for those hillary clinton disparaged as “deplorables” and others even here call “poorly educated”, “stupid”, “racist”, “sheeple”; ENOUGH people made their assessments based on the most ridiculous spin. EXAMPLES: “Biden is PRESIDENTIAL”, “calm”, “adult in the room”… on and on, a constant stream of superficialities = utter tripe. Smart people rabbiting on about presentation rather than studying public record and SUBSTANCE.

    RESULT? – a distressing horror, WORSE than even the most observant may have expected. The usual invasions and bombing to feed the military industrial complex, which was put on a four year diet, but not this mother of all dreadful cock ups.

    Though, it just occurred. Twin Towers horror also provided a pretext for bombing not Saudi Arabia or Egypt or even the USA where the pilots trained, but Afghanistan and Iraq. This latest ‘Western’ arranged Taliban Version II, therefore, is going to be a pretext for BOMBINGS and BLOODSHED in Afghanistan by OUR USA, UK, European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand regimes in particular… the usual suspects.

    Funny how our wars are THOUSANDS of kilometres away with countries, many of who have NEVER invaded their neighbours, let alone us.

    Anyway the fruits of MSM propaganda have ripened again = joe biden. When Trump ripped up agreements, he was condemned. Biden not only kept an agreement made in 2020 with the Taliban, with SILENCE from the usual virtuous prattle mob. Biden apparently BROUGHT FORWARD a withdrawal date from
    MAY 2022 to THIS August 31. I need to double check that May date. BUT, in any event Biden prioritised a SUPERFICIALITY for BASE politics i.e.

    No doubt Biden planned a tub thumping speech for what he thought was “smart”.

    Biden promised the Taliban of Bush Snr, Bill & Hillary Clinton, Obama and BIDEN, to ALLOW them to replace a KLEPTOMANIAC AFGHAN REGIME on the general Afghan public.
    Even their tribal leaders have NEVER invaded nor attacked any country at least for the last two hundred years. DITTO Iran, and Iraq ONLY with ‘Western’ encouragement, funding and intelligence – hence Saddam Hussein & his Baath Party then Kuwait.

    Interesting and TRAGIC to see the REPEAT. Having CREATED the Mujahideen to fight against Russia, now morphed into the Taliban, they are ENABLED again.

    The Taliban will now PREDICTABLY stick FIRMLY to Biden’s 31 August withdrawal promise. Biden FAILED to withdraw Americans and allies including Afghans in good time. The Taliban will OBVIOUSLY STOP more Afghans from fleeing.
    No regime can survive without people.
    Like any ‘hermit kingdom’, Biden has CONDEMNED the Afghans to captivity.

    PREDICTABLE predicted. Neither difficult nor complicated. No practically useless definitions nor academic theories needed as if ideas are worthless without them.

    Like Mandelson, Campbell, Blair, Straw, Evans, Hodge, Blunkett, Frank Dobson, King, Phillips nos 1 & 2, Starmer, Swinson, Reeves, Blunkett, Twatson, Berger, Ummunna … the whole crass caboodle of TRUE “DEPLORABLES,” (sic h clinton), Sleepy Joe was ENABLED by the repeat loops of all those who REFUSE to learn.

    “They look and look, yet fail to see. They listen and listen and fail to hear”. They read and read and learn nothing. But worse, most irresponsible and deplorable of all, they use all their energy to ensure those who follow them, continue to fail as profoundly as they have, for thirty, forty, fifty … even SIXTY years. Once again, as ever, “The Many” pay the deadly price

    1. The point is we need a united left to make it impossible for someone like Coyne to have anything more than a cat in hell’s chance of winning.

      Yes mistaken extrapolations can be made from nominations, but the basic problem in this Unite GS election has been a divided left which has defeated Coyne by far less than the margin we would have with a single candidate backed by a united left.

      Constructing a united left is the basic task.

    1. Andrew Walker, word is, only TWELVE percent of ballots returned = approx. one hundred and twenty four thousand🌕

      No doubt people were unimpressed by the one who toiled; in the background, we were recently informed, educating the public about the evils of Tory Austerity.
      Quite a skill, especially when added to the other miracle of being responsible for getting Jeremy elected…. Talk about an Immaculate conception🌕

      There you go. Parallel realities are alive and kicking. There was i, thinking with usual optimism that our battle for the “Left”, however challenging, and how many myths needed crushing, at least was to be fought in this dimension… of course not counting the visitors from Hell – Mandelson, Hodge and their mucous trail Blair Weapons of Mass Destruction Iraq & Afghanistan George Bush’s suppository.

      But we don’t give up easily.

  2. I got a ballot paper, and my branch nominated Beckett – unanimously. But I never saw a real list of how many nominations candidates had got – which should have come from Unite itself, even if it didn’t have branch names. It all seemed to have been based on suppositions.

  3. Perhaps:
    * Voting for GS by Single Transferable Vote where you state 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice etc?
    * Nominations are only valid if there has been a vote by branch members?
    Think a debate is needed re if candidates should only be from the rank and file?
    I was gutted when HB withdrew, after all if you remember we were told Jeremy Corbyn had no chance.
    Perhaps instead of bourgeois political tactics we let people decide on IDEAS and as Andy said in a post (with something like ST) there would have been no need for HB to withdraw, I wonder if the trade union movement just missed their Corbyn Moment?
    So now it’s up to the Unite Executive to demonstrate to Ms G that NO WORKPLACE IS AN ISLAND!
    The Left has so much to learn from this debacle.

    1. Bazza, lots to learn. Sadly little sign of any learning. I pointed out precisely what u say re the mantra we heard about Jeremy having no chance. He won, then defeated SIR starmer’s TWO coups by increased margins. Yet STILL, not even he learnt from those convincing victories.

      There is ZERO appetite to learn basics. As i’ve said b4, in my own “Left” CLP, the perpetual books & articles reading, talks attending, theory tossing, academic definition fixated or displacers, only cool their PREFERRED distractions after a shock, eg the results of sacrificing of Jeremy’s EU stance, then the resulting predictable GE2019 gift to Johnson of our victory, Starmer’s suspension of Jeremy then his withdrawal of the Whip, which i hear shocked Jeremy rigid. A week later, and they’re back to the usual academic social club with a vengeance.

      I remember stating as soon as Starmer was allowed to deceive the membership, that “worse was to come”. Repeated that when Jeremy was suspend, AND when the Whip was withdrawn.

      Only ONE person, i think qwertboi, was big enough to admit he was surprised by Starmer’s doings. There’s hope for someone like that.

      There’s ZERO hope for those who cannot admit they are getting things REPEATEDLY wrong. This Unite episode makes a laughing stock of Mandelson, Starmer, Evans, Hodge, Blair et al not forgetting of course their envoy SteveH davidH SH. And emissaries to the guardian and other chatterati Owen Jones & Co. WHY do people give that lot the time of day???

      What hope when adults, even as i recently learnt some at the sharp end, are aroused to devote more energy to guard and preserve repeated defeats and treat adults like helpless babies.

      Stranger still, those SAME people without reflection, are happy to insult the general electorate. U could not make it up.

  4. Perversely, being discounted like that by the blue-tick brigade may have aided her. She went largely unnoticed, under their radar, and didn’t suffer the personal attacks from the PLP and tabloid criticism Turner endured due to his greater scrutiny.

    In 2017, Corbyn was similarly discounted. The personal attacks and smears only really ramping up after the closer than expected election result.

  5. Graham won and has proved to be ambitious and ruthless,maybe we should aceppt that and build on a left unite victory over the right wing scab Coyne and Graham should make sure that the backstabber should be out of the union for good.Howard Beckett should be allowed to keep his position but hopfuly he will build on his dignified withdrawal and join the working-class movement to form a new socialist working class party thats so desperately needed.Turner obviously must now consider his future.This is not the Labour party,the unite union is still in the hands of the left wing and lets watch Graham ratchet up the pressure on the scab led Labour party..A good example of ambition of a driven individual,and maybe Graham can now show us what her personal ambition is all about.Start with Coyne and don’t l let another left leader leave traitors and backstabers in the mix…Get Coyne and the rest of them that have worked with the enemy to compile blacklists of union members with the employers..Be very worried mr knight of the realm.

    1. The union is still in the hands of the left wing. Someone had better tell them about the party, that they give millions to, and what it’s leadership get up to.

  6. The entire election process was marred by slurs and rumours. I hope it is something never repeated.

    The article seems to suggest a postal ballot for candidate selection. Wouldn’t this increase the influence of the media? It might seem formally more democratic but in this instance could have strengthened Coyne. Nominations must come from properly constituted branch meetings and should be published by the union as they come in. Other sources are unreliable and partisan.

    Union democracy must start with active members, stronger branches and greater accessibility. There needs to be more rank and file control, greater accountability and an effort to encourage active participation. We need fewer promotions of cheap insurance and energy deals and more focus on building an active, inclusive and democratic union in which the members have more say.

  7. “Those who, like Skwawkbox and the grassroots Beckett campaign, insisted that the nominations were unreliable and not a fit indicator of who had the potential to win the contest, were derided and scorned. We were right and they were wrong.”

    2015, Labour leadership election. Corbyn had lowest number of PLP nominations but the highest actual vote.

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