‘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.
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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