Watson and others mount negative campaign against left’s change candidate
A campaign of smears by Labour-right figures against Musicians’ Union (MU) general secretary candidate Stephen Brown appears to signal the right’s concern that Brown, the left’s change candidate, threatens to win what could be a tight contest as the election enters its last twelve days.
Musician Louise Braithwaite reported one such attack last week, tweeting that former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson had smeared Brown in the Midlands nomination meeting:
Watson has been chair of UK Music since April 2020 – a position the outgoing MU general secretary apparently put him forward for – shortly before he took a job with gambling giant Paddy Power despite having campaigned for stricter gambling rules as an MP. He did not respond to a request for comment on the allegation that he had smeared Brown – nor about the basis for him joining the Musicians’ Union when he is not known to have worked as a musician. MU insiders say that they have never heard of him attending a meeting before.
Watson’s intervention was spectacularly unsuccessful, with more than eighty percent of Midlands members voting to support Brown.
Skwawkbox understands that a number of the Labour right’s ‘big hitters’ attended nomination meetings around the country to speak against Brown, with many attempting to claim that he would be a divisive or ‘disloyal’ candidate – presumably because he is campaigning on a plan to actually change things within a union that has often sided with the right and has been accused of taking Establishment positions.
The MU, under its current management, sided with Keir Starmer and the Labour right in the recent NEC motion by left-wing members to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. The motion was defeated.
The general secretary role is becoming vacant after the incumbent decided to step down. In early 2020 an attempt by the right to award him a five-year extension to his term without an election was ultimately abandoned, after complaints to the Certification Officer that this would be a breach of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, just before the Certification Officer was due to hear the case.
In an article on the MU Members for Change website, member Graham Sibley speaks directly to those engaged in the smears:
Those who would seek to subvert this process will know who they are and I would simply ask them this:
Are your ideas and beliefs so weak that they can only be defended by the undermining of fair process?
Do you fear the possibility of change so much that you would sacrifice the essential principles of what you purport to represent in order to stop it? Do you believe the voices that disagree with you to be so strong that the only way they can be silenced is by whispered untruths and dishonesty?
If so, then your arguments are already lost: not necessarily in the sense of the election but in the sense of the moral authority to represent those who might follow you in the future.
Brown, in contrast to rival candidates – Establishment favourite Naomi Pohl is reportedly not a professional musician and has only worked for pay in a union and not as an activist – has a strong background as a trade unionist stretching back four decades and has promised to put the general secretary’s remuneration package, one of the highest among unions despite the MU’s small size, under review as part of his package to change the union for members. Read his candidate’s statement here and his MU Members for Change article on his plans here.
The MU general secretary vote closes on 7 March. Of the union’s approximately 32,000 members only around 12% usually cast their ballot, so a concerted effort by the left could see Brown win and take a new broom to its structures and policies – and it seems the union and Labour right fear this.
Stephen Brown appeared on Socialist Telly earlier this month to talk about his bid, his plans and how he would implement them. Watch the interview, with an option to activate captions if needed, below:
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