Analysis Exclusive

Exclusive: Unite refuses to deny appointment of Graham’s husband to senior role broke normal procedure

Senior appointments in union usually approved by Unite NEC lay members, but Sharon Graham’s husband Jack Clarke appointed to ‘Head of Bargaining and Dispute Support’ role in Graham’s office without NEC sign-off

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham

A spokesperson for the Unite union has refused to answer questions about potential conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, and apparent departure from process in the appointment of general secretary Sharon Graham’s husband to a senior role in the union.

Jack Clarke – the pair do not share a surname – is ‘Head of Bargaining and Dispute Support’. Skwawkbox understands that, while the union’s usual procedure for senior appointments requires sign-off by NEC members, Mr Clarke’s appointment was made directly by a senior official reporting to Ms Graham.

Skwawkbox contacted Unite to ask:

I’d be grateful if you could provide a response to these by 5pm:

  1. Does Sharon Graham’s husband Jack Clarke work in her department?
  2. Is there an issue with transparency and accountability that he and Ms Graham use different surnames?
  3. Did she promote Mr Clarke before she became general secretary, or ask for him to be promoted?
  4. Did she disclose their marriage when he was promoted?

The union said that Ms Graham had not appointed Mr Clarke. However, rather than respond to the questions about whether she asked for him to be promoted or disclosed their marriage when he was appointed, or whether there were issues of transparency, the union’s press office instead claimed that the enquiry was ‘an attempt to attack Sharon Graham’ because she had ‘exposed possible criminality’, then attacked Skwawkbox for supposedly suggesting that she should have taken his surname:

the sexism of implying that the General Secretary should have taken her husband’s name when she got married 17 years ago is frankly unbelievable. Are you living in the 1950s?

Of course, no such suggestion had been made.

Skwawkbox contacted the union again to thank the press office for its email, make sure that they understood that they had not responded to the other questions and to ask for confirmation that the appointment had not been made by lay members. Again, the press office did not address the questions, this time suggesting that the ‘tone’ of the polite enquiry meant they would not be responding:

The tone in your inquiries suggests that there is an agenda inspiring your reports. We have experienced this before with Skwawkbox. We will not be commenting further.

Skwawkbox understands that most members of Unite’s executive committee were not aware at the time of the appointment that Mr Clarke is Ms Graham’s husband and that other information was also withheld.

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