The race to succeed Len McCluskey as Unite general secretary reaches a pivotal point this weekend, with Howard Beckett and Steve Turner competing for the endorsement of the United Left group.
Howard Beckett, Unite Assistant General Secretary for Politics & Legal and a critic of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, has emerged as a leading candidate in the race to succeed Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite – Britain’s biggest trade union.
Mr Beckett, a Northern-Ireland born solicitor, is the current de facto deputy to Mr McCluskey – whose term heading up Unite is due to end in April 2022 – and has been a vocal critic of Sir Keir Starmer, criticising the Labour leader for punishing the working class for the coronavirus crisis. He was also a big supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Although Mr McCluskey is due to leave the post as Unite general secretary in 2022, there have been rumours that the date could be brought forward to later this year or early next year.
A pivotal moment in the race to succeed Len McCluskey comes this weekend when United Left, an influential wing of the trade union, announce the candidate they intend to endorse in the leadership race. Nominations have now closed and United Left have announced that two applications have been received – for Howard Beckett and Unite Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner.
The winner of United Left’s endorsement will instantly become the favourite to take over from Len McCluskey – either in 2022 or earlier if he decides to step down.
That could put Howard Beckett on a collision course with Sir Keir Starmer, with allies of Mr Beckett claiming he could be a thorn in the side of the Labour leader who recently sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey – another close ally and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.
The former Shadow Education Secretary was Unite’s preferred candidate in the recent Labour leadership contest but was edged out by Sir Keir Starmer.
In recent weeks Mr Beckett has gone on the attack, criticising Labour’s handling and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said on Twitter:
Boris Johnson & Keir Starmer, I have a message for you both.
We won’t stand idly by while you dump the pandemic fall out on the working class.
We will fight back. pic.twitter.com/udlGJbvoeh
— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) July 9, 2020
We need a Labour Party that:
• Supports Wealth Taxes
• Opposes Boris Johnson’s handling of CV19
• That expels racists
• The abides by democratic sovereignty of Party Conference
• That supports Black Lives Matter
• That shows staff respect
We do not have that Labour Party.
— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) July 11, 2020
Mr Beckett has been tipped to see off the challenge of Steve Turner, a union official who has played a leading role in industrial disputes involving industry sector giants such as Bombardier.
Earlier this month, Len McCluskey hinted at a potential ‘civil war’ within the Labour movement, warning Sir Keir Starmer to “stick to” Mr Corbyn’s policies in order to keep Labour’s largest affiliate union on board.
In an interview with Times Radio, Mr McCluskey said: “It’s quite interesting that when Keir Starmer ran for the leadership of the party, he ran on a radical platform.
“He ran on the basis of making the moral case for socialism. He ran on the basis of his priority being unity.
“I’ve spoken to Keir on a number of occasions, and, of course, he has my full support, and that of my union.”
However, in a warning to the Labour leader, he added: “He knows that in order for him to become Prime Minister at the next general election, he has to have a united party.
“That effectively means carrying with him all elements of the party.
“All of the data shows that our membership is wholeheartedly behind the radical nature of the policies that have been developed under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
“Therefore I’m expecting Keir to abide by that and to stick to that.”