The starting gun has been fired in the campaign to become the new general secretary of Unite – the largest trade union in the UK and the Labour party’s biggest trade union backer.
Unite’s executive council announced the election to succeed outgoing general secretary Len McCluskey last week and the trade union will have a new leader by the end of August.
The union has confirmed the leadership election will follow the below timetable:
- Nomination period: Thursday 6 May 2021 – 7 June 2021
- Deadline for Receipt of Nominations: Wednesday 9 June 2021 at noon
- Voting papers dispatched: From 5 July 2021
- Deadline for voting papers to be returned to the Independent Scrutineer: Monday 23 August 2021 at noon
- Declaration of results: Thursday 26 August 2021
Four candidates have entered the race, assistant general secretaries Howard Beckett and Steve Turner, executive officer Sharon Graham and Gerard Coyne.
Howard Beckett, a solicitor by profession and Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, officially launched his campaign with an online rally last week.
Mr Beckett’s popularity has grown as he has become a vocal critic of the current Labour leadership, positioning himself as the candidate most likely to hold Labour to account. He strongly opposed the Labour leader’s decision to settle legal action by – and pay what were described as “substantial damages” to – former party staff who had spoken to the BBC’s Panorama about the handling of anti-Semitism cases under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
He also supported subsequently cutting the union’s contributions to Labour by £150,000.
Steve Turner, another of Unite’s assistant general secretaries to stand, won the endorsement of the United Left grouping last year.
Now in his late 50s, he joined what was then the Transport and General Workers’ Union when he was 19 and working as a bus conductor. Mr Turner promises to run a campaign based on delivering better pay and conditions for members – and protection of employment.
Sharon Graham, who runs Unite’s Organisation and Leverage unit, is seen as a candidate very much on the “industrial wing” of the union. It is thought her campaign is based on portraying the other candidates as too focussed on internal Labour party issues and plans to portray herself as a potential leader who would be campaigning on picket lines alongside members.
Gerard Coyne is seen as on the ‘centre-left’ wing of the union and narrowly lost to Len McCluskey in the 2017 leadership election. With three candidates on the Left fighting for votes in a first-past-the post election, his supporters believe he has a strong chance of winning this time.
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