Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard was the subject of a well-briefed hatchet job in The Canary following Wendy Nichols’ election as vice-chair of Labour’s National Executive Committee. The alt-left site described “Leonard’s choice to align himself with the Labour right” as “political suicide.”
But we can reveal the real reason why Leonard, UNISON, and the GMB split with Unite on Tuesday’s vote: Len McCluskey broke his promise to support Nichols.
The deal is believed to have been made earlier this year, around the time that Unite’s Jennie Formby was appointed as Labour’s new general secretary. In order to secure the unions’ support for Formby’s candidacy, McCluskey is said to have promised to back UNISON’s Wendy Nichols for the vice-chair role.
However, when it came time to vote for the vice-chair position, the Unite General Secretary informed Dave Prentis of UNISON and Tim Roache of the GMB that he would instead be backing the far-left candidate, Andi Fox from the TSSA. He may have believed that Leonard, GMB, or UNISON would begrudgingly line up behind Unite, but his aggressive tactics appear to have backfired.
UNISON and the GMB have been more willing to break ranks with Unite in selection campaigns after McCluskey was re-elected by an extremely slender margin over challenger Gerard Coyne last year, damaging his authority. Coyne’s ongoing legal challenge has brought up allegations of cheating against McCluskey, such as preventing his opponents in last year’s contest from contacting Unite members, making it more difficult for all sides to trust his commitment to rules and fair play.
Unite’s attempt to stich-up the Lewisham East selection by kicking Momentum’s Sakina Sheikh off the ballot on the morning of the hustings, based on thin charges that she was once a member of another party, cannot have helped matters.
The consequence of all this is Wendy Nichols will become vice-chair of the NEC, and with that the centre-left will regain control of the selection process for by-elections. The far-left desperately need more allies in parliament but have lost the ability to rig the process in their favour for now.
The decision to hang Leonard out to dry for not breaking his word to back Nichols is another example of the increasingly authoritarian style of Unite and Jeremy Corbyn’s office. It was clearly designed to send a signal to Leonard and anyone else thinking of stepping out of line that dissent will not be tolerated.
Momentum’s Jon Lansman was the first to witness this commitment to top-down control, when he dared to challenge Unite’s Jennie Formby for General Secretary, and was aggressively briefed against until he dropped out. Few can claim to have done more for the far-left than Lansman, but his efforts were not enough to spare him.
This anti-pluralist tendency also explains why figures like Wendy Nichols and Janet Daby were opposed rather than embraced. Nichols is a lifelong trade unionist and former care worker on the left of Labour from a northern working-class mining community; Daby a two-time Corbyn voter who adopted two children out of care and set up a food bank, but both were rejected by the far-left.