Life for the Unite elite is becoming more and more like a bad reality TV show – At Home With The Soviets perhaps – as the handsomely paid chiefs compete to denounce one another and deny that there is anything for members to be concerned about, despite mounting evidence of serious failures to take proper care of members’ hard-earned money.
One of the most bizarre turns has been delivered by Steve Turner, supposedly the “official” hard left candidate to succeed Len McCluskey as Unite chief. Just days after pledging to have a QC led independent inquiry into the union’s decision to spend tens of millions on a luxury hotel development, Turner appears to have reversed his decision and, like a bit part player in a Soviet show trial, has denounced himself as being to blame for any problems.
When he spoke of an inquiry many grassroots members were relieved that Turner had appeared to agree with centre-left challenger Gerard Coyne, that serious accusations deserved to be taken seriously: “If I felt that there was anything untoward or if there was evidence suggesting that there was anything untoward – and I haven’t seen any of that genuinely, I’ve not seen anything – if there was, then absolutely I would have an independent investigation into it because this is our members’ money.”
Turner, speaking to the Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh continued: “If I was genuinely concerned, then absolutely I would have an independent QC review.”
Turner went on to criticise himself and the whole executive for the hotel by saying “We’re all as guilty as anybody else because we’ve all been in the executive [council] meetings where things have been raised and the cost implications have not perhaps been discussed in the way in which they should have been discussed.”
He even admitted that there needed to be an overhaul of the way these major decisions were taken in the union, saying “The question for me is that oversight question, by our executive, by our finance and general purposes committee…. “I think the tendering process should have been more transparent and more open. And I would change the rules around that so that in future all of this was done.”
However, after apparent anger from within the union’s ruling hard left faction, Turner has retreated faster than Napoleon fleeing from Moscow.
In a message to Unite’s executive, which the hard left United Left faction dominates, Turner said that the executive council had acted with “integrity” and with “a sense of responsibility for members’ money” when they monitored and approved the project. He claimed that he had been misrepresented, going on to laud praise on the project by writing “as I have always said, there was no wrong-doing on this matter, in fact quite to the contrary. Learning lessons from our experiences and examining ways we can improve is something I think we all do regularly, and I have, as I’m sure have you.”
Only the KGB have a better record in squeezing out self-denunciations from dissidents if his conclusion is any guide:
“I am very clear that our executive council, officers, staff and General secretary have always been committed to acting in the best interests of our members and do so with integrity and a sense of responsibility for members’ money. In doing so they have always had, and always will have, my full backing.”
Another hard left challenger, Sharon Graham, has yet to make clear what she would do in relation to the project but in response to this change of decision by Turner, Gerard Coyne said: “Unite’s £98m Birmingham project is a test of judgement and leadership for all four election candidates. I will hold an independent, published inquiry to learn lessons. I haven’t said one thing in public and another thing in private, or ducked the issue.”
Outgoing Unite chief Len McCluskey faced further pressure at the weekend when it was revealed he had not been honest with the union’s executive over his relationship with former Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson. McCluskey told the Executive Council earlier this year that The Times were “quite disgracefully” attempting to “link Unite and myself” to ongoing police investigation into Anderson’s time as Liverpool’s mayor, saying that “I don’t have any connection with Joe Anderson or the Liverpool city council or anything to do with what’s going on in Liverpool politics”.
The statement was provably false particularly as the two had worked closely on a green city application for Liverpool. To add further embarrassment to the union the partnership between Anderson and McCluskey was complimented by none other than Derek Hatton when it was announced. Derek Hatton was arrested and released under investigation as part of ongoing police inquiries.
There is no suggestion that McCluskey has broken the law or is under police investigation.
It is clear to the Red Roar that the overspend alone is reason enough for an independent inquiry into how nearly £100 of every member’s subs was spent. Therefore, its bitterly disappointing – but maybe not too surprising given the past behaviour of Unite’s elites – to see only one of the four candidates and, it would seem, no one on the executive council with the courage even to ask about these vital matters.