Last week, Howard Beckett and Steve Turner released a joint statement in which Turner agreed to uphold Beckett’s Unite general secretary manifesto promise of a Unite TV station.
The joint statement was released to cushion Beckett’s fall as he bowed out of the race to succeed Len McCluskey. Questions were asked of Turner as the joint statement clearly showed Beckett’s influence, both on Turner’s campaign and on any potential Turner administration, despite Beckett’s weak position and extreme views- views which, despite some enthusiasm online, have turned off Unite members.
One of the central concessions made by Turner was on the issue of a Unite TV station, which would have a studio in each of Unite’s 12 regions and would run 24/7. Initially part of Beckett’s manifesto- before Turner took it on as part of the deal to get Beckett out of the race– the station has not been costed or planned for. It remains just an idea, thought up by Beckett as a way to further polarise debate within the Labour Party and use more of members’ money on initiatives that don’t help their wages, conditions, or lives.
After the £100-million scandal of the 4-star Birmingham hotel vanity project overseen by Beckett has already stirred up members’ frustration with the current ruling cadre at the top of Unite, the issue of the Unite TV station goes beyond questions about Turner’s short-term judgement. Gerard Coyne, the mainstream candidate for general secretary, has promised an independent and published inquiry into the waste of members’ money around the hotel scandal and has also said that he will ‘put an end to the nonsense [of a TV station] and freeze Unite subscription rates for two years’.
Union members preparing to vote in the general secretary election will be looking to the candidates and manifesto promises to determine if their chosen candidate will see Unite continue on its current trajectory of pursuing factional and egotistical endeavors for the leadership at the expense of members, or whether they will bring change and turn the ship around.
Turner’s decision to take onboard Beckett’s wildest and most wasteful manifesto pledge reveals him to be in the first camp. A potential leader who, if elected, would continue to use union funds as if they are not earned through members’ hard work and have not been paid to support industrial action and bargaining for positive outcomes for workers.