Since Howard Beckett has now called time on his volatile campaign and shifted his weight reluctantly behind Steve Turner, questions are being asked about the soundness of Turner’s judgement. Turner, who is now left in a race to become Unite’s next general secretary with the other remaining hard-left candidate, Sharon Graham, and mainstream candidate, Gerard Coyne, has made accommodations to Beckett who has a history of financial scandal and mismanagement and has made calls for Unite to defund the Labour Party.
Turner has made clear that he believes working with the Labour Party is preferable to the kind of conflict redolent of McCluksey’s leadership. As Turner told Paul Waugh back in April: “people don’t vote for a divided party”.
Yet, in a joint statement released by Turner and Beckett on Friday morning, Turner has capitulated to Beckett, promising a ‘blended manifesto’, and implying that Beckett would retain a powerful role in a Turner administration.
It is hard to reconcile this acquiescence from Turner to Beckett with the increasing antipathy between their camps over the course of the past few weeks and days. Beckett’s aggression and publicity stunts have been directed at Keir Starmer and the Labour Party, and he pledged in May to reduce Unite’s contribution to the party if Starmer made a political decision that he, Beckett, disagreed with.
These kinds of bully boy tactics have obviously turned off Unite members, something borne out in Beckett’s lower number of nominations compared to both Turner and Graham, all three of whom were fighting for the same support.
Turner’s leadership nous is also being questioned on the basis that he has agreed to, hypothetically, give a senior role in Unite to Beckett despite the slew of allegations and stories of financial mismanagement and cronyism that have surrounded him. Not least, on the Birmingham hotel development which culminated in £100-million of members’ money being spent on a hotel which serves £18 breakfasts. Steve Turner had suggested he was going to have a QC independent inquiry into the hotel. However, 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 initially been misrepresented in suggesting an inquiry, which does not indicate that he will be willing to stand up to Howard and his cronies.
Howard Beckett’s campaign for general secretary was doomed from the start due to his reckless past, something members clearly don’t see as a productive path moving forward. Turner’s decision to give in to some of Beckett’s demands (apparently including Beckett’s wild and costly idea for a Unite TV station) throw doubt on who would really be in charge were Turner to win the race for the top job.
Unite members will justifiably want to be reassured that Beckett and Turners’ backroom deal will not take compromise Tuners’ candidacy which, until Beckett’s influence, had looked to be one that was in fact predicated on seeking out a better future for Unite, albeit not one that mainstream union members could get behind.