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Unite General Secretary election candidate Len McCluskey faces two challengers, left-winger Ian Allinson and Blairite Gerard Coyne. Allinson isn’t seen as any threat to McCluskey, neither in theory is Coyne. That said, Coyne’s campaign has been dealt a blow by acting General Secretary Gail Cartmail.
According to reports, Labour’s Sion Simon (currently MEP for the West Midlands and Labour’s candidate in the forthcoming West Midlands mayoral election) was allocated a £10,000 campaign donation by Unite’s regional committee, a donation needing approval at national level and blocked by Cartmail because of a number of irregularities:
“Unite has been provided with overwhelming evidence that Mr. Simon’s campaign and Mr. Coyne’s campaign have entered into some form of a mutual support arrangement, which has involved the shared use of Labour Party membership data. The Labour Party has acknowledged that this has happened, that it was unauthorised and that it should be halted.”
In short (according to the statement) Simon and Coyne have a pact that hasn’t been openly declared or even mentioned on the public record. If the statement is correct, Coyne and Simon are secretly engaged in electoral back-scratching.
This is only the start of the story.
Cartmail’s statement goes even further. In her words:
“It is as far as I know unprecedented for a Labour Party campaign to seek an agreement for support not with an affiliated trade union but with an individual himself campaigning for elected office within that union.”
In other words, Simon has gone quietly to Gerard Coyne for help with his mayoral campaign while Coyne himself is running for Unite General Secretary and seemingly expecting the favour returned. Without disclosing this arrangement and making it accountable to Unite or Labour Party members.
To quote Cartmail again:
“Neither Mr.Simon nor Mr. Coyne have explained the nature of their agreement, what provisions it might include nor how and why it was arrived at.”
Damaging stuff, but not nearly as damaging as Cartmail’s final, most damning remark:
“Under these circumstances, Unite cannot make a donation to Mr. Simon’s campaign, since there are no guarantees that such money would not be used to support Mr. Coyne’s campaign and thereby interfere in Unite’s own democratic processes.”
This while, as far as this writer is aware, Simon isn’t even a Unite member.
He has, however, previously been hauled over the coals for financial irregularities while MP for Birmingham Erdington. In 2010 Simon stood down as a junior minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport after breaching Parliamentary rules. MP’s were forbidden to rent second homes from family members in 2006. Simon was exposed doing exactly that several years after the ban was put in place.
Simon is a close associate of leadership candidate Gerard Coyne. Like Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson (another close friend of Simon) Coyne is strongly anti-Corbyn and no friend of Len McCluskey. He has openly attacked McCluskey for his involvement in Labour politics and his support for Corbyn during Corbyn’s leadership campaigns. Known to back Simon’s mayoral campaign, Coyne’s own campaign against McCluskey has been negative and, at times, disingenuous.
For instance, Coyne’s own website refers to the union buying ‘Luxury apartments for the General Secretary’ and Coyne wanting to ‘Clean up the union.’ while not mentioning that the £417, 300 paid for McCluskey’s London flat was actually a loan. Coyne has also stated that Unite should no longer, as he puts it, ‘Dabble in politics.’
By his own admission, Coyne’s campaign doesn’t have the resources of McCluskey’s. If, as Gail Cartmail has stated, there are no guarantees that the blocked donation to Sion Simon wouldn’t find its way to Coyne’s campaign, then Coyne’s claim to want to clean up Unite is automatically called into question. The donation is for Sion Simon’s election campaign, not Gerard Coyne’s. It would not be Simon’s personal funds to disburse entirely at his own discretion
Coyne also has a personal axe to grind regarding McCluskey. Last year McCluskey sent Coyne a ‘final written warning’ over what McCluskey called a ‘A serious breach of trust.’ The breach being Coyne addressing a group of anti-Corbyn MP’s grouped under the ‘Labour for the Common Good’ banner.
Cartmail’s decision will be discussed at a meeting of Unite’s Executive Council this week, the Executive Council having the final say on whether the donation will be made. According to Cartmail, the initial decision was hers alone and McCluskey wasn’t consulted. Coyne and Simon, however, certainly should be called to account.
Several serious issues are raised by this affair:
If, as according to Cartmail, the Labour Party acknowledges the unauthorised use of membership data, what are they doing about it?
Does this illicit use of information breach the Data Protection Act and, if so, will there be a proper criminal investigation?
If Simon, as has been suggested, cannot be relied on to use campaign contributions for their stated purpose, will voters want to trust him as their elected Mayor?
Is it not in the public interest for Coyne and Simon to give the voters, Unite’s membership and Labour Party members full, unedited details of the pact Cartmail refers to?
These are questions deserving of full and honest answers. Whether Coyne and Simon will actually answer them remains unresolved.