Unite General Secretary contender Ian Allinson responds to reports that Gerard Coyne has mounted a legal challenge to the election result and is demanding a re-run.
Predictably, the media have seized on the story that Unite election loser Gerard Coyne is mounting a legal challenge to the result, trying to get it re-run.
The BBC report was not alone in referring to Coyne as “the” defeated candidate. The fact that there were three candidates but that Coyne is the only one calling for a re-run, doesn’t get a mention. This isn’t the only misleading aspect of the report. It quotes without challenge Coyne complaining “Unite employees repeatedly breached guidelines that meant they should have been neutral in the contest to be general secretary”. A few minutes’ research would have established that there was no such guideline.
It’s worth casting our minds back to the start of the campaign. Coyne’s camp claimed that they could win by engaging a right-wing “silent majority” of members to increase the turnout. His campaign scraped the bottom of every available barrel with this in mind. He had the backing of the right of the Labour Party and most of the media. Coyne even wrote repeatedly in the lying, racist, sexist, anti-union, member-sacking rag The Sun, which backed his campaign enthusiastically. Why? Because they saw an opportunity to undermine Unite’s support for Jeremy Corbyn’s drive to turn Labour into a genuine alternative to the Tories, rather than a watered down version that presented no threat to the establishment. Huge campaign spending (who knows where from?) funded social media advertising, a fake Unite newspaper reportendly sent to 150,000 workplaces, phone banking and the rest. And what was the result? Far from increasing turnout, Coyne’s almost entirely negative campaign, bashing our union along with McCluskey, turned members off. Turnout reached a record low. Coyne secured the votes of 5% of the electorate. His agenda was rejected by 59% of those who cast their votes.
It is true that there were problems with the election, many of which I flagged up at the time. It really is a bit rich Coyne complaining that he was out-cheated, when he admits to using membership data to which I had no access, and when he is accused of doing a deal with West Midlands Labour to get access to more member data illegally.
Coyne’s challenge simply gives ammunition to our enemies in the media to bash us, and in doing so bash Corbyn and Labour, at a crucial moment when our ammunition should be in full use – aiming at the Tories.
We should be tackling problems in the election. There are times when members have little choice but to mount legal action against their own union, but it should always be a last-resort, not a first preference. We can campaign within our union for changes to election rules such as:
- Changing the election system from First Past The Post to Single Transferable Vote (also known as Alternative Vote when used for a single position) to encourage more candidates, allow members to vote for what they want without fear of “splitting the vote”, and boost participation
- Control and officially facilitate candidates’ access to information and communication with members, to stop members being spammed and create a level playing field
- Ban branches from passing membership data to candidates’ campaigns
- Controls on campaign finances
- Ban Unite employees from campaigning in internal elections
- Official hustings in each region, open to all members and videoed
That’s what I’ll be doing. If Coyne had members’ interests at heart, rather than his own career or Westminster power games, that’s what he would be doing too.