I know what you’re thinking – surely we’ve had enough elections this year: the EU referendum, the US election and leadership contests from Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and the Greens. But no, we’re not quite done yet. Next April, Unite the Union, the UK’s biggest trade union, will elect a new leader (or General Secretary). This is particularly important as Unite is the Labour party’s biggest donor.
Currently, there’s three candidates in the running. First of all, reigning General Secretary Len McCluskey. McCluskey has been in charge since 2011 and has turned into a big ally of Jeremy Corbyn since he became Labour leader last year. However, McCluskey has faced criticism that he is out of touch with Unite members and their views; they supposedly disagree with his unanimously pro-Corbyn rhetoric.
Enter Gerard Coyne. Accusing his rival of ‘dabbling in politics all the time’, Coyne wants a less left-wing Unite which is more focused on its members. However, Coyne is said to be a key ally of Tom Watson and if he won it could mean less funding to Corbyn’s Labour and possibly even another challenge to his leadership.
But that’s not all. In the last couple of days another challenger has stepped into the fray, this time from the left. Ian Allinson is a grass-roots candidate who’s also accused McCluskey of being out of touch and ‘more of the same’. This means that McCluskey faces a challenge from both sides of the political spectrum and is at risk of being squeezed by more radical opinions on either side.
It hasn’t been a great few months for Jeremy Corbyn. His party has been falling even further behind the Conservatives in the polls (the last YouGov one put Theresa May a whopping 17% ahead) and there’s been a distinct lack of unity – something we were promised following his re-election as leader. Last week one of his key allies, Diane Abbott, said that Labour should catch up with the Tories ‘within a year’. I think that this is a final ultimatum for Corbyn; if he hasn’t made some progress by then I think that he will resign.
But how does this link to Unite? Corbyn needs all the support that he can get at the moment and the power of McCluskey’s support shouldn’t be underestimated. Typically, Blairite-esque candidates like Coyne haven’t done well at Unite elections but only time will tell this time. A Coyne election could be disastrous for Corbyn and could prove to Labour members that traditional Labour voters disagree with the party’s recent dive to the left. But on the other hand, having Allinson as General Secretary could potentially silence questions about Corbyn’s mandate to lead Labour.
This is one worth watching…