Last week (June 3rd 2021) professional tax-dodger Margaret Hodge announced she had written a letter to Metropolitan police wherein she alleged that Howard Beckett, a candidate for leader of Unite union in its upcoming election, may have broken the law regarding use of the union’s funds in 2018.
Her accusation of possible unlawful actions by Beckett is baseless. He denied wrongdoing and denied all of the specific accusations. Rightly, he called Hodge’s accusations “risible and politically motivated.”
The right-wing of Labour fear Beckett.
They fear the political influence of a leader of a large trades’ union whose politics are close to pre-Starmer Labour and whose objectives are socialist.
That fear is palpable given how well Beckett’s leadership campaign is proceeding. He has support from nearly three hundred union branches.
The fear is embellished by his criticism of Labour’s current leadership and of its (lack of) policy and direction, criticism that could be translated into reduction of financial support for Labour from Unite.
When the right are scared they lash out stupidly and bereft of veracity. They rely on symbiotic support from right-wing media and complicity from centrist media. Hodge’s daft letter to police was accompanied by publication in Murdoch’s Times of internal Unite e-mails. BBC’s Newsnight provided, or tried to provide, a hatchet job on Beckett.
Good publicity for Beckett
The attack on Beckett as a political strategy to undermine his leadership campaign was a spectacular failure. Not only did none of the absurd mendacious accusations stick but also the airtime given to them greatly enhanced his visibility.
His intelligent and logical retorts on Newsnight contrasted with the nonsense spouted by Hodge and Tom Watson and with the floundering attempts by presenter Emma Barnett to manufacture a smear story. Prior to this confection the BBC had chosen to pretend that Beckett wasn’t likely to win the Unite leadership election. Interestingly, in an admission that its hatchet job had backfired, Newsnight decided to not include any clips of Beckett’s comments in its promotion of the show on social media.
Who were undermining Labour in 2018?
Accusations against Beckett related to alleged activities in 2018 including claims that he asked Unite members to try to help deselect some right-wing Labour MPs.
In 2018, Hodge, Watson, John Spellar, Ian Austin and many others campaigned against Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues, as they had done so since 2015. This continued with the invention of Change UK in 2019. Both Hodge and Austin embroiled themselves in legal disputes with Labour in 2018. Spellar had demanded Corbyn’s resignation in 2015. Austin left Labour in 2019 but did not resign as an MP. In 2019 general election campaign he urged his constituents to vote Tory; soon after the election he was given a peerage by the Tory government.
Last week a Unite spokesperson said strongly “As acting regional Secretary for West Midlands Mr. Beckett actively promoted Unite’s political agenda and its values, including by championing candidates who showed greater loyalty to the party and its leadership [Corbyn]. All regional secretaries are charged with advancing that strategy in their areas, which was a particular challenge in West Midlands, since it was long in the grip of an intransigent right-wing exemplified by Ian Austin, John Spellar and Tom Watson. All three acted to undermine the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and Ian Austin was placed in the House Of Lords by the Tory government.”
Power of an effective union
Strong trades’ unions can, despite decades of Tory law changes designed to reduce unions’ power, achieve success for workers and can be an example to everyone on how to fight against conservatism. Collective organisation and clear political strategies are a huge challenge to the authoritarian Tories who work on behalf of exploitative employers.
Hodge, Watson and Spellar are aware of the potential power of focussed union leadership. Beckett’s rapidly growing support from union members threatens the politics of right-wingers.
An opportunity, created by the publication of internal e-mails, was grasped at desperately. The desperation was so erratic and thoughtless that the only consequence was excellent promotion from Beckett and even greater support for him from (voting) union members.
Never underestimate the underhandedness and sneakiness of the right-wing and never underestimate its abject stupidity.
Gerard Coyne supporters ‘rig’ Birmingham council branch – then it votes 91% for Beckett
Margaret Hodge Is Gunning for Unite Leadership Hopeful Howard Beckett
Did John Spellar help Thatcher spy on unions?
Howard Beckett: What Exactly Are The Establishment So Afraid Of?
Laugh uproariously. In particular note that Hodge said “Unite should be focusing on the priorities of its members in the wake of COVID-19.” But, the accusations relate to 2018, two years before Covid-19.
“Yesterday I wrote to the Met Police concerning an alleged criminal offence by the trade union Unite that I have been made aware of. I have now called for an immediate police investigation. I have recently seen emails suggesting that Unite top officials have been covertly funding political activities. Keeping this secret from its hardworking members. If true, this is unlawful. In these emails, it appears Unite officials, including Howard Beckett, were deliberately orchestrating the deselection of longstanding Labour MPs. They reportedly did this by funnelling money through their solicitors, who might not have been aware this was being planned. Unite members have a right to see how their fees are spent & top officials have a duty to be open & transparent with their accounts. Both Tom Watson and Jon Spellar were allegedly targeted by this plot meaning they were distracted from representing their constituents and had to fend off underhand deselection attempts. Unite should be focusing on the priorities of its members in the wake of COVID-19. Not the political whims of a few trade union barons. If this was funded secretly by the union, it the very least, immoral, and potentially unlawful. It makes me question whether Howard Beckett is fit to lead one of Britain’s biggest trade unions.”