I got my ballot paper for the Unite/Amicus General Secretary election yesterday and have voted for Kevin Coyne.
I have never been a supporter of Derek Simpson but I suppose in a way he has been better than the extremely low expectations I had of him. Certainly on the political side of things it has been difficult for someone with my politics to criticise someone whose relationship with Government has been subcontracted to Brown-loyalist Charlie Whelan - though Charlie's people-management skills, if the Observer is to be believed, seem to be interesting - I would have thought that it is quite difficult to get into a grievance situation with affable former Campaign Group MP John Cryer, who was/is one of the most personally popular and easy-to-get-on-with characters amongst Labour MPs of all persuasions (I declare an interest in that my partner Linda was his Agent in the 2005 election).
However, the belated endorsement of Simpson by the hard left Amicus Unity Gazette caucus - after their preferred candidate dropped out - and the Gazette's slogan of "stop Coyne" because he is "the right wing candidate of the future" (i.e. the person who could win the General Secretaryship of the merged Unite against some Unity Gazette/TGWU Broad Left headbanger) tells those of us on the moderate wing of the Labour Party everything we need to know about who to vote for.
Simpson's leadership style - or perhaps that of his sidekicks - has been less than inclusive. My own personal experience of this was seeing one of Simpson's senior aides instructing people on the door at the Unite reception at party conference to turn away union members who were not considered loyal to Derek. That included me as a member of the union's national parliamentary panel. It was a funny way to reach out to people as at the time I was open-minded about Derek's leadership, but I gather rather typical of their modus operandi. At a more serious level than getting into a drinks reception, Derek seems to have made enemies of group after group of basically loyal-to-whoever-is-GS union officials, including the entire senior leadership of the former GPMU print union, whose membership he is now making a crude attempt to win the votes of by smearing Kevin Coyne as supported by the "Murdoch press" (the Sun and the Times have endorsed Kevin but I doubt he went out to seek their backing - the Times is hardly the paper of choice of the Amicus rank-and-file) - perhaps the most serious and divisive allegation you can make in a union that through merger now includes both sides - SOGAT/NGA and EETPU - from the Wapping Dispute.
As well as being autocratic, Derek's leadership style has a kind of "imperial" feel to it. In 2002, when he opposed Ken Jackson as General Secretary of the AEEU, he argued that it was wrong for him to stay on beyond 65, and that he had misused members' money by living a lavish lifestyle at their expense. Seven years later and Derek Simpson stands accused of doing exactly the same.
The final stages of this election campaign have illustrated the way in which Simpson seems to treat the union's resources - paid for by ordinary members - as though they were his own political resource. As I posted last week, members received a letter personally addressed to us from Derek Simpson, laying out his strategy for their Sector of the union . This unprecedented personal approach was made in the week before the election opened, and is believed to have gone to every Amicus member. The union has paid for this letter, using members' subs, at a cost which must exceed £250,000. Its purpose is clear. It is a cynical attempt to influence voting.
The letter has been followed by "United" magazine, delivered to every Unite member. The magazine is littered with photos and articles about Derek Simpson, and carries letters complaining about other candidates. Coyne and the other two candidates have been given no right of reply.
In 2002, when he stood against Ken Jackson for the General Secretary position, Derek Simpson said:
"Journals have carried multiple photos and articles about Jackson whilst I was told that unless the law or the rules forced it they would not grant equality of access. If Jackson is so popular and is recognised for his ability and leadership, why do all these issues arise? According to his spokespersons, there is little chance that Jackson will be overthrown. However, members ... are sick to the back teeth with the way the union has become divorced from its rank and file members, who now have little or no confidence that the union will stand up for them."
Kevin Coyne has commented:
"I hope that members will see the hypocrisy of this situation and vote to save our union from such abuse of power."
The ballot closes at 12 Noon on 6th March.
Vote Kevin Coyne for General Secretary.