Stephen Daisley

Gerard Coyne’s show trial is a stark warning to Labour moderates

Gerard Coyne's show trial is a stark warning to Labour moderates
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‘There is no step, thought, action, or lack of action under the heavens,’ wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 'which could not be punished by the heavy hand of Article 58’. Unite the Union’s rules appear to operate on much the same basis as the Soviet provision against 'counter-revolutionary action’. Gerard Coyne, Unite’s West Midlands secretary, has been sacked after what he claims was a 'kangaroo court’. 

So far, so internal union politics. But Coyne is not just some provincial functionary. He was most recently a contender for General Secretary of Unite, losing to incumbent Len McCluskey by around 5,500 votes. It was a process — calling it an election would be something of a stretch — in which Coyne was suspended while the votes were still being counted. As I wrote at the time, Coyne was a threat to the far-Left establishment that runs Unite and in turn the Labour Party. Hardly a Blairite, he was nonetheless more motivated by improving pay and conditions for union members than in heading up the Corbynista politburo. 

Coyne’s status as an enemy of the proletariat has been confirmed and he has been removed from a post he held for 16 years. According to Coyne, seven charges were levelled against him:

'They consisted of such heinous crimes as publicly criticising and challenging Mr McCluskey’s decisions in leaflets, newspapers and social media. All related to my conduct during the General Secretary election campaign.’

Three of the charges Coyne knocked down and a fourth related, he says, to a technical data breach. As far as Coyne is concerned, he is the victim of a 'stitch-up'. 'My real crime,’ he argued this afternoon, 'was having the audacity to challenge Mr McCluskey in the General Secretary election that he called unnecessarily.’ 

There is a dark comic genius in a union sacking a worker who stood up to the boss. PJ O’Rourke should watch his back.

As though to confirm that he has been caught somewhere between Kafka and a Monty Python sketch, Coyne was accused of undermining relations between Unite and the Labour Party. Admirable though the continuing effort is to pretend these are two distinct entities, that’s not even the best part. Ex-comrade Coyne notes:

'The disciplinary hearing was nothing more than a show trial and the irony not lost on me that Mr McCluskey’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray - a self-confessed admirer of Joseph Stalin - was the investigator and decision maker on the charge I was dismissed for. It is beyond parody that I, as a 30-year member of the Labour Party, should be accused of harming Unite-Labour relations by Mr Murray, a member of the Communist Party for 40 years.’

Being accused of harming the Labour Party by Andrew Murray is like being called tacky by Donald Trump. 

Coyne’s statement, likely blinked out from his new work station in Siberia where he now sews Jez We Can T-shirts with his toes, is blunt about what has happened to him:

'It is a public warning to any member of Unite’s staff who is thinking of challenging the way the McCluskey gang run the union: 'Step out of line, and you will be out of a job. Political dissent is not tolerated inside Unite

He is appealing his dismissal and wants the General Secretary election re-run. Unite says he can take up the matter with its executive council but declines to comment further. 

Expect some crocodile tears from the lapsed moderates of the parliamentary Labour party over the treatment of Coyne. Not so long ago, he looked like their best bet for ousting Jeremy Corbyn. There is no chance of that now. The Labour Party — every inch and every sinew, every CLP and every member — is now under the total control of Len McCluskey’s brand of politics, as administered by Corbyn or, as needs be in the future, McDonnell, Lewis, or Nandy. In failing to topple Corbyn and in acquiescing to him in light of the election result and the turmoil in the Tory Party, the PLP has made this so. They can hardly object when, having surrendered the Labour movement to the far-Left, the far-Left decides to run the Labour movement the way it always said it would. 

The fact that Andrew Murray, a Communist seconded to Corbyn’s campaign during the election, played such a central role in the show trial of Gerard Coyne is hardly surprising. All the same, Labour MPs and activists would do well to think on it. What begins in Unite does not end there and may soon find its way into Labour. If a man who came within a few thousand votes of running Unite can be denounced and bundled out like this, why wouldn't Corbynistas feel emboldened to move against MPs they despise? If they do, Labour’s erstwhile moderates will have brought it on themselves.