Sharon Graham, the savvy working class woman who declines to doff her cap to Sir Keir Starmer QC?


Political parties need money to campaign and in the last week, Sir Keir Starmer QC has had a public spat with the leader of one of Labour’s larger funders within the trades union movement, Sharon Graham, the General Secretary of Unite.

I think I ought to say that I rooted for Gerard Coyne during the election to find Len “Lexit” McCluskey’s replacement, but I like Ms Graham’s style and I am comfortable working with confident, assertive women who have come up through the ranks like Graham has done (and Coyne did, too).

Graham and I are from not dissimilar class backgrounds. Backgrounds like that of Starmer.

I like to think that Ernest Bevin, that member of the aspirational working class who founded the Transport and General Workers Union and that later merged into Unite, very much approves of his latest successor as General Secretary.

One of the criticisms levelled at McCluskey was that he did not see Unite, first and foremost, as existing to protect and extend the pay, terms and conditions of its members.

Graham’s “campaign slogan for the general secretary role was back to the workplace.

According to a source, Graham has recently hired a new data analyst to drive membership engagement as well as economists and forensic accountants to investigate employers.”

Unite Union Has Lost More Than 700,000 Members Since It Was Formed

Moreover, Graham is asking whether or not her members get value for money from funding the Labour Party.

Might the money be better spent, say, on class action court cases on employment matters?

If you do not think Labour will win the next General Election and enact remedies to issues that may be pursued through the courts in the here and now then surely the courts are where one should put one’s members subs?

This line of argument does not best please those who used to criticise McCluskey for treating Unite like his own piggy bank.

And so Graham has become their new target for vitriol, a target in some cases for misogynists, going by some of the comments on Twitter.

I assume that the armchair activists of the Cult of Starmer, now steadily supplanting the Cult of Corbyn …

… are unaware of the sizeable contribution in kind that Unite officials and members provide to the Labour Party on the ground at election time?

Delivering leaflets, stuffing envelopes, canvassing … the boring, tedious, humdrum work at which many of the last influx of new middle class members under Corbyn turned up their noses. Such drudgery was beneath them and definitely for the other ranks. They wanted to design leaflets, set policy, anything, but come within feet of the average voter.

Graham may have been a bit heavy handed in linking Unite’s funding for Labour with Labour run Coventry City Council’s stance in pay negotiations with the union over a pay claim it is making for the council’s refuse truck drivers.

“A Unite spokesman did not deny there was a prospect of disaffiliation, and said: Sharon Graham is completely focused on ensuring that workers and communities do not pay the price for the pandemic.

“The lack of action by Labour to defend working people in the midst of the cost of living crisis has been symbolised by the disgraceful behaviour of the Labour Council in Coventry.

“In Coventry, the leader of the Labour council has engaged in strike breaking and attacked union representatives, all in a bid to suppress the pay of loyal bin drivers who worked through Covid. This disgraceful behaviour has no place in our movement.”

A source close to Keir Starmer insisted the two figures were regularly in touch.”

Unite ‘could break historic link with Labour’ as rift with Keir Starmer deepens

HGV drivers are, of course, scarce, courtesy, in part, to Hard Brexit and Unite is seeking to exploit that Brexit opportunity to increase the pay of its members driving trucks for Coventry City Council.

Starmer’s response to Graham’s words may hardly be described as measured, particularly as Hard Brexit is now Labour policy and Starmer is actually talking up the benefits of Brexit.

Was he playing to the Leigh gallery by saying he would not be bullied, reminding them of the Winter of Discontent and the view some hold that Labour went down to the trades unions?

Funny story …

Barbara Castle (Oxford), First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment, 1968 to 1970, predicted in the late 1960s that if Labour did not reform trades union law in partnership with the trades unions then the Tories would do it to the trades unions.

In Place of Strife, a snappy title and an allusion to one of Bevan’s works, was Castle’s White Paper setting out measures to head off the industrial disputes that damaged the labour movement so severely in the 1970s.

In Place of Strife was shot down by the male trades union barons

The barons ensured one of their number, Jim Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson in 1976.

And Castle was exiled to the outer darkness.

Had she succeeded Wilson and not Callaghan then who knows how the 1979 General Election would have played out after three years of bouts of Castle versus Thatcher at PMQs?

Labour, of course, lost power in 1979, ushering in 18 years of Tory Government.

I really do not think anyone will ever confuse Starmer with Sunny Jim, he just does not have the face for it.

Starmer, we are told, likes to compare himself with Harold Wilson, but clearly not to the point where he would be willing to emulate Harold and sit down to beer and sandwiches with Unite and Coventry City Council to broker a deal.

Alternatively, he might have made a few phone calls to smooth over the waters or sent Angela Rayner to Coventry to mediate between the parties. Rayner is, after all, an experienced ex trades union official who was, I gather, respected on both sides of the negotiating table (as was Coyne).

Team Starmer seems no more able to know what to do with Rayner than did Team Corbyn. Rayner is a confident, assertive working class woman who left school at 16 and has worked her way up through the ranks.

The aspirational working class, of which Starmer may be said to be one, have always made some in the Labour Party uncomfortable. We are disinclined to simply accept what we are given and know our place, doffing our caps to the Jeremy Corbyns and Lisa Nandys for their middle class leftie noblesse oblige.

Nandy and Corbyn, in their different ways, want to keep me and mine down on the farm, down the pit and on the shop floor and the shopfloor.

If we are lucky, though, we might get a job mekkin’ things, the height of our ambitions, seemingly.

Maybe the pitch to the likes of working class Tories in Leigh, pandering to the small minded, the suspicious of education and aspiration, to folk who believe in knowing their place and being ignorant of the world, proudly unknowing of the richness of life beyond the boundaries of their small town, is a way of reducing Labour’s dependence on the votes of me and mine?

I do not believe they are representative of folk even where they live.

Many of these reactionaries are pensioners, but they do not even speak for pensioners en masse.

Yet Labour seems to want to offer them the comfort blanket of Heritage England, a(n) (il)liberal, middle class metropolitan elite take on Little England.

Backward looking, inward looking, unwelcoming and exclusive.

Blue Labour in all, but name only.

Rayner has no problem celebrating what we achieved in Government as a party whilst talking about how we should build on our achievements and learn from our failures.

Rayner is a living riposte to Nandy’s claim of decades of decline (Oop North) that governments have not sought to address.

Rayner benefited greatly, she says, from Sure Start, part of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s intensive, cross government campaign against child poverty.

Rayner has said her backing for Sure Start comes not just from personal experience, but from the evidence that early years intervention is the most effective way to improve outcomes for children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Did Team Starmer consider the optics, particularly in the context of the case of Rosie Duffield, of a white, middle class male and Oxford graduate, slapping down a working class woman who left school at 16 and has fought her way to the top of Unite?

Duffield is a confident, assertive working class woman who left school at 16 and has … I think you get my drift by now?

The quadrumvirate running Starmer (Oxford), Claire Ainsley (York), Lisa Nandy (Newcastle), Deborah Mattinson (Bristol) and Reeves (Oxford) are all from middle class backgrounds.

I do find it depressing that when women are coming to the fore in Labour, again, it has been those four, specifically, that have risen to the top.

Nandy, Reeves and Starmer (unlike Tony Blair) all walked straight into safe seats.

Sir Keir Starmer QC may have a brain, but does he have a heart and courage?

How will Starmer react when a worker has lost her job to Hard Brexit?

If the skip fire of misogyny bursts into flames in the open …

Are there any adults left in the Labour Party?

Labour’s Red Wall First strategy. Cui bono?

Labour makes major gain on Lewes Town Council in 2022

Is Sir Keir Starmer QC a bit lacking in empathy?

There is no Starmerism, but there is Nandyism

24 thoughts on “Sharon Graham, the savvy working class woman who declines to doff her cap to Sir Keir Starmer QC?

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