Pressure Is Piling On Unite To Investigate Howard Beckett Over Priti Patel Tweet
The UK’s largest trade union Unite is in turmoil today as pressure grows on the organisation to investigate assistant general secretary Howard Beckett over his Tweet that the Home Secretary should be deported.
Beckett, who is one of four candidates in the running to take over from Len McCluskey as general secretary, deleted the message about Priti Patel posted on social media and apologised. Last night he was suspended from the Labour Party.
However, a senior Labour MP said the matter needs firm action from the union today, as does the fact the union is having to pay out £1.3 million in legal costs to former Labour MP Anna Turley after losing a libel case alongside blog Skwawkbox.
The MP, who is also a Unite member, told PoliticsHome: “The chairman of the union executive should demand an emergency meeting to consider the dramatic events of yesterday.
“Both assistant general secretary Howard Beckett’s offensive Tweet and also the legal costs to members of the case with Skwawkbox and Anna Turley.
“Clearly something has gone terribly wrong and all factions and all candidates should unite in resolving it. The membership will expect nothing less.”
They said the other candidates needed to “face up” to these incidents and explain where they stand on both issues.
It was suggested the executive could investigate Beckett over the Tweet, and if he is found to have breached party rules he could be suspended from Unite, suspended from his current job as assistant general secretary and in any disciplinary process, could be banned from running in the leadership election.
One Labour source said Beckett’s Tweet could have broken rule 27.1.7 of the union rulebook, which relates to harassment, dignity and respect and cyber bullying.
Commenting on the Home Office decision to detain two Indian immigrants in Glasgow on Thursday, Beckett wrote, and then deleted 30 minutes later, that: "Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting."
Candidate Gerard Coyne, who has challenged McCluskey for the leadership before, and was sacked as West Midlands regional secretary during the election, Tweeted: “What action will the Union and its Executive take now? My view is clear: Unite needs a real change. All forms of discrimination including racism are unacceptable.”
Beckett, who also sits on Labour's national executive body, said last night that his Tweet “was never intended to be literal”.
He said: “My intention was to emphasise that racist policies should be rejected and have no place in society. The wording was wrong, offensive & I apologise unreservedly to Priti Patel. No one should be deported.”
On Sky News today he said the deportation of refugees is a racist act, and he will still be putting his name forward to lead Unite.
He said any suspension from the Labour party is inappropriate and should be removed immediately.
Although he has been suspended from Labour, this does not prevent him from running for the leadership of the union.
A Unite spokesman said: "Howard Beckett made some offensive, inappropriate comments on social media for which he has correctly and unreservedly apologised.
"Unite will be offering no further comment, consistent with our policy of not commenting on staffing matters."