Their aim is to drive up turnout and to use what they see as the excesses of Len McCluskey’s leadership to public view as the key weapon in doing that.
So, do the numbers stack up?
I’ve crunched some of this and I think the answer is yes. But only if the turnout rises.
Here’s my thinking.
Last time round Len McCluskey polled 144,570 votes and left challenger Jerry Hicks got 79,819 – a turnout of 15.2%.
The turnout figures would suggest about 1.5 million votes being at stake – which is interesting given the union’s official annual return indicated they had home addresses for just over 1.3 million members, but anyway … assuming (correctly, I think) that the number of members has been broadly stable – here’s my model, looking only at McCluskey, Allinson (the left’s candidate) and Coyne.
Scenario 1: Turnout remains steady and one-third of Len McCluskey’s vote (which, we must remember drew from all of the right and centre as well as the left last time) goes to Gerard Coyne –
- McCluskey 96,800
- Allinson 79,800
- Coyne 48,200
Here McCluskey gets back reasonably comfortably, though his majority is way down.
Scenario 2: As above but now two-fifths of McCluskey’s vote goes to Coyne –
- McCluskey 86,700
- Allinson 79,800
- Coyne 57,900
We can see from these that McCluskey looks pretty safe if there is no change in turnout – but that alters radically if turnout starts to rise.
Scenario 3: As with (1) above, but now turnout rises to 18% – i.e., another 45,000 people vote. These go 80% for Coyne, 15% for McCluskey and 5% for Allinson.
- McCluskey: 103,600
- Allinson: 82,000
- Coyne: 84,200
Now it’s getting close but McCluskey still clings on.
Scenario 4: As with (3) but now turnout is 20%, so an additional 75,000 voters have taken part.
- McCluskey: 108,000
- Allinson: 83,600
- Coyne: 108,200
And the world has turned upside down. Now there are a lot of assumptions in here, but one thing is plain – Gerard Coyne’s campaign are spot on when they say a rising turnout puts victory in their reach.
[Please note: before I had the figures slightly wrong, I’ve corrected them now – they didn’t change the eventual result – but the correct figures show just how close this is.]
The tipping point in terms of share is very close though – if McCluskey’s campaign can grab more of the raised turnout then they could still win. But that is also their greatest dilemma: it’s an open secret that Unite specialise in keeping turnout in internal elections low so that the machine can have more predictable outcomes. Coyne’s campaign is upsetting that long-term calculation and I would not be surprised if there is a fierce debate going on inside McCluskey’s team about whether to rely on a low turnout and so face the prospect of getting steamrollered by Coyne if that fails or to risk everything in battling for votes in a higher profile election where they can rely on incumbency to take them over the line.
Update: the last 24 hours have seen the launch of a Twitter account with the explicit aim of smearing Gerard Coyne. Quickly followed by senior staff in Jeremy Corbyn’s office, the account owners then seemed to go into a panic when all this was highlighted online – deleting all their previous tweets. A sign of strategic malaise in the McCluskey camp?