Owen Smith finally wins some support for his leadership bid – from a pro-Trident, pro-fracking union

Jessica Gay

The UK’s third largest union, the GMB, has announced it will be backing Owen Smith in the upcoming Labour leadership elections.

In a ballot of 43,419 members, Smith won the vote by 60%. A turn up for the books, after the GMB called for “clear and unambiguous” support for Jeremy Corbyn amid the turmoil of the Labour coup back in June. The union also previously declared its support for Corbyn by voting in favour of a motion for the deselection of any MP who refused to put on record their backing for the Labour leader.

Smith and the GMB

But the GMB’s change of allegiance doesn’t come as a surprise. A large percentage of its members are pro-nuclear (the union supports Hinkley Point, and many of their members work on the Trident nuclear weapons programme), pro-fracking, and pro-oil. These are all stances supported by Smith and actively rejected by Corbyn.

Unlike Corbyn, Smith has demonstrated his support for nuclear energy, voting for the renewal of Trident. And while he voted for the requirement of an environmental permit for fracking activities, he voted against greater restrictions on fracking in National Parks, the Broads, and areas of outstanding natural beauty – suggesting that, while cautious, he supports the activity.

Responses

Former General Secretary of the GMB, Sir Paul Kenny, who led the union for nearly a decade, said he was backing Smith because he was more likely to win a general election over Corbyn:

In the long-term if you want social justice and social change and you want the Labour Party to form a government you have to ask yourself the question ‘who will the general public support?’

I like Owen. I always thought he would be a future leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t trigger this and it has come a bit early for him but he is has better chance than people think he does.

Tim Roache, the union’s current General Secretary, said it was time for the union to face up to “reality”. In regards to his support for Smith, Roache said:

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. I’m under no illusions that we’re living through dangerous political times – the like of which I haven’t seen during my three decades in our movement.

What the GMB is hoping to achieve

The GMB endorsement comes at the same time the union is calling for Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) – the government regulator for Britain’s electricity and gas market – to be scrapped. Instead, the GMB is calling for the government to take over as the regulator accountable to parliament.

Ofgem has been criticised in the past for not doing enough to help people in fuel poverty, and for failing to keep energy network costs down. But the regulator has been responsible for holding large energy firms, like Scottish Power, accountable for their mistreatment of customers. So while the regulator is not without its problems, a GMB-desired government-led watchdog would likely mean a more partisan regulator. And if Smith does become Labour leader and then prime minister, this regulator would no doubt be pro-nuclear and pro-fracking, something GMB will relish.

Get Involved!

– Sign the petition to stop fracking in the UK.

– Sign the petition to stop the build of Hinkley Point.

Read our other articles on the Labour leadership election.

– See Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 policy pledges and Owen Smith’s 20 policy pledges.

– To support Labour members fighting to keep their right to vote in the upcoming leadership elections, see here.

Featured image via YouTube

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