Sharon Graham, who has been head honcho of Unite, one of the country’s most powerful unions for barely a month, is believed to be the first in the job to miss a Labour conference.
But Graham says her non-appearance at Brighton is “definitely not a snub” although that’s not how anyone else sees her decision. Graham has already caused a few ripples in the party by saying that the union should concentrate on issues that matter to workers rather than politics.
Adding to Keir Starmer’s woes, she branded a recent meeting with the Labour leader as “cordial” while describing plans to remove the “one member, one vote” process as “white noise” to members.
Graham has also made it clear that she will not be shelling out as much dosh on Labour campaigning than her union predecessors. Donations from the party’s largest donor have nosedived in recent years. A quick peak at the Electoral Commission register finds that between January 2019 and March 2019, Labour received £541,000 from Unite. In 2021, during the same three-month period, that figure plummeted by more than 75 per cent, to £131,000.
Still, at least one Unite stalwart will be present in Brighton – ex-general secretary Len McCluskey. He will be making several cameos at fringe meetings and rallies to remind voters why Labour would prefer to be involved in bitter infighting than actually contending for power.