Wednesday, June 25, 2008

UNISON agrees to review our political fund

The useful UNISON Conference database is obviously still being updated as this link does not (yet?) take you to Motion 63 (as amended), which was the motion around which National Delegate Conference spent much of its Friday afternoon.

I have made some general comment already about the wider political context of this debate, but I think it is worth being clear about what was agreed by the Conference following this debate. There have been other comments on the debate – some measured and responsible and some plain daft. Before considering some other Conference decisions I thought I should clarify what the outcome of the debate on Friday afternoon was (as opposed to how it felt).

Conference has instructed the National Executive Council to “carry out a full review of the political fund arrangements involving the affiliated political fund, general political fund, service groups, self organised groups, regions and branches, to scrutinise and reform operations and functional processes to ensure the highest levels of transparency, participation and activity and to report to Conference on this.”
Also thanks to an amendment from the Islington branch supported in a last minute U turn by the NEC, Conference has instructed the NEC to “include in the review, regional APF (Labour Link) structures and operation” and “also include in the review the set up of the two national political committees and consider expanding the directly elected seats and reducing the indirectly elected seats to the National APF (Labour Link) committee.”

In another last minute U turn the NEC also supported an amendment from Somerset County which reminded Conference of the decision taken three years ago to instruct the NEC to publish the voting record of the UNISON group of MPs. (I think that my NEC colleagues had better get on with the proper implementation of this particular decision before someone else embarrasses us by doing it for us!)

The two NEC U turns on these amendments were classics of their kind. At the NEC before Conference attempts from the left to secure support for these sensible amendments were knocked back. Labour Link Chair Steve Warwick notably commented in respect of the Somerset amendment that he knew what the Somerset County branch were like! Looking down at an angry Conference floor discretion rapidly became the better part of valour.

(As Rodney didn’t say ten years ago – if it looks like a chicken and it clucks like a chicken…)

Since the UNISON NEC has decided not to meet until October, the implementation of this decision will probably fall to the Objective Three Scrutiny Group. There may be some who will wish to give the implementation of this decision relatively low priority.

I hope they don’t prevail since from every point of view a real and thorough review of the effectiveness of our political funds would be a good thing. Obviously those who want to see disaffiliation will wish to express that view – but those of us who want the Labour Link to be more effective also have a vested interest in an effective review.

It would take a truly heroic refusal to face reality to view the decision of Conference to prioritise Motion 63 for debate as anything other than a vote of no confidence in the current conduct of the Labour Link – those who supported the NEC amendment did not do so by and large because they believe that we are getting what we should out of our relationship with the Labour Party.

There are structural problems (such as the method of election of our Regional Labour Link Committee, which was undemocratic when the Committee was on the left and remains undemocratic now that it is not). The most important problem though is political not structural.

Nominating Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership was craven stupidity. We have achieved precisely nothing as a result. Those who promoted this decision are notably silent at the moment, which is the most sense they have made politically for some time.

Rank and file UNISON members do not have to remain silent about the Union’s political work however. The review of our political funds which Conference has decided must now take place will be an opportunity for us to reconsider our approach to political campaigning.

Since branches, Regions et al will be involved in this review it is entirely sensible to start putting motions now to branch meetings and Regional Councils with proposals for how to participate in this review when, as it has been instructed to, the NEC sets out to involve other parts of the Union in the review.

If any of the supporters of Gordon Brown on the National Labour Link Committee would like to debate the way forward, you know where to find me comrades.

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