Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Not a pantomime...

I was roundly condemned by at least one fellow member of UNISON's esteemed National Executive Council (NEC) this morning for having referred to the fact that our unprecedented special meeting this morning took place towards the tail end of the pantomime season.

This inoffensive remark which was factually accurate was misread as an insult to NEC members, many of whom responded completely spontaneously to the officially unanticipated announcement by General Secretary, Dave Prentis, that whilst he would have been legally entitled to remain in office until retirement without an election he would nevertheless stand down and seek re-election in order to "renew his mandate".

Dave had written to the President to this effect and his letter awaited us in the Conference chamber this morning.

So there was nothing melodramatic about that and any reference to pantomimes would be utterly unwarranted.

Only cynics wondered why, since Dave had always been determined upon this course of action, we could not have agreed a General Secretary election timetable back in October (as had been done in 2004 and 1999). I can only imagine that Dave had been trying to persuade other senior officers that there should be an election, as they argued against him.

Of course, had that decision not in fact already been taken when the special NEC was first convened two weeks ago then there would have been no reason to convene the special NEC, but I am sure that it would be wrong therefore to assume that the whole thing was contrived.

Indeed not. Many NEC members felt immediately driven to compete for superlatives with which to describe our General Secretary (and his passionate and unswerving commitment to our democracy).

Dave was brave. He was brilliant. Bob Oram from the North West Region went furthest when he said that he hoped that there would not need to be an election as we would all unite behind Dave. (I have a feeling that that approach to socialist politics - one party which gets 100% of the vote - was tried somewhere in the twentieth century and did not get on too well...)

Leading NEC member, Paul Holmes made an obvious and important point when Dave left the meeting (not disappearing in a puff of smoke as this was not a pantomime). Dave had told us first that he would graciously permit an election, then that he would be a candidate, and then which timetable he felt we ought to have for the election.

Paul wondered whether there might have been a conflict of interest in the leading candidate for election to a post recommending the timetable for that election (but in any case the candidate had in effect determined that timetable himself by the timing of his announcement of his intentions).

Paul was also first to respond when our President, Gerry Gallagher, suggested that anyone else who might be seeking nominations should withdraw from the discussion. As Paul said, NEC members had had no notice of the decision of our General Secretary, and no one could yet know whether they would be a candidate.

The NEC went on to agree, by an overwhelming majority, a timetable for the election of General Secretary which will see the polls close just before our National Delegate Conference and the result announced just after.

Now that we know that there will be an election, those of us who believe that UNISON has been rudderless for some time and has failed to achieve the potential of our excellent trade union have very little time to consider the question of what should be done to seize the democratic opportunity which has been presented to us in such a way as to so benefit the incumbent.

Having got into such trouble for the slightest reference to a pantomime this morning I shall refrain from any comment about the closing date for nominations in this hastily called election.

Which is 1 April.

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