Thursday, October 22, 2015

Prentis wins a victory over the Returning Officer. Or does he?

Doughty battler for the rights of UNISON members, Dave Prentis, has won a personal victory with some new guidance for the current UNISON General Secretary election issued yesterday by the Returning Officer.

Dave disagreed with the cautious interpretation of the election procedures which I had been given by the Returning Officer last week. He maintained that in previous elections branches had been able to tell members not only whom they had nominated but also why.

Now, in a somewhat barbed circular, the Returning Officer has conceded that there is evidence of inconsistent practice, concluding that it would appear that the current election procedure does “not provide sufficient detail to enable nominating bodies to be ‘clearly aware of their responsibilities’.”

Noting that there is no possibility of the National Executive Council being recalled to provide retrospective clarification, the Returning Officer has now advised the Union “to issue guidance that enables the nominating bodies to ‘tell their members about the nominations’ without restricting them to only stating the name of their nominated candidate. We would advise that this information for members issued by a nominating body should be limited to 100 words and should not include campaigning links to social media or candidate’s election websites.”

Having made a promise to a new reader of this blog over the weekend, I hereby congratulate Dave on securing this new and more liberal interpretation of the election procedures. As the candidate with the most branch nominations, our incumbent General Secretary will be pleased with this outcome.


The real advantage is almost certainly to challenger candidates who don’t have their photo seven times on the first nine pages of this month’s UNISON Focus (up from four last month), nor their own column, nor their name as the first word of the first headline. 

An incumbent General Secretary seeking re-election can (quite legitimately) promote himself daily simply by doing his job. He doesn’t need the 100 words which branches can now use to explain why they nominated him. 

Other candidates who don’t benefit from such serendipitous coverage in the official publications of our trade union stand to gain more from the ability of branches to explain to members the reason for their nomination.

In any event, whilst the current General Secretary has amassed more nominations than the combined total for his challengers the application of some historical perspective is instructive. 

Last time round Dave was nominated by 371 branches, 11 regional councils, 7 Service Group Executives and the National Executive Council. This time Dave has no more than 230 branch nominations (18 of which may be ruled out) 8 Regional Councils and 5 Service Group Executives. 

The 40% fall in branch nominations is most striking, but to those with inside knowledge of our union the fact that an incumbent General Secretary cannot secure nominations from some of our Regional Councils and Service Groups upon which he could previously rely speaks volumes about the growing realisation of the need for change.

I’ll have to go now as I have to compose 100 words in support of the change candidate John Burgess.

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