Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lord Sainsbury to fund new political organisation? - Egress to replace Progress

‎I'm not sure that any of what follows is true and urge caution to all readers.

Sources close to right-wing Blairite group "Progress" have allegedly revealed that their funder, Lord Sainsbury, will be funding a new organisation ("Egress") intended to capture and develop their brilliance.

The plutocrat, who has given essential financial backing to Progess in order to develop the labour movement careers of those who believe that privatisation is the future for public services,‎ is reportedly concerned that those who have followed his lead may have no future if the country faces a clear choice between Cameron's festival of reaction on the one hand and Corbyn's honest democratic socialism on the other.

Sainsbury has therefore, it is alleged, funded "Egress" as the successor organisation to "Progress" in order to recognise his personal responsibility to those who followed his lead in the failed attempt to win the Labour Party to support austerity.

"Egress" will facilitate the exit from the labour movement of those who believe that the public sector should be shrunk and that the private sector offers a dynamic option for the delivery of public services, now that it is clear that their ideas have been defeated and that they have no future in politics.

Although Lord Sainsbury is wealthy, he is not omnipotent and cannot therefore offer the Progress-supporters in the Labour Party all the power and influence for which they would have hoped.

However, having a decent sized family firm, he is in a position to make realistic offers of future employment to those who no longer have a future in the labour movement or Labour Party.

"Egress" will reportedly be able, therefore, to offer the following options to those who mistakenly thought there was a career in winning the Labour Party to the neoliberal orthodoxy;

(1) MPs who have nominated Liz Kendal will be offered a management position in a large supermarket;
(2) Labour Councillors who have been Cabinet Members committed to balancing the budget at all costs will be offered the position of head of department in a large supermarket, or senior management responsibility in a "local" shop;
(3) Rank and file supporters of Progress will be offered a thousand extra points on their Nectar card.

It is understood that Blairites are now divided between those who want to welcome "Egress" and those who believe that a true understanding of New Labour economics leads only to support for discounters (who may become known as "Lidl bit New" Labour).

I can't vouch for the truthfulness of any of the above.

But then Progress have never been transparent about anything they have done before, so who knows?

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Labour Right - not purging but drowning?

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/08/labour-purging-supporters-jeremy-corbyn

I'm inclined to accept the analysis in the New Statesman above, and to accept that the so-called "#LabourPurge" is neither intended nor likely to alter the outcome of the leadership election at a national level (albeit some individual disqualifications of particular would-be supporters arise from the initiative of local activists who would wish that it might do both).

Those of us who want to see a Corbyn victory - and beyond that a thorough transformation of the Labour Party into an effective voice for working people - should be careful about lending further credence to criticisms of the electoral system which we hope will deliver that victory.

As a Labour Party member in Brighton I know many good socialists, who share the true Labour values of Jeremy Corbyn, but who have supported the Greens locally (and in Brighton Pavilion) in recent years. Such has been the bad blood between Green and Labour activists in the town that it is hardly surprising if local Labour activists have highlighted high profile local Greens registering as Labour supporters (whose registrations will not then have been accepted).

As a trade unionist in Lambeth (where, if Liz Kendall's rightly doomed campaign still had a beating heart it might quite likely be located) I know many good socialists who also share the true Labour values of Jeremy Corbyn, many of whom have (mistakenly in my view) supported foolish electoral challenges to Labour from the left. Again, it is not surprising if local Labour Party members have highlighted applications to register as supporters from those supporting candidates against Labour candidates in the recent past.

In each locality, and wherever good comrades are denied a voice, this injustice will understandably be provoking anger. I am angry at some of the cases of which I have heard.

I don't think any of this is right (though as a lifelong Labour leftwinger I never supported the introduction of the category of "registered supporters" nor the new Collins-inspired election rules which, at a stroke, have disenfranchised millions of trade unionists). However, the electoral system we are stuck with was agreed properly and constitutionally at last year's Special Conference, and what the Party is doing is operating th‎at agreed system.

In order to get beyond the injustice of selective disqualification of registered supporters we need a positive transformation of the Labour Party, of which the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader is the next crucial step. Then we can build a Party into which left wingers disillusioned over the long years of right wing hegemony can be welcomed, not just as supporters‎ but as members of a Party which we will democratise from top to bottom.
Comrades who have been disqualified should inform the Corbyn campaign and then find out how they can help the campaign reach and persuaded the thousands in the electorate who have yet to vote. The more fuss is made now about a "purge" the more we fashion yet another stick with which opponents can try to beat the Leader we are electing.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Labour's future is our collective responsibility

http://www.leftfutures.org/2015/08/what-will-bring-unity-to-labour-is-not-the-right-leader-but-the-strength-of-its-democracy/#more-44114

I've voted for Corbyn (and I hope you have too). 

The online fuss about a "purge" may indicate that over zealous party loyalists will shave a few hundred votes from the total cast‎ for the socialist candidate - as the media contribute "guilt by association" stories which try to tar Jeremy Corbyn with utterly implausible charges in the hope that some mud will stick.

No one knows what the result of the leadership election will be - but it is clearly more than possible that the left will win. More than that, we have already seen that the Labour Left is a sizeable and vibrant force.

Now, as Jon Lansman makes clear in the link at the head of this blog post, we need to understand that changing the Labour Party begins rather than ends with this leadership election.

Jeremy Corbyn's election as Party Leader will not, of itself, change a single policy of our Party any more than his defeat would, of itself, rule out a progressive change. Obviously the result may well make a difference to how people vote at Conference or in the National Policy Forum, but it is there that votes will have to be cast.

One of the less well-informed calls I have read this week was the call from Dave Nellist (in the context of a kind offer that TUSC might bring its legions back into the fold) for Corbyn, if elected, to decree that Labour Councils stop making cuts. This is quite beyond the power of the Party Leader (and which socialist would want to be a member of a Party of which it was not?)

A Leader prepared to support rather than denounce bold opposition to austerity can open up space in which such opposition might grow - but it is Party members and trade unionists in each locality who need to nurture such growth (and history shows that local resistance can take place in spite of denunciation from on high).

What we need to do is engage energetically with the Party's democratic structures in terms of policy-making and candidate selection. That first person plural applies to all of us who are enthusiastic supporters of Corbyn's leadership bid.‎ It is much wider than the venerable and worthy organisations extant on the Labour Left - but it does need to find some collective, democratic expression (soon).

If we want to transform the Labour Party we cannot leave this to one man.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Everything has changed

‎I've not blogged much in the last few days because I don't know where the combination of optimism and anger will take me - and in recent years I've been taken to task for calling strike breakers by their given name and for being honest in public about how I felt about the death of a former Prime Minister who hated and despised everything I hold dear.

But today.

Today the press reports that this Government wants mothers seeking tax credits for a third child to prove to officials that they were raped.

‎Today that same Government was exposed for inventing fake benefit claimants with fake quotes to justify their antediluvian benefit "reforms".

And today the two leading "mainstream" candidates to lead the Party into which I was born can do nothing other than squabble about which of them can defeat the socialist candidate for whom I am incredibly proud to have voted.

Now is a time to be angrier than I have ever been, than you - if you care for humans - have ever been. This Tory Government is intent upon undoing every little bit of good we have done in the past century (and more) whilst magnifying all the harm.

Now is also a time for greater optimism than we have ever known. Jeremy Corbyn is on the brink of achieving more than Tony Benn hoped and failed to achieve in 1981, more than the forever disempowered Labour Left has ever imagined we might achieve.

No rule of political or trade union life which any of us has learned applies any longer. ‎The certainties of those accustomed to power are as solid as mist. The firm cynicism of those who know exactly how and by whom we shall be betrayed is a soft as a marshmallow. 

All we can be sure of is which side we are on.

As workers.

As trade unionists.

As socialists.

Our enemy are the Tories.

Our leader is Jeremy Corbyn.

We are angry and optimistic in equal measure.

And everything is changed.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tony Who?

Tony Blair has had the unique privilege of writing his own political obituary.

Such is his desperation to prevent the inexorable progress of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign that he seeks to deploy the authority he believes he still has (even if, as he puts it, “we hate him”).

Tony!
We no longer hate you.
We don’t even pity you.
We don’t think about you any more.

When you, as Prime Minister, pressed ahead with unjustifiable tuition fees, introduced foundation hospitals to bring privatisation to our NHS and – above all – led us into an unjust war, then we noticed you and disapproved of you.


Since you ceased to be Prime Minister you have shown your true colours as a money-grubbing, attention-seeking wannabe celebrity. It is you yourself who has diminished the legacy you might have had by taking payments without any sense of propriety.

Our neoliberal Ozymandis just doesn't get it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A complacency we’ve seen before?

https://www.unison.org.uk/news/general-secretary-blog/2015/08/docas-attack/

At the first meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) after the General Election the Committee considered a report on what the Tories were likely to do, based upon what was in their election manifesto.

Foreseeing that the new Government would move against the rational, economical and efficient method whereby members pay their union subscriptions from their wages or salaries (Deduction of Contributions at Source - DOCAS) the Committee unanimously agreed a plan to start moving members to paying by Direct Debit.

This was never a decision to give up on fighting against such an attack (a question which - on the UNISON NEC - is the province of a separate Policy Committee). It was about preparing prudently to protect our organisation from a well advertised attack.

That decision has not been revoked - and indeed the National Delegate Conference agreed an Emergency Composite Motion dealing with both our policy of opposition to such a change and with the need to prepare for the eventuality we hope to avoid.

However, there have been those who have done their best to spread complacency about the likelihood of this attack and the severity of its consequences. The link above shows that, even now we know that the Government aim to legislate away our freedom to agree with our employers how we collect our subscription income within a matter of weeks, the voice of complacency is not silent yet.

It's not true that we have "seen off" attacks on DOCAS in the past. They have cost us members in the 80s and the 90s - and our "success" in persuading Danny Alexander ‎not to go along with this attack under the last Government hasn't prevented our members in what's left of the Probation Service having the deduction of their union subscriptions stopped at the end of this month.

If that is how we "see off" attacks I would hate to see what it looks like when we succumb to them.

Branch activists need to crack on with identifying those members paying by DOCAS and making plans to switch them to Direct Debit. Let us try to stop this attack, including by gathering in our thousands in Manchester on 4 October - but don't let's risk our Union by listening to the voice of complacency.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Not a nice guy, never been a good MP, certainly not making the weather...

http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog/2015/08/10/nice-guy-good-mp-making-the-weather-but-it-has-to-be-abc-anyone-but-corbyn-labour-is-finished-if-he-wins/

I'm a little surprised that Alastair Campbell (best known as the inspiration for the funniest political satire of recent years) still troubles the world with his opinions. I understand he used to work for a Mr Blair, who had a large majority fall into his lap, lacked the wit or courage to do enough with it and then dragged us into a murderous illegal war.
Campbell's desperate attempt to oppose UNISON's preferred candidate for Leader of the Labour Party tells us that its author is arrogant‎ enough to think his views of significance - but it doesn't tell us much else really.

‎He goes on a bit. He speaks up for the positive achievements of New Labour (which aren't negligible, just less than John Smith would have achieved) and he reminds readers of the names of some half-forgotten bogeymen of the 1980s left.

So far so mundane.

He goes on a bit more. He says Corbyn is too left wing and that he has lots of experience and knows that Corbyn can never win a General Election.

And...

That's it.

If this is what passed for intellect when Blair was in Government the New Labour Emperors really always were stark naked.

Alastair Campbell, like Alan Johnson and all the other "Party grandees" who are frantically trying to warn people off the candidate who has momentum because he is advancing arguments and actually believes in something, is applying his knowledge and experience of the politics of the past.

He does it lazily, without really bothering to analyse or persuade - but that's not why he's missing the point (as they all are). 

Corbyn's campaign has tapped the desire for an alternative, the desire for hope, which can find no other expression in the political mainstream. ‎There is no relevant precedent for current circumstances, so all the world weary cynicism of even the most experienced hack counts for very little in understanding what's going on or what might happen next.

If the pundits who now tell us Corbyn could never win a General Election are the same people who utterly failed to foresee his current popularity (as they failed to foresee the Tory majority in 2015, or the economic crash of 2008) why should we listen to them?

The Guardian (which seems to be the centre of anti-Corbyn propaganda for now) thinks Mr Campbell's views are worth reporting, but I think Malcolm Tucker's views would be far more interesting.

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Friday, August 07, 2015

How the exit payment cap will hit career public servants a long way from senior management...

Yesterday, I congratulated a colleague for highlighting the Government’s consultation on the “exit payment cap”. This has been presented as being about limiting excessive severance payments to public sector “fat cats” – with a ceiling on payments of £95,000.

However, because the “cap” will include the “capital cost” of allowing unreduced pensions to workers made redundant above the age of 55 (which is a statutory right for those of us in the Local Government Pension Scheme(LGPS)) it will be forced upon many more workers than just the most senior managers.

The last Government promised that the 2011 settlement would last for 25 years, but now, four years later they propose to force through a significant change in the LGPS – which will hit people who are not receiving excessive payments when forced into redundancy.

To give a rough idea of how this “cap” can hit people on middle incomes if they have long service it is possible to calculate early retirement costs using a document from the Warwickshire Pension Fund available online. This includes a ready reckoner which is only intended to be used for the employers in that fund, but it serves to illustrate the point that this “cap” fits people we wouldn’t normally think of as fat cats.

Example One
Someone made redundant at 55 on 1 April 2016 with thirty years service, earning £40,000 and receiving a redundancy payment based upon the statutory calculation (but at the rate of an actual week’s pay) as well as pay in lieu of notice would cost the employer the following;
Early retirement cost = £78,800
Redundancy = £20,700
Pay in lieu = £9,200
Total cost = £108,700 exceeding the cap by £13,700
A 55 year old with thirty years service would need to be earning less than £35,000 before they escaped from the cap on this basis. Those local authorities paying more generous redundancy packages would find the cap fitting at a far lower salary.

Example Two
Someone made redundant at 56 on 1 April 2016 with forty years service, earning £35,000 and receiving a redundancy payment based upon the statutory calculation (but at the rate of an actual week’s pay) as well as pay in lieu of notice would cost the employer the following;
Early retirement cost = £74,200
Redundancy = £18,400
Pay in lieu = £8,050
Total cost = £100,650 exceeding the cap by £5,650

These examples are both relatively well paid workers compared to the national average, but they are hardly wealthy. The first example corresponds to someone who has spent a career in local government since leaving college and has worked their way up to a senior professional or middle management role. The second example corresponds to someone who has spent a career in local government since leaving school and has worked their way to a professional role.

These are the career public servants who have worked for decades knowing that they would at least get an unreduced pension if made redundant at the appropriate age.

They have seen this age go up from 50 to 55. They have seen the disappearance of the “added years" previously given to workers receiving their pension on redundancy.

Now they face the Government imposing a “cap” which – if it comes in as planned – will mean that they will not be entitled, if made redundant, to payments which are, at present, their statutory or contractual entitlements.

A further consideration is that, within the LGPS, because different employers are paying different contribution rates, the "early retirement cost" of "pension strain" for employees with the same salary, age and service will differ from one Council to another (which will mean that the "cap" will apply differently in different areas in what some local government officers are already describing as a "postcode lottery").

UNISON must alert the many members who will be threatened by this change so that they can respond to the consultation and lobby Members of Parliament. We also need to ensure that employers understand how this “cap” will impact upon them – many workers who might accept redundancy with an unreduced pension will resist redundancy when the cap is imposed.

Whilst your humble blogger should declare an interest (in the sense that I am a career public servant in my fifties) I can reassure regular readers of this blog at the UNISON Centre (Sid and Doris Euston-Towers) that I don't intend to retire any time soon...


Thursday, August 06, 2015

UNISON General Secretary Election - A New Hope

http://www.unisonmanchester.org/national-news/unison-general-secretary-election-tuc-demonstration-in-manchester

I am pleased once more to find myself in agreement with the officers of UNISON's Manchester Branch - this time about who to recommend to members that we nominate in the election for UNISON General Secretary.

John Burgess, Barnet Branch Secretary, leader of strike action, successful litigation and some of the most sustained and imaginative campaigning against privatisation I have ever seen, has shown characteristic courage and determination by putting himself forward.

John's campaign will be positive, progressive and good for UNISON. We cannot know the outcome of the election - but we do know that the Corbyn campaign has rewritten the rules for labour movement elections and so John will, I am sure, fight to win - and to lead the whole Union. ‎

When I blogged at the weekend about the UNISON General Secretary election I mentioned four declared candidates. ‎ Of those four, one -Karen Reissmann - has withdrawn in order to support John. I believe this decision was wise and demonstrated a willingness to put unity first in the search for necessary change in our Union.

A fifth candidate, Southampton Branch Secretary, Hayley Garner, has also thrown her hat into the ring, alongside incumbent Dave Prentis, national officer Heather Wakefield and perennial challenger Roger Bannister.‎ Other candidates could emerge - since nominations will not open until September (with the result of the election being declared a week before Christmas).

Since my colleagues on the National Executive Council (NEC) did not agree (as is permitted by law and UNISON Rules) to use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) so that we could have a system of preferential voting (as in the Labour leadership election) - this election will be fought by "first past the post." Without doubt this is of benefit to the incumbent if three or more candidates appear on the eventual ballot paper.

For now, the race is on to secure nominations from branches in particular (since the 25 branch hurdle is the one most likely to be reached by challengers). All candidates - and their supporters - can help to make this election the positive, challenging experience that UNISON requires by focusing on the policies and organising activity which we need to face the unprecedented attacks of the Tory Government.

The breadth of support for John Burgess already shows that there is an appetite for change in UNISON. I believe that John is the hope we have been waiting for.

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Burgess blows the whistle on Tory sneak attack upon our pension rights



UNISON General Secretary candidate, John Burgess (Secretary of the Barnet branch) is highlighting the Government’s attack on the pension rights of redundant fiftysomething public sector workers, which they are smuggling through in a rushed consultation on limiting pay offs (or “exit payments”).

This is a very serious attack upon older workers with long service in pension funds – as John puts it “if we don’t stop this then longer serving local government workers in their mid to late 50s will not be able to get an unreduced pension if they are made redundant in spite of the LGPS Regulations.”

This is a serious issue for all public service workers – including the costs of permitting unreduced pensions within an overall cap on compensation amounts to an unanticipated and unannounced attack upon rights which thousands of workers believed that they had been building up for years.

Of course we would sooner that there were no redundancies and therefore no need for redundancy compensation – but under cover of a hue and cry about “excessive pay offs” the Tories are, as John says, sneaking through a serious assault upon UNISON members’ rights – and UNISON must now lead the opposition to this attack.

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will realise that I have abandoned my previous position of “armed neutrality” in respect of the forthcoming election for UNISON General Secretary (about which more later no doubt).

I don't want to say I told you so...

The Guardian is reporting the Government's announcement that public sector workers are to lose our right to have union fees deducted from our wages‎ (a change to be made, it would appear, by way of an amendment to the already published Trade Union Bill);

http://gu.com/p/4ba6z

I truly wish I wasn't, so soon, in a position to say "I told you so" to the complacent consensus which crushed Lambeth's Emergency Motion One at June's Local Government Conference. My self-regard, and that of the Lambeth branch, is sufficiently robust that we could happily have withstood another year or two of isolation and ridicule if it meant that the Government didn't move to eliminate DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at Source).

However, we won't have the opportunity to have that enjoyment. The Government is moving swiftly, as foreseen by the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee in May (and subsequently downplayed or denied by officers and activists throughout the Union).

We must and will oppose this legislation. We need a massive presence on the streets (not only at the Tory Conference in October). We need online campaigning. We need vigorous Parliamentary opposition.‎ We need lobbying from employers who never asked for this ideologically motivated assault upon sane employee relations.

Jeremy Corbyn's campaign teaches, more than anything, that nothing is impossible‎ - and so we must fight to defeat the Trade Union Bill.

However, it would be irresponsible beyond belief not now to make the immediate preparations to sustain our organisation for which Lambeth called unsuccessfully at Local Government Conference - stepping up the pace of action to implement the action points of the Emergency Composite which was passed at National Delegate Conference.

If we leave these preparations until after we have finished campaigning to stop the Bill we will compound the damage the Bill will do us if it passes (whereas should we succeed we will be in a fine position to reassess).

From this point forward all new recruitment should be based upon members paying subscriptions by direct debit. This creates massive financial and administrative (and - most importantly - organisational) challenges for branches, Regions and the UNISON Centre. We simply have no choice but to meet these challenges.

‎I won't say more at this stage.

Just one last thing.

I - and others - told you so.

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

The implications of UNISON's support for Jeremy Corbyn for the General Secretary election

Socialist comrades have expressed as much shock as pleasure at the news that UNISON gave our supporting nomination in the Labour leadership contest to Jeremy Corbyn. (Even though some reported this without comment...)

I really should have believed the well placed source who assured me of the likelihood of this outcome and – with the benefit of hindsight – it can be seen that the rushed last minute consultation with members who contribute to the Affiliated Political Fund (APF) was a device to justify the unavoidable decision both externally and internally (for whilst our General Secretary has always demonstrated a commendably deft dexterity in arriving at a pragmatic position some of his supporters will have had to practice unprecedented gymnastics to arrive at a position where they are comfortable supporting an unashamed candidate of the left).

How did this position become unavoidable? The whole of the answer is the growing groundswell of rank and file support for Corbyn’s campaign. In part this was channelled by activists within UNISON (and this was not unimportant), but such is the political earthquake unleashed by Jeremy Corbyn that our General Secretary, and those around him, concluded a little while ago that his personal support for Corbyn, as expressed on Channel 4 News, was a prerequisite for his re-election.

The most credible rank and file candidates likely to oppose Dave Prentis (in the sense that he is the candidate with by far the best electoral record) is UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) (and Socialist Party) member Roger Bannister. Roger has come second to Dave Prentis in three previous General Secretary elections, on each occasion pushing another “left” candidate into third place (your humble blogger having been one such bronze medallist). Roger presumably believes that the anti-Labour position which clarified his differences with the UNISON machine in the New Labour epoch will provide a similar electoral advantage in 2015, but (after the Corbyn phenomenon) this seems very unlikely.

As thousands of workers flock to join Labour in order to vote for a socialist candidate to lead the Party, the Socialist Party view that the Labour Party is simply another “bourgeois party” (like the Tories) looks increasingly absurd – and it will hardly help Roger as a candidate for UNISON General Secretary that he will be able to boast of his abstention from the Corbyn campaign.

Something similar could be said (albeit with less force) for the other potential rank and file challenger, UNISON NEC (and Socialist Workers Party) member Karen Reissmann. Karen is less hostile to the Labour Party than Roger, but her organisation exists in order to try (and fail) to replace the Labour Party – and she is denial about the damage that will be done to her candidacy by her personal role in the grotesque mismanagement of rape allegations by her political organisation, the fall out from which has left “UNISON United Left” boasting a website which, in August 2015 has not been updated since last November.

It is likely that our General Secretary, and his supporters, were in a position to foresee the fourth declared candidacy (so far) in the coming election – that of Heather Wakefield, UNISON national officer. Whilst Heather will doubtless stand “to the left” of the incumbent General Secretary her appeal on the rank and file left is seriously mitigated (to put it gently) by her central role in delivering an unsatisfactory compromise over the Local Government Pension Scheme in 2012 and in failing to deliver a worthwhile local government pay campaign in 2014.

Had Heather been able to differentiate herself from Dave Prentis by her support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign this might have been a significant vote winner for her. She cannot. She will still win support from those who want to see a woman General Secretary, and has a base of support in the official UNISON structures, but will struggle to present herself as a “left” alternative to the status quo. She may have missed her moment.

Without doubt, UNISON’s support – and that of our General Secretary – for Jeremy Corbyn are factors which make the re-election of the incumbent in our own election more likely (an outcome which will postpone the necessary debate about UNISON's future).

This blog retains a position of “armed neutrality” on the General Secretary election, since what our Union needs is plainly both change from the inadequate approach of the past five years (as personified by both Prentis and Wakefield) and a candidate who can capture and express the energy and enthusiasm of the Corbyn campaign (as neither Bannister nor Reissmann can). For now, I respect and admire (in different ways) all four declared candidates – and will endeavour to offend all of them without fear or favour.


I shall hope for a fifth candidate.