A couple of months ago, from my comfortable position here on the sidelines of life in UNISON, I blogged about the fact that the National Executive Council (NEC) had the power to choose to use the Single Transferable Vote system in the (then forthcoming) election for General Secretary. I suggested that might be a good idea.
I had made the same argument during my fourteen year tenure on the UNISON NEC (more than once). I found not only that my arguments in that forum fell on stony ground, but that the Standing Orders Committee wouldn't allow the issue to be debated at Conference in 2016 (although it had not tried to prevent this some years before).
There are arguments both for and against a preferential voting system in a trade union election (as there are in relation to elections to the constituency section of the Labour Party NEC) – what disappointed me most over many years of activity on the UNISON NEC was the lack of enthusiasm for a debate about these arguments.
Whilst there have been a number of changes in the procedures for General Secretary elections over the years (some of which I have commented upon recently) one thing which has remained the same is the voting system, set out in paragraph 53 of the current procedure; "The method of electing the general secretary will be by a simple majority of those voting in the election."
This is the established voting system which has been used in every previous UNISON General Secretary election, and whilst I have long been a lonely voice advocating that we ought at least to consider changing the voting system, I certainly wouldn't expect a change to be made without notice or debate.
Equally well-established has been the method of determining the nominee of the National Executive Council in past General Secretary elections. NEC members have been invited to make nominations and then there has been a single round of voting to determine the winner.
I reported the detail of that voting five years ago as follows;
"Paul Gilroy from the Northern Region nominated John Burgess, Hugo Pierre nominated Roger Bannister, Debbie Potter nominated Dave Prentis, Tomasa Bullen nominated Hayley Garner. The voting was as follows;
Roger Bannister – 4
John Burgess – 16
Hayley Garner – 1
Dave Prentis – 32
Abstentions – 1"
Five years before that, I had reported the vote here as follows;
"The NEC meeting commenced with consideration of the General Secretary election. Vice-President Angela Lynes proposed that we nominate Dave Prentis, local government NEC member Glenn Kelly proposed that we nominate Roger Bannister and South East Region NEC member Mike Tucker proposed we nominate Paul Holmes. There were 38 votes for Dave, 5 (myself included) for Paul Holmes and 4 for Roger Bannister."
As you will see, in respect of the last two elections – as reported on this blog – the simple majority of those voting for the candidate who secured the NEC nomination in 2005 and 2010 was also an absolute majority. There was not, however, any question of the ballot being an exhaustive ballot, or any suggestion that – had no candidate received an absolute majority on the first ballot – that there would have been a further round of voting.
Indeed, since the NEC has resolutely refused even to open a discussion about UNISON members being allowed a preferential vote for General Secretary (as Labour Party members have for Party Leader) an informed observer would not imagine that the NEC would think that its own members should use a different system to decide their own nomination.
Word reaches your humble blogger that today's decision about the NEC nomination in the current General Executive election was decided in an exhaustive ballot, following a proposal made (and agreed by a majority) without prior notice.
I will blog again with more detail of the voting at the meeting soon (and would point out to current NEC members that, of all the many things I was threatened about, and subject to investigation over, during my years of UNISON activism, no one ever criticised me for publishing the detailed voting figures from the decisions on the NEC nominations in the 2015 and 2010 General Secretary elections which I have quoted above).
What I want to say now is that it is truly, truly remarkable that an NEC that refuses to permit a discussion about a change to preferential voting for UNISON's membership to elect its General Secretary should be prepared to abandon its own long-established practice for deciding its nomination in a General Secretary election at a moment's notice.
You might call it inconsistency.
You might call it hypocrisy.
Whatever you call it, this unprecedented development casts a cloud over the NEC's decision-making process and raises a question about the legitimacy of its nomination.