Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Standing with Corbyn, avoiding over-hasty comments...

Today has been a shocking day. Before most of us have had time even to read properly the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into antisemitism in the Labour Party, the Party has suspended our former Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, pending investigation into his reported response to the document.

CLPs have received guidance this morning urging us not respond to the report (for example on social media). This is clearly because the national Party is attempting to respond within (and, to a certain extent, to) a developing narrative that the report is “damning” and its publication “a day of shame” for the Party. At any event, I am writing here, not as an elected official of the Party, but in a purely personal capacity on my personal blog.


However, the guidance CLPs have received does not preclude motions being discussed within the Party, in a considered way, although it does argue that motions which seek to reject the conclusions of the report should be ruled out of order (because the NEC has accepted the conclusions in line with its powers and responsibilities under Rule). Therefore, Party members should indeed read the report for themselves and judge for themselves what the contents mean and how we should respond.


It is worth noting that, among other things, the report found as follows; “Our investigation found that the Labour Party breached the Equality Act 2010 by committing unlawful harassment through the acts of its agents in two of the complaints we investigated.” Whilst the report goes on to describe this as “the tip of the iceberg” it is also the case that, after many months of investigation, the number of such cases of unlawful harassment found were - two.


It would be inappropriate to suggest that this is the entirety of the criticism of the Party in the report of course. The report is also critical of political interference in the complaints process (by the Leader of the Opposition’s office (LOTO) “and others” which it found to be unlawful because this “created a lack of transparency and consistency in the complaints process and a serious risk of actual or perceived discriminatory treatment in particular complaints.” (Which is, of course, equally true, whether the interference is to try to get a case “dropped” or to urge swift action and a harsher sanction).


The report finds that “the Labour Party’s response to antisemitism complaints has been inconsistent, poor, and lacking in transparency” and that; “This is in direct contrast to the Party’s response to sexual harassment complaints”, (although not perhaps to how complaints generally are handled?) Arising from these inadequacies the report finds that “the current process does not ensure fair and transparent sanctioning of antisemitism complaints” and goes on to find an unlawful “failure to deliver adequate training to individuals responsible for handling antisemitism complaints.”


These are, taken together, serious criticisms which deserve to be taken seriously (and which the Party will have to take seriously as it is required to produce an action plan, in consultation with the EHRC, within six weeks). As a Labour Party member of more than forty years standing, I think it is important to try to have some sort of historical perspective though, particularly when a narrative is being pushed which seeks to assign “blame” to the previous Party Leader for circumstances which clearly go back long before his tenure.


My first experience of the Party’s formal internal processes was appearing – as a NALGO Branch official – as a witness for two of the Labour Councillors facing disciplinary action in Lambeth in the early 1990s. To have described the Party’s processes at the time as ramshackle would have been unduly kind, and it would appear that (perhaps with an exception in cases of sexual harassment) far too little has changed in the past thirty years.


The EHRC report makes some profound criticisms of how the Party has handled complaints relating to antisemitism in the recent past. It doesn’t – because that wasn’t its brief – tell us anything about whether such complaints would have been handled better in the more distant past (my experience leads me to suspect not). It also does not tell us anything about how well – or badly – the Party responds to other complaints of racism or of Islamophobia. Again, the report does not do that because that was not its brief or its terms of reference – but Party members seeking to respond constructively to the challenge of the report’s recommendations may well want to consider the issue of complaints of discrimination in the round.


One thing which has certainly changed in the – almost – thirty years since I was cross questioned by a hostile panel when offering character evidence for socialist comrades is the emergence of social media, which plays a central role in the current drama. The EHRC report notes that “social media was the source of most complaints of antisemitic behaviour: of the 70 complaints that we investigated, 59 concerned social media.”


There is no doubt that social media encourages the circulation of conspiracy theories (any of which can shade into antisemitism) as well as providing the opportunity for people to express opinions in haste and repent (or not) at leisure. If there is a lesson I would draw from today’s events it is that it is best not to express opinions too hastily, but I will break my own rule to say one thing.


Jeremy Corbyn is a fine socialist, a true comrade and an inspiration to millions. That was true yesterday, is true today and will be true tomorrow. I know that many thousands of socialists in the Labour Party will stand with Jeremy Corbyn today and tomorrow as we did yesterday.


As ever, John McDonnell hits the right note, calling upon Party members to keep calm whilst urging that Corbyn’s suspension is withdrawn.




Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Carpe Diem - vote Paul Holmes for UNISON General Secretary

 Having decided to cast my vote in the UNISON General Secretary election for Paul Holmes, I was pleased to speak alongside friends and comrades today at Paul’s election rally for retired UNISON members.

With four candidates on the ballot paper, at least three of whom are seriously trying - and hoping - to win - and with more branches nominating than five years ago (perhaps presaging an increase from the historically low turnout  in the last General Secretary election) there really is everything to play for.


I think that Paul Holmes offers the sort of radical change which UNISON requires if it is to achieve the potential that was recognised by those of us who voted the (then) new union into existence back in 1992. Alan Jinkinson (who was to become our first General Secretary) said at that time that UNISON would be a “member-led union” but - in spite of the amendment to Rule B.2.2 which wrote those words into our Rule Book at the first National Delegate Conference - that is something which has become less and less true over almost three decades.


I hope that - if you are a UNISON member reading this - you will vote for Paul and that you will do what you can (without misusing any UNISON resources of course) to encourage other members to do likewise.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The exit payment cap in local government - it gets worse

The long-awaited exit payment cap is now upon us, undoing the automatic right of local government workers made redundant above the age of 55 to an unreduced pension. Under cover of a hue and cry about large pay-offs to senior officers, the Government is implementing an attack upon the redundancy rights of very many local government workers).

 

By taking into account the "pension strain" cost of permitting unreduced pensions on early retirement by reason of redundancy, although this cost is not a payment to the employee, the exit payment cap impacts upon workers who are certainly not "fat cats".

 

I blogged for the first time about this attack here more than five years ago – the Tory Government ignored critical comments in consultation and introduced the Enterprise Bill into the House of Lords, where former UNISON President Rita Donaghy led the opposition in a failed attempt to prevent the law coming into force.

 

Having passed the primary legislation in 2015 the Government then intended to introduce regulations by 1 October 2016 and embarked upon further consultation on the detail. A significant number of senior local government employees over the age of 55 jumped to take redundancy in the summer and early autumn of that year, hoping to avoid the anticipated imposition of the cap.

 

Following the Referendum, the resignation of a Prime Minister, the 2017 General Election and – eventually, after another round of consultation starting last year – the resignation of another Prime Minister and the 2019 General Election, it was only this year that the Tories resurrected these proposals, as I observed back in February.

 

Now, the Regulations have been introduced – and will come into force on 4 November (although the deadline for the associated consultation on necessary related changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations is not until 9 November – creating what the Local Government Pension Scheme Advisory Board describe as a "predicament" for local government employers and LGPS administering authorities).

 

Last year's UNISON local government Conference committed the Union to campaign against the renewed threat of the exit payment cap – a commitment made more important by the detail of the proposals now being consulted upon, which – for local government workers – go further than the exit payment cap itself since statutory redundancy pay and any additional severance payment will be offset against the strain cost even if the strain payment and additional severance payment in total would be well under the £95,000 cap.

 

Those of us who retired ahead of this attack have – at least – a moral obligation to support the fight back against this latest attack upon public sector pensions.

 

 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election 2020 - who to vote for?

Unfortunately the offer made by the Socialist Party's candidate for UNISON General Secretary (which was welcomed on this blog) has not been taken up by the other candidates. It seems however that this offer was indeed made "for show" since Hugo Pierre is continuing his campaign in spite of his having made play of the need to reduce the number of challengers to the leading – continuity – candidate.

 

The Socialist Party will throw such resources as they have left at trying to maximise Hugo's vote, not because they believe that there is the slightest chance that he can win this election – but because the leadership of the Party need to demonstrate to its remaining membership that it still a force to be reckoned with in the trade unions. This will do some damage to the prospects of each of the other candidates advocating change, and probably particularly to the campaign of Paul Holmes, endorsed by the steering committee of UNISON Action Broad Left following a hustings meeting at which he and Hugo had both spoken.

 

Those of us who see the need for change in UNISON and have concluded that Christina McAnea is the continuity candidate in this election – based, in part, upon an assessment of what she is promising members in her manifesto – now have to decide which candidate to support. There are – regrettably - two serious candidates of the left in this election, Roger McKenzie and Paul Holmes. I have commented elsewhere about why this is. Given these circumstances, and given that the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) has insisted that members must – again – vote on a "first past the post" basis even though they allowed themselves a preferential voting system for their own nomination – we individual members can only vote for one candidate and therefore have to choose.

 

Roger McKenzie buoyed by endorsements from – among othersJeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, and having spent ten years travelling the country speaking with UNISON members, is standing on a platform of building an organising union (which clearly differentiates him from his fellow Assistant General Secretary). Having worked with Roger for a number of years on the UNISON NEC's Development and Organisation Committee (and having been as closely involved as anyone in the events surrounding the complaints about the last General Secretary election) I do not doubt Roger's credentials as a candidate of the left.

 

Paul Holmes has achieved a tally of nominations unprecedented for a rank and file candidate in any previous election (including over 100 branches, two Regions and the Union's largest Service Group) – this reflects his enjoying a greater breadth of support than any previous lay member challenger (as well as support from the MP with the strongest record of support for rank and file trade unionists over the years). Having served with Paul on the UNISON NEC for many years (and having supported him last time he was a candidate for General Secretary) I do not doubt Paul's credentials as a candidate for General Secretary.

 

It is – for this voter – a difficult decision between these two candidates, each of whom has emerged from the nominations stage equally well – or badly – placed to take on the frontrunner, but, in the end, I am certain in my decision to cast my vote for the candidate of UNISON Action Broad Left, Paul Holmes. A marginal consideration is that General Secretary Holmes would be in a position to work with Assistant General Secretary McKenzie (and, for that matter, Assistant General Secretary McAnea).




 

The decisive factor, though, is that Paul is standing as a candidate from – and committed to building – rank and file organisation within our Union. Alone among the candidates in this election, Paul Holmes both emerges from, and will (whatever the result) continue to promote the development of, the democratic organisation of UNISON activists independently of the Union machine – an objective to which this blogger has always been committed in principle (if sometimes my own practice may have been unhelpful) .

Monday, October 05, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - a steady pair of hands?


Apparently it is - in the opinion of the frontrunner to succeed Dave Prentis as General Secretary of UNISON (expressed in an interview with the "Left Foot Forward" Blog) - both patronising and misogynistic to characterise her as the "continuity" candidate in the current UNISON General Secretary election.

 

Regular readers of this blog - Sid and Doris Blogger - will realise that your humble blogger has been accused of various misdeeds over a lengthy and chequered career as a lay UNISON activist. It would appear that "patronising misogynist" should now be added to the charge sheet.

 

In my defence (and I don't think that I am the only one who faces this charge) I would make only a couple of points.

 

First, I judge Christina McAnea to be the continuity candidate because, from the outset, she has been supported by the bulk of UNISON's ruling faction - the faction that (aside from a brief period when it emerged blinking into the sunlight and went by the name "Stronger UNISON" – later to be submerged into a Facebook Page "UNISON Unity") does not generally admit that it exists, but which - for all my time on the National Executive Council (NEC) - included a majority of that august body. 

 

I don't claim that this is the only support for the frontrunner candidate. Christina McAnea has solid support in Scotland - a UNISON Region which had drifted away from the ruling faction as it had led our union into the doldrums over recent years, and Roger McKenzie has peeled away some of those who supported "Team Dave" in the previous General Secretary election.

 

However, from the perspective of someone with years of experience dealing with UNISON's ruling faction, this blogger concludes that a candidate backed by the bulk of those who have been calling the shots in the Union for years would find it difficult to lead radical change even were she to commit to that objective.

 

Which observation leads to my second line of defence, and the second reason why I consider it reasonable to describe Christina McAnea as the "continuity candidate" in the General Secretary election. This is because her manifesto does not (at least not on this blogger's reading of the document) commit to radical change.

 

It seems – to this (literally) superannuated old leftist at least – not unreasonable to characterise a candidate coming from within the mainstream of the current leadership of a trade union, and promising improvements which do not reverse the Union's direction of travel in any significant ways (whilst avoiding criticism of the incumbent whom she wishes to replace) as a "continuity candidate" – in particular when the candidate says (of herself) "I am a steady pair of hands."

 

If, which would have been unlikely, this blogger had been approached for advice by the McAnea campaign, I think I would probably have said – if you don't want to be described as a "continuity candidate" don't go round describing yourself as a "steady pair of hands." (But that's probably just my patronising misogyny showing…)

 

As to what this "steady pair of hands" would do if elected General Secretary, it appears – from the interview with "Left Foot Forward" – that they would wave goodbye to longer serving activists, described as "gatekeepers' who don't move over – people will proudly tell you they've been a branch secretary for 30 years".

 

This is hardly an original observation, and when asked; "Would you ask them to step aside?" McAnea's response, expressed in the first-person plural is; "We'd ask: could you mentor someone? Could we work with you to find someone to come forward and be an activist?" (I should add that I don't think that this use of the first-person plural is indicative of any aspirations to monarchy – I think it illustrates the way in which the mainstream leadership of the Union look at the organisation "we" means "those of us in the full-time employment of the organisation" although it sometimes extends to certain members of the NEC).

 

As someone who served as a Branch Secretary for twenty-five years, twice standing down and being dragged back before escaping at my third attempt, and also as an activist observing our trade union over a long period, I think the problem of long-serving activists getting "stuck" in particular roles is really rather more a symptom than a cause of the decline in activism. How things appear from the perspective of UNISON HQ is not necessarily how they are on the ground.

 

More worrying for those concerned for the future of UNISON is the observation, from the frontrunning candidate for General Secretary that "relatively small political organisations seem to have a lot of influence in Unison – don't know whether that puts some people off?"

 

When asked "Do you mean the Socialist Party?" Christina McAnea elaborated "The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers' Party – people are entitled to be in whatever party they want, I'm glad they want to get involved and take on difficult jobs – that's great. But you do wonder if that focus may put off other people who aren't as politically active. In the grand scheme of things, I'm sure it's one issue among many."

 

That there is more than a morsel of equivocation in that answer is hardly surprising from a candidate who proudly acknowledges membership of the Communist Party in her youth, but the very fact that a candidate for General Secretary chooses to raise the marginal issue of "small political organisations" in such an interview without having been asked is illuminating.

 

The agenda of hostility to union activists who are members of far-left political organisations is very much the agenda of the faction previously known as "Stronger UNISON" (driven by fear of losing seats on the NEC to candidates from the left). The spontaneous expression of this hostility – however hedged about with qualifications – is more than a dog-whistle to those supporters. We can all hear it.

 

Ironically, the weight of the parties of the far-left within UNISON's left has been declining just as the left has been advancing in recent years. Only a relatively small minority of those voting for Paul Holmes rather than Christina McAnea at the NEC last month were members of either the SP or the SWP. As with the presence of very long serving activists "stuck" in roles for decades, the high profile of small organisations is a symptom rather than a cause of declining activism in our trade union. Again, how things appear from the perspective of UNISON HQ is not necessarily how they are on the ground.

 

However, it is difficult to read these words from our would-be General Secretary and not read them as a green light for those who would like to resume the political hostilities against the far left in our trade union which have been, intermittently, a most regrettable and counterproductive feature of UNISON life since Vesting Day.

 

On each occasion that UNISON officials have begun to try to use administrative means to limit the influence of the far left in our trade union (whether through the suspension of the Birmingham and Sheffield branches, following concern about donations to the SWP in the 1990s or the attacks on Tony Staunton, Yunus Bakhsh and four Socialist Party activists in 2006/7) the political witch hunt has subsequently careered out of control, dragging down other socialist trade union activists who were deemed critical or troublesome before eventually spiralling into insignificance.

 

The problem of UNISON having insufficient activists, and of those activists not adequately representing the diversity of our membership is not a problem of the activists we do have (nor of their age, length of service or politics) – it is a problem of the activists we don't have because we have failed to recruit, organise, mobilise and motivate them.

 

One easy way for any of the candidates standing for election to be UNISON's next General Secretary to clear up any confusion about whether it would be fair or unfair to describe them as a "continuity candidate" would be for them to make clear that, on their watch, UNISON would never return to the damaging practice of using administrative measures to resolve political differences and would never again "witch hunt" socialist activists.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Another breach of the UNISON General Secretary election procedures at Head Office

Last month this blog successfully exposed the misuse of UNISON resources to campaign for one of the candidates in the current General Secretary election (on behalf of the National Retired Members' Committee) – leading to a "news" post on the Union's national website being taken down (if a little late in the day, the horse having popped out and had a little frolic around the fields before the stable door was closed).

 

I am disappointed now to have to report on a further misuse of UNISON resources at national level (this time on behalf of the Community Service Group). On 23 September those responsible for maintaining the Facebook page for the Service Group posted a link to a post from a candidate's campaign – this is something which is explicitly prohibited in paragraph 51 of the General Secretary election procedures.

 

I will include – for posterity – a picture of the post since I very much hope it will be taken down promptly now that a complaint has been submitted.




 

Let's be clear – this is not some mere triviality. This is an egregious breach of UNISON Rules, in support of a candidate in the General Secretary election, on behalf of one of UNISON's National Service Groups. It is also an indicator of the fact that some supporters of a candidate they now perceive to be the front runner may feel that the requirements of the election procedures are something for other people to observe.

 

If UNISON had to defend – before the Certification Officer – breaches of our own Rules in the 2020 General Secretary election which are identical in kind to breaches found to have occurred in the 2015 General Secretary election, the Union might find it harder to argue that it ought not to have to do anything very much about such breaches.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - the score at half-time

I am cross-posting here a post published today on Labour Hub summing up where we are in relation to the UNISON General Secretary election. Apologies to regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) for repeating some content from earlier posts on this blog.

 

UNISON is our largest trade union, and those who care about the future of our movement must, necessarily be concerned for the future of UNISON. Those who care about the future of UNISON must want to see change in our trade union. 

 

UNISON has not been growing over recent years – at least not according to the official returns which the Union makes to the Certification Officer. The number of members contributing to the General Fund (i.e. paying subscriptions) according to the earliest return readily accessible online (for 2003) was 1,301,000. The equivalent figure in the most recent return published online (for 2018) was 1,204,500. That decline of 7.4% over those fifteen years may well have been arrested – even reversed – more recently, and in any case compares favourably to the plight of the movement generally over the same period (during which trade union membership fell by 14% from 7.38 Million to 6.35 Million) but it is certainly not a triumph for UNISON's leadership.

 

Nor has UNISON been delivering improving living standards for our members. Take the example of local government workers - the lowest point on the national pay spine is now barely 3% above the minimum wage (as opposed to 25% twenty years ago) and a typical local government worker on the equivalent of the old spinal column point (SCP) 28 is now on just over one and a half times the minimum wage, as opposed to two and a half times when the current General Secretary first took office twenty years ago.

 

For those who want to see change in UNISON, the half-way marker in the current General Secretary election, with nominations made but no votes yet cast, does not offer too much in the way of grounds for optimism. As reported by Labourlist (though not yet on the UNISON website), four candidates have exceeded the various thresholds to make it on to the ballot paper as follows;

 

  • Christina McAnea – 212 branches, nine regions, five service groups (and the National Executive Council)
  • Roger McKenzie – 113 branches, one region, one service group
  • Paul Holmes – 102 branches, two regions, one service group
  • Hugo Pierre – 31 branches

 

The nominations process saw a significant rise in branch turnout, with 458 of UNISON's 834 participating branches nominating a candidate compared to just 373 branches casting nominations in the last general secretary election.

 

The manifesto of the clear frontrunner, Christina McAnea, does not offer the change which UNISON needs. However, McAnea is plainly the candidate the others have now to try to beat, benefitting from the support the bulk of those who backed Dave Prentis in previous elections and some of those who supported Heather Wakefield last time. Christina McAnea has also gained support from those who feel – not unreasonably – that a trade union with a million women members should elect a woman as General Secretary, and has particularly strong support in UNISON's influential Scottish Region, where Dave Prentis received very few nominations five years ago.

 

Whilst, in every previous UNISON General Secretary election, the candidate with the most nominations has gone on to win the most votes, the position of this year's front runner, whilst commanding, may not be invulnerable. The following table shows the percentage of all nominations in the current and two preceding General Secretary elections, with the percentage of votes in the previous elections;

 

Candidate

Nominations 2020

Nominations 2015

Votes 2015

Nominations 2010

Votes 2010

Dave Prentis

 

54.8%

49.4%

81.7%

67.3%

Christina McAnea

47.5%

 

 

 

 

Roger McKenzie

24.1%

 

 

 

 

Heather Wakefield

 

21.8%

26.4%

 

 

Paul Holmes

22.0%

 

 

11.5%

13.0%

John Burgess

 

16.7%

11.6%

 

 

Roger Bannister

 

6.7%

12.6%

6.8%

19.7%

Hugo Pierre

6.5%

 

 

 

 

 

Even if these few figures were sufficient to support an argument about a relationship between the proportion of nominations and the proportion of votes – beyond the obvious observation that, previously, whoever got the most nominations also got the most votes, there are sound reasons to think that this election may be different, and so drawing any conclusions based upon this data would be premature.

 

For the first time in UNISON's history two senior officials are standing, neither of whom is the incumbent, indeed there is no incumbent candidate. Although well behind the front runner in nominations at this stage, Roger McKenzie has exceeded the number of nominations won by Heather Wakefield five years ago, and seems to promise an equally lively campaign.

 

Also for the first time in UNISON's history, a rank and file candidate – Paul Holmes – has secured the nomination of a national Service Group Executive (for Local Government – representing more than half the Union's membership) and two Regional Councils, as well as more than 100 branches. Paul has the widest support of any rank and file challenger for the position of UNISON General Secretary.

 

Those supporting the campaigns of both Roger McKenzie and Paul Holmes will have emerged from the nominations phase eyeing the possibility of victory in what each team may have hoped would be a fiercely contested three horse race.

 

As was the case five years ago, however, a divided opposition to the leading candidate in an election in which the National Executive Council (NEC) has decided that voters won't have a preferential voting system (although they themselves used preferential voting to decide their nomination) could well mean that the front placed candidate is elected without winning a majority of the votes cast.

 

It is in this context that the one candidate who clearly does not think that he can win this election – the fourth horse, Hugo Pierre of the Socialist Party – has called for the three "candidates for change" to get together to discuss a unified platform for a single candidate to take on Christina McAnea. It is of course possible, as Holmes' supporters at Socialist Appeal believe, that this is an offer made only in order that it should be rejected in order to justify Pierre continuing his campaign.

 

Certainly, since Paul Holmes is running for General Secretary on the programme of UNISON Action Broad Left (drafted with the full support of the Socialist Party members who were part of that group) and having been endorsed by a meeting of the Steering Committee of that organisation following a hustings at which both he and Hugo Pierre spoke, the welcome conversion of Hugo and his supporters to the cause of unity, if genuine, is – to say the least – belated.

 

However, UNISON members away from the leadership of the campaigns of Holmes and McKenzie will be perplexed if their favoured candidates do not at least engage with the proposal from Hugo Pierre that a discussion should take place. The numbers of nominations discussed above cannot – in any circumstances – determine the outcome of the coming election, but they point in a particular direction, and it is not the direction of the positive change which UNISON requires.

 

To understand how we can get to the point at which, half way through an election for General Secretary, a candidate can seriously suggest a discussion between candidates about who should step aside – and expect to be taken seriously in so doing, it is necessary to look back at UNISON's history. UNISON has nothing – on the left – to match the aspirations of the United Left in UNITE or Left Unity in PCS, organisations in which the broad left (in the real meaning of those words) could – at least potentially – come together, including lay activists and paid officials to agree a programme for the Union and settle on a candidate for General Secretary.

 

There are a number of reasons why such a formation has never emerged in UNISON. The most important such reason is the impact of the visceral hostility to "factions" which has been expressed by the faction that has been running UNISON since its creation. This has created an environment in which paid staff of the Union are afraid to be seen talking to some lay activists on the left – a circumstance which has reinforced a prejudice in favour of "lay only" organisation on the part of many of those activists.

 

The legacy of this absence is the chasm of mutual incomprehension between supporters of Paul Holmes (some of whom genuinely believe that Roger McKenzie – endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot – is not a candidate "of the left" because of compromises he has had to make in the past to hold on to his job) and supporters of Roger McKenzie (some of whom, not being part of the hard slog of attempting to build a democratic rank and file organisation, do not understand the resentment of rank and file activists involved in that project when senior officials raise a red flag at election time). Whilst it is extremely unlikely that a single meeting during an election campaign could bridge this chasm, the beginning of such a dialogue would be worthwhile whatever it might or might not lead to right now.

 

Of course a secondary reason why UNISON has not been able to develop a rooted and respected rank and file organisation (even on a "lay member only" basis) is the fissiparous nature of the "organised" left in general, and the collective self-obsession of the Socialist Party in particular, which has meant that however hard many activists have worked over the past twenty-seven years to build a rank and file organisation, disagreements around, in anticipation of or as a consequence of five-yearly General Secretary elections have been sufficient to ensure that everything that is built is periodically demolished.

 

A wise old friend and comrade offered two hopes for any attempt to agree a single candidate for change in the UNISON General Secretary election – Bob Hope and no hope. It would be wonderful to be able to prove such cynicism wrong, but if pessimism of the intellect does turn out to be more useful as a guide to understanding on this occasion than optimism of the will then perhaps an ongoing dialogue between supporters of Holmes and McKenzie will continue to offer some hope of future change.

 

Those of us with only our votes to cast, and wanting to see change in UNISON, will have to await the outcome of any discussions which do take place before deciding where to place our cross.