As a UNISON member resident in a marginal constituency I today received a letter from our General Secretary encouraging me to vote in the General Election and warning me of the plans the Tories have for our public services.
This was a sensible use of UNISON resources - each member we remind/cajole to vote in a marginal could cast the crucial vote in the crucial seat, and the most important question for UNISON members is who will form the next Government.
This was also a good use of the standing of our General Secretary with our members (which opinion poll data suggests is much higher than it may sometimes be among disaffected activists).
Dave Prentis is probably the only named individual which most UNISON members would associate with our Union (apart from their local shop steward for those lucky enough to have one). If his name and reputation can get reluctant members out there voting against Cameron and the Tories then he will once more serve our members' interests.
As one of a handful of unsuccessful challengers for Dave's job I can afford to acknowledge all of this without falling into the trap of sycophancy into which many lay and paid officials of our Union sometimes appear eager to rush. Dave Prentis is in his fifteenth year as our General Secretary, having three times won election for a five year term. This is, in itself, a considerable achievement and the foundation for a legacy which will not swiftly be forgotten (though I have to say I hope it won't lead to the Lords!)
The starting gun for Dave's first election (which led to his assuming office on 1 January 2001) was fired early when Rodney Bickerstaffe, our second General Secretary, told our Conference in 1999 that he would not seek a second term. Rodney gave the Union a lengthy period in which to choose his successor. Dave won with 55% of the vote, Roger Bannister got 32% and Malkiat Bilku got 12%.
The timetable for the election that led to Dave commencing his second term of office on 1 January 2006 was such that the result (including the ignominious performance of your humble blogger) was known in sufficient time for the industrial organiser of the Socialist Party to analyse it in the link above in April 2005 (and it would hardly be appropriate for the candidate who came a poor third to pass comment on the appropriateness of triumphalism on behalf of the candidate perpetually in second place to Dave). Dave Prentis stormed home with 75.6%, Roger Bannister's share of the vote fell to 16.9% and your blogger got an impressive 7.5% (and reflected that bronze is still a medal position).
Most recently, troublesome people (such as bloggers) protested that the timetable for a General Secretary election leading to a term of office to commence on 1 January 2011 was not set until an unprecedented special meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) in January 2010. At that special meeting it was made clear to the NEC that Dave could have carried on in office, as he would have been within five years of retirement by 1 January 2011, but that he preferred an election in the interests of democracy. The electorate preferred Dave too and he won with 67% of the vote to 20% for Roger Bannister and 13% for Paul Holmes.
The term of office to which Dave Prentis was elected in that third election expires on 31 December this year (unless as of 1 January 2016 he is within five years of a "retirement date" set in accordance with UNISON's rules and the NEC chooses to permit him to use this fact to continue until that date without an election).
Ten and fifteen years ago we already knew, by the preceding April, who would be our General Secretary in the coming year. Five years ago we were - by that April - in the process of choosing (and knew the outcome by June). Now, however, in April 2015, nothing whatsoever has been done (at least nothing known formally to our NEC) to prepare for any election for General Secretary.
Clearly there is an attempt to create the impression that Dave Prentis and his supporters will endeavour to see the incumbent General Secretary soldier on without an election beyond 1 January 2016. This is implausible because it would require both arrogance and stupidity on the part of the individual - and neither are features of our General Secretary.
The reputation of both UNISON and its principal officer would be so damaged by any attempt to wriggle out of the coming election for General Secretary that it is obvious that this cannot come to pass. The legacy of Dave Prentis will be of a three times victor retiring undefeated (keeping the UNISON equivalent of the Jules Rimet trophy) and - we must all hope - of a unique contribution to UNISON's role in helping to oust Cameron and the Tories.
Having dilly-dallied with such energy until now it is though quite understandable that the responsible officials within UNISON (lay and full time) are not focusing upon our General Secretary election ahead of the General Election. Aside from asking about this matter at next week's NEC meeting (and subject to any answers to any questions) I myself will not return to this topic now until May 8.
However, given the certainty of legal challenge and damaging controversy in any other eventuality, it is clear that our June NEC meeting will have to set a timetable for a General Secretary election if such a timetable has not already been set. Given the importance of this matter, we do need all those who care about the future of our Union to be prepared for this significant election, just as soon as we have finished our efforts to get the least worst result out of that other Election!
(And don't forget to vote for "Reclaim the Union" candidates in the NEC elections!)
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.