To some the name Roger Bannister means the four minute mile. To others it means the perennial candidate for General Secretary of UNISON, who knows he can do well but that he will never win.
And he's still at it.
Although Roger Bannister barely scraped the twenty five branch nominations which are required to make it on to the ballot paper for the current election for UNISON General Secretary he remains driven by the awesome self-regard which has persistently led him to assert that he would only stand aside for a candidate whom he (himself) considered better. (unless he never meant that and was just doing as he was told by the associates of his "party"'s "leader", a Mr Taafe).
As a candidate, Roger certainly has the advantage of name recognition, most of all among those of us who have been around for a while. Roger stood in the last ever General Secretary election of the largest of the "former partner unions" (NALGO) coming a close third. He came third once more in the first election for General Secretary of UNISON, behind victor Rodney Bickerstaffe and right wing candidate Peter Hunter.
In 2000 Roger came second to Dave Prentis with 71,021 votes (32%). Five years later he came second again with 41,406 votes (17%). Last time round Roger once again came second, this time with 42,651 votes (20%) (of a lower turnout).
Every time Roger has faced Dave Prentis in an election there has been another left candidate who has (from the perspective of Roger and his supporters) "split the vote" - but each time Prentis has won an absolute majority. (Your humble blogger has the distinction of having been the least successful of those other candidates).
As a critical observer of UNISON over many years, your blogger has also been able to observe and understand what has been going on.
Roger Bannister represents a "safe" "loyal opposition" to the UNISON machine (which is why the anonymous Prentis-supporting blog which spat bile at John Burgess and Heather Wakefield ignored Roger).
On the one occasion - in 2000 - when Prentis supporters feared Roger as an electoral adversary he was the subject of scurrilous personal attacks. This hasn't been repeated in future elections - and not just because Roger is the polite and courteous face of the left on the National Executive Council (NEC). (In my twelve years on our NEC I have often noted Roger's quiet and conciliatory approach).
UNISON officialdom are as comfortable as the leadership of the Socialist Party with periodic jousting matches in which Dave remains General Secretary by virtue of his control of the machine and Roger remains the "left challenger" because people remember who he is from last time.
The Socialist Party share with Progress supporters within the Labour Party a determined refusal to accept that the Labour Party has changed. They continue to argue that socialists should leave the Labour Party and join their tiny organisation. The application of these politics within UNISON leads them to believe that they should stand a "Socialist Party" candidate for General Secretary, hoping only that their candidate will, once more, be the most successful loser so that they shall be seen as "leading" the left.
This election has been different because Roger (realising his very limited support) initiated a dialogue with the other "not Prentis" candidates (genuine rank and file challenger John Burgess and "dissident" official Heather Wakefield) about having a single challenger to the incumbent General Secretary.
This initiative from Roger was driven purely by the anticipated presence on the ballot paper of an "official" who is not Dave Prentis. Roger's co-thinkers in the Socialist Party showed a similar obsession when they tried (unsuccessfully) to discourage Mark Serwotka from running for General Secretary of our sister union, PCS - urging at that point support for Hugh Lanning.
Lacking (quite reasonably) any genuine confidence in the one dimensional politics of their risible "organisation", Socialist Party activists in the trade unions are particularly vulnerable to the delusion that "splits within the bureaucracy" can determine the future of our movement. (Those afflicted with an affection for the similarly comical "Socialist Workers Party" have different, but equally problematic delusions).
It is the personal misfortune of Roger Bannister in UNISON that he is compelled to live out the vicarious political fantasies of his most "party-minded" comrades. It is the collective misfortune of UNISON's rank and file activists that our comrades who are members of that Party put the interests of their small clique ahead of the general interests of our class.
Roger Bannister will remain on the ballot paper only should his candidature bring with it the unique luck of having had not one of his 25 nominations disqualified. Since the numbers of nominations disqualified for each of the other challengers are in double figures such luck would be remarkable - but given the convenience of such an outcome for the powers that be it cannot be ruled out.
Your blogger shares with Roger Bannister the weariness which comes from years of resisting unimaginable carnage. Roger has what may turn out to have been a last opportunity to make good out of his reputation by supporting the credible rank and file challenge from John Burgess (who has offered Roger a leading role in his campaign).
Those activists in the Socialist Party who remember when their political tradition (then known as the "Militant Tendency") amounted to something should understand why they should support John Burgess.
Just like Dave Prentis, Roger Bannister has been cajoled into standing for election as General Secretary. UNISON members need not collude with this unreasonable pressure on either of those perennial candidates.
It's time for the future.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.