Tuesday, January 21, 2020
The Government are keen to make any offer of increased powers to local authorities conditional upon devolution to reorganised local government structures, including more “metro mayors” (where a single elected individual directs the delivery of services across a number of local government units). This may well be reflected in a forthcoming White Paper.
In Sussex we need more powers for our local authorities. To make traffic in our city of Brighton and Hove run we need the powers that London Boroughs have in relation to “red routes”, in many seaside towns we need the power to raise tourist taxes to provide the additional resources to pump prime community wealth building and we need enhanced planning powers to require the provision of genuinely affordable housing in sufficient quantities from property developers who can afford to appeal decisions made by local authorities.
However, there is not a shred of evidence that local people in Sussex want a change in our local government structures in order to have these local powers for the Councillors we elect. We were given a Duke of Sussex we didn’t ask for and that hasn’t turned out well, we don’t need a Mayor of Sussex to go with him (or to stay after he has gone). East and West Sussex County Councils might manage for a while with one Chief Executive – but that doesn’t mean that the people of Sussex have asked for a change in local government structures.
The people of Sussex could make good choices with greater local powers, but we won’t want to be forced into changes we didn’t ask for in order to get those powers – and I hope that our local Tories will be as loyal to Sussex as they can expect that the rest of us will be.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Today I received my first bulk email as a Retired member of UNISON, and that reminded me that later this year UNISON members (including us Retired members) will get to vote in an election for General Secretary. It’s not as big a deal as a Labour leadership election, but it matters to those of us who care about UNISON and, as befits a retired activist, this has led me to reminisce.
We didn’t actually elect our first UNISON General Secretary, the last General Secretary of NALGO, Alan Jinkinson, whose name I still have on a t-shirt from the last NALGO Conference, at which I unsuccessfully moved a motion of censure of the General Secretary because he had repudiated Lambeth branch for taking unofficial strike action in solidarity with the Miners.
Jinkinson served as General Secretary from vesting day (when NALGO, NUPE and COHSE merged to form UNISON on 1 July 1993) until 31 December 1995. In UNISON’s first General Secretary election in 1995, former NUPE General Secretary, the late Rodney Bickerstaffe was elected, defeating Roger Bannister and Yunus Bakhsh from the left and right-winger Peter Hunter.
Rodney’s term of office was due to expire on 31 December 2000, but he announced in the summer of 1999 that he would not seek re-election, giving time for the Union to look for a replacement. Deputy General Secretary, Dave Prentis emerged as the candidate supported by the leadership and obvious frontrunner.
Once the then London Regional Convenor, Geoff Martin, had indicated that he would not be a candidate, the “organised” left united behind Roger Bannister, who came second to Prentis, ahead of Malkiat Bilku, leader of the 1996/7 Hillingdon hospital strike. Prentis got a majority of the votes cast and took office for the next five years.
Your humble blogger has particular cause to remember the next election, nominations for which opened in 2004, with voting in the spring of 2005 ahead of the end of that term of office on 31 December 2005, because I was the candidate who came third, with 7.5% of the vote, behind hardy perennial challenger Roger Bannister, and the successful incumbent, Dave Prentis, who had his best ever result, winning with three in four of the votes cast.
Five years later, in 2010, the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) were called to an unprecedented additional meeting in January to agree a timetable for a further General Secretary election, although – as supporters of Mr Prentis were then eager to point out – the incumbent General Secretary could have remained in office at that time without a further election, as he was then within five years of his retirement age.
Dave Prentis won once again, and again defeated Roger Bannister and also Paul Holmes (who managed, in spite of my support, to improve somewhat on my showing five years previously). Having won once more, the General Secretary led on the creation of five posts of Assistant General Secretary, which was widely seen as an attempt to create a field of potential successors.
In the following year the concept of a retirement age was itself retired and so, in the run up to UNISON Conference 2015, the Union therefore anticipated a further election without knowing whether the incumbent would seek re-election. As an NEC member I made something of a nuisance of myself chasing up when the General Secretary election would take place. Eventually it did.
Dave Prentis did seek re-election in 2015 and was successful, in spite of opposition from Heather Wakefield (who came second), Roger Bannister and John Burgess. More information about this election is in the public domain than previous elections because of the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer arising from the gross misconduct of the former London Regional Secretary.
UNISON needs to reconsider the recommendations of the Assistant Certification Officer ahead of the forthcoming General Secretary election, which could be quite a different election if it doesn’t include an incumbent candidate (though I don’t necessarily make that assumption).
The largest trade union in the country could be vital to the resistance to Johnson’s Government but recent experience doesn’t really give much cause for optimism that it will. The General Secretary election might be an opportunity for UNISON members to make a meaningful choice.
Saturday, January 11, 2020
I was very pleased earlier today to chair a meeting of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party (CLP) General Committee (GC) at which we agreed that we would endeavour to organise a meeting for all our 3,000 members to decide which candidate we would nominate in the forthcoming election for Leader of the Labour Party.
We took this decision in spite of the fact that the cost of hiring a suitable venue (if we can find one that is available within the specified timetable) will massively deplete our limited funds. We did this because we are proud of our CLP, we think it matters which candidate gains the nomination of Brighton Pavilion, and we want to ensure that the members of our local Party are the people who make that decision.
The procedural guidelines to CLPs require that any nomination must be made at an All Member Meeting (AMM) even for those CLPs, like ours, which choose to have a delegate-based structure. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this requirement, it is imposed upon us by the Party and – if we are to give our members their democratic right to participate in the nomination process – we have to comply with this.
Delegates at Labour Party Conference 2019 may remember that Brighton Pavilion CLP is in the vanguard of the fight for democracy within our Party, and is prepared to make trouble and to offend and annoy friend or foe alike in this cause. Our GC is very proud of our Conference delegation for the work they did for Party democracy – and now we are aiming to put our (limited) money where our (less limited) mouth is in order to ensure the democratic rights of our own members.
What a shame that Momentum can’t quite manage the same degree of democratic engagement among its own membership – having agreed to ballot its members not on whom to support, but upon whether or not to endorse a decision already taken by its National Committee. Wanting a referendum (in which Momentum members can vote “yes” or “no” to a predetermined decision) rather than an election (in which Momentum members could vote for any candidate) may be a little ironic, but it isn’t at all funny, and it epitomises why your humble blogger (a lifelong Labour leftist) is so pleased never to have joined Momentum.
Momentum are, however, a model of good democratic practice compared with the trade union as part of which I was proud to spend most of my working life as an activist. UNISON – which made a point of consulting our members before the Labour LinkCommittee decided to back Jeremy Corbyn in 2016 – has decided to support Keir Starmer on the basis of a split vote between 16 members of that Committee, without bothering to undertake any wider consultation with the membership.
Those who are wasting energy being outraged by this disgraceful parody of democracy within UNISON are only those who have no knowledge of UNISON, or of trade union bureaucracy generally. One of the many great weaknesses of the Labour Left over the years has always been its failure to engage in the struggle for democracy within the trade unions, preferring to rely upon the temporary support of “left” union bureaucrats when that is possible and generally respecting the “division of labour” between the industrial and political wings of the movement which is at the heart of Labourism (the Morning Star’s infatuation with those union leaders they consider left-wing is an extreme expression of this weakness, whilst Momentum are but the latest carriers of the virus).
UNISON’s Labour Link Committee, consisting of almost equal numbers of NEC members (elected by and from those members of the NEC who pay into the Affiliated Political Fund) and members elected from each British region of the Union, has never been a bastion of lay control within the Union, based as it is upon a structure dictated by the negotiators from the officer-controlled trade unions, NUPE and COHSE, when UNISON was created. The decision to nominate Starmer is, however, a high watermark for officer control of lay activists in UNISON.
UNISON officialdom was never caught up with the enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn exhibited by our active members, on the contrary, whilst smiling at Jeremy in public many officials wished they could have engineered the support for his challenger in 2016 which the GMB officials (whose control over “their” union is more complete) managed to deliver.
There are those – even at senior levels - in UNISON who are personally committed to the project of a socialist-led Labour Party, but they are not currently calling the shots in the Union, and the Labour Link Committee did (as could generally be expected) the bidding of those who are by expressing support for the candidate best placed to lead the Party away from a place where it poses a serious challenge to the wealthy and powerful (whilst ensuring that the pesky membership wouldn’t get a chance to express their - possibly contradictory - views).
Whilst the decision of the majority of the UNISON Labour Link Committee to please those in charge of the Union may help to ensure that Keir Starmer is on the ballot paper in the leadership election, any UNISON member who pays attention to the affairs of their trade union will not be influenced to cast their vote in accordance with this undemocratic stitch up. It shames UNISON that the union could not manage the basic level of democracy that will be required of any CLP that wants to make a nomination.