Although the nomination period for UNISON General Secretary does not open until 10 August, various candidates are emerging. Although I have been told on social media that I have already made my mind up whom I am supporting, I am taking a little time, and have therefore been looking at these candidates as they emerge.
In this post I will just identify who the potential and actual candidates currently seem to be, I won’t express any opinions of my own. I know all of the candidates more or less well from my time as a UNISON activist and would consider more than one of them friends and comrades.
The most senior officials in UNISON, below the General Secretary, are the Assistant General Secretaries (of which, for the past decade, we have had five) (we used to have a position of Deputy General Secretary – but no more).
Two of UNISON’s Assistant General Secretaries are in the running (in alphabetical order of surname) – Christina McAnea, who has been responsible for Service Groups (and therefore has had overall responsibility for negotiations with employers) and Roger McKenzie, who has longer experience at this level, and has been responsible for organisational issues. A third UNISON (paid) official has also thrown her hat into the ring – Margaret Greer, National Black Members’ Officer.
Those wanting to assess who might be the “continuity candidate” standing with the support of the largest part of what might be called the “UNISON establishment” might observe the support for Christina McAnea expressed (on Facebook) by past Presidents Chris Tansley and Gordon McKay and the coincidence that – on the same day that UNISON announced that Dave Prentis was standing down, the very next media release from the Union quoted Christina.
A search for Christina’s name on the UNISON website throws up, on the first page of results, 11 news stories or press releases from 2020, whereas a similar search for the name “Roger McKenzie” throws up two references to a webinar this month before getting on to other people called Roger – or (in the case of the third item thrown up by the search) “Rogers”. There are other references to Roger and, of course, the extent to which UNISON might “showcase” one or other of its officials in its official publicity will depend very much upon the nature of their duties (whether they are “public-facing” or more focused on organising the trade union itself).
However, as a long-serving former member of our National Executive Council (NEC), and therefore as adept as anyone at the application of what used to be called “Kremlinology” to the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road, I think it is clear that we can anticipate that the bulk of the survivors from what was once known as “Team Dave” will be rallying to Christina’s campaign, whereas Roger’s support base comes from some of those who sat out the last General Secretary election campaign, some of those who supported Dave Prentis, and some of those who did not.
As to the position of potential “rank and file” challengers, the Socialist Party are already promoting the desire of NEC member Hugo Pierre to “the candidate of the left”. However, hustings are due to take place and NEC members Paul Holmes and Karen Reissmann are also both in the running at this stage. Diligent readers of this blog will recall that the rank and file left (of which I have always been a part) has never managed to stand fewer than two candidates for General Secretary (with your humble blogger keeping the numbers up back in 2004/5).
Given that the election has always taken place on the basis of what UNISON rules call a “simple majority” (which is actually a plurality, since there is no guarantee that the winning candidate will win with a majority of the votes cast, indeed they did not in 1995, nor again in 2015) having a multiplicity of candidates standing for change might be considered (particularly with the benefit of a quarter century of hindsight) a pretty good way of avoiding such change.
Incidentally, it is probably relevant to observe that being suspended by UNISON is no formal impediment to being a candidate for election within the Union. Back in 2009, the Employment Appeals Tribunal found that UNISON had been wrong to disqualify Tony Staunton from standing as a candidate for election because, at that point, he was suspended from holding office.
It is a crying shame that UNISON once again refuses to use the discretion given to the NEC by the Rule Book to use a preferential voting system since this would not only guarantee that the eventual victor did command majority support (or, at least, did not face majority opposition) and it would have been a voting system more likely to encourage a positive approach to other candidates (whose voters would need to be courted for their second, or subsequent, preferences). I should probably never blog again in support of preferential voting in UNISON as that obviously doesn’t help.
I shall be back here after the hustings and shall make my mind up.