Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
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)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Dave Prentis retires - how should we elect his successor?

It is official then. Having served four terms as UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, now in his 70s, will not seek a fifth.


There’s a fair bit to be said about Dave’s time at the helm, but that is not the purpose of this post. Nor do I intend here and now to blog about the question of his successor. I should imagine I may get round to both those things, having already started thinking about the latter.


As reported on Labourlist, Prentis said today that “in order to comply with trade union law, our NEC development and organisation committee will meet this week to discuss a timetable to elect my successor and full details will be published once that is agreed.”


Having spent fourteen years, from 2003 to 2017, serving on that Committee, covering the three previous elections for General Secretary, I think that what will happen is that the “D&O” Committee will meet this week and make recommendations to the full National Executive Council (NEC).


Some aspects of the forthcoming election are laid down in the Rule Book – such as the number of nominations which a candidate will require. Other aspects, such as the precise timetable, are within the discretion of the NEC.


Paragraph 7 of Schedule C to the Rule Book sets it all out; “The National Executive Council shall have the power to determine any matter of procedure or organisation or administration of or relating to the election, including the power to determine the method of voting (whether to be by simple majority; by single transferable vote; by multitransferable vote; or by some other system) provided that the person(s) securing the greatest number(s) of votes according to the system employed shall be the person(s) declared elected, so long as they are and remain eligible for election.”


In all previous elections the NEC have decided to use the system of “first past the post”, which the Rule Book rather misleadingly describes as “simple majority” (since it doesn’t actually require a candidate to win a majority of votes, just a plurality – i.e. more than any other individual candidate). Whilst I was on the NEC I tried – and failed – on more than one occasion to make the case for using a preferential voting system.


I hope that, as UNISON moves into a new era, those now serving on the D&O Committee will at least pause to consider whether they should recommend that the NEC uses its discretion to decide to use STV in the forthcoming General Secretary election.


A preferential voting system not only ensures that the winning candidate wins with the support (even if not the first preference) of a majority of those who vote, it also encourages a more positive campaign as between competing candidates, since second and – if there are enough candidates nominated – subsequent preferences are in play.


UNISON turned 27 this month, which is too old to be a Young Member, and it may just be time for the internal political culture of our trade union to grow up.

Or perhaps I am just a hopeless optimist.

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