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)

Friday, August 28, 2020

Disqualification of candidate leads to threat of litigation in union election - what does this mean for UNISON?

 It is, of course, the Royal College of Nursing that has paused its election for President (having disqualified candidates for allegedly misusing official resources in their campaigns) – and which faces a threat of litigation (if a slightly confused one) as a result.

It was the misuse of Union resources which prompted some of us to complain to the Certification Officer following the last General Secretary election. UNISON is hardly alone in having had a General Secretary election lead to litigation in the recent past.


Whereas the RCN is a very different organisation from UNISON, the other larger TUC affiliates have greater similarities. The cases that have been brought against each of the other two of the “big three” in connection with recent General Secretary elections illuminate the different cultures of each union and, in some ways, the strategic options for the future of UNISON.


The GMB is heading for a General Secretary election, its recently re-elected General Secretary, Tim Roache, having resigned for health reasons during lockdown (the GMB having received an anonymous letter making allegations about his conduct). Roach had first been elected five years ago in an election marked by an appallingly low turnout and the Union’s unlawful interference in the embryonic campaign of the only rank and file contender, Keith Henderson.


Anyone who wants to understand why a rank and file candidate is unlikely to emerge in the coming GMB General Secretary election could do worse than read the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Henderson -v- GMB. In GMB the culture of the Union is such that rank and file members cannot even communicate with each other between branches to begin to organise a rank and file organisation, let alone use such an organisation to mount a challenge for leadership.


In UNITE, where General Secretary, Len McCluskey is to stand down early (at some, unspecified, point before 2022), that Union’s culture is such that the United Left’s decision to endorse Steve Turner as its candidate (in an election that has yet to be called) and the decision of his defeated rival for the United Left nomination, Howard Beckett, to stand for General Secretary anyway makes headlines.


The importance of the United Left in UNITE is underlined by the outcome of litigation arising out of the last election (won by McCluskey with 46% of the vote). Defeated right-wing challenger Gerard Coyne, brought a failed challenge to the Certification Officer, complaining inter alia that Len McCluskey’s campaign had been given improper access to UNITE membership information – the Assistant Certification Officer concluded that this information had come from the (separate) database of the United Left (described as “a substantial group of Unite members who shared philosophical and political views about the policies and direction of Unite”).


The United Left is organised in such a way (according to the Certification Officer decision) that “employees of Unite may be members of United Left; but its officers are lay activists within the union.”  However, the candidates backed by the United Left in UNITE for the position of General Secretary have, thus far, been paid officials rather than rank and file activists.


UNISON has, in the past, had its own version of the United Left, except that it hasn’t been on the left, it hasn’t operated openly and it hasn’t been led by lay activists (so not really a United “Left” at all – but quite as influential as the United Left in UNITE).


This entity emerged into daylight, in previous General Secretary elections as “Team Dave” but otherwise you had to be a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) to notice that – from time to time – the majority of the NEC would be off to a pre-meeting (to none of which I was ever invited) at which they would ensure that the lay NEC served its ultimate function of delivering the wishes of the full-time leadership of the Union.


For most of my time on the NEC – aside from at General Secretary elections – the dominant faction in the Union had no name or public identity. In the run up to the 2017 NEC elections, in which – following the 2015 General Secretary election – they were concerned at the growing electoral strength of the emerging UNISON Action Broad Left, they declared themselves to be “Stronger UNISON”.


When, having fought for the first time in the open (as it were) the dominant faction found that they had their worst results in UNISON history they changed tack and instead proposed changes to UNISON electoral procedures to try to prevent effective (open) factional organisation – so that in last year’s NEC elections no one (formally) stood other than as an individual.


Those currently calling the shots in UNISON want to ensure that our Union never becomes one in which an effective organisation of the left (like the United Left, or Left Unity in PCS) can take the Union in a radical direction. They probably don’t want to go as far as the GMB in preventing rank and file organisation – and UNISON’s structures would never permit this in any case – but they might wish they could.


Battles for the soul of UNISON for as long as the Union has been in existence (indeed before that, in the negotiations which led to the “Final Report” before the vote on merger)– the decision at the first National Delegate Conference that we were a “member-led” Union; the compromise reflected in the first Democracy in UNISON guidelines in 1998; the struggle over the Union’s Disciplinary Rules around the turn of the century; the witch hunt of socialist activists beginning at the TUC in 2006. These are just some of the episodes in this ongoing struggle.


In the current General Secretary election it is clear that Christina McAnea is the candidate supported by those whose recent attempt to “ban factions” is the latest move by those who argued for a “member-centred” (rather than “member-led”) Union in 1994. It is equally clear that Paul Holmes stands firmly in the tradition of those who fought against the witch hunt from 2006 onwards (indeed he stood there himself at the time).


The candidate who needs, perhaps, to make it clearer where he stands on this question (which he can now do as a candidate in a way in which he could not do in many years as a senior official under the current General Secretary) is Roger McKenzie – or perhaps he will decide not to…?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - the game is afoot!

 As a gentleman of leisure (now that I am a retired UNISON member) I have the opportunity to sit back and watch the current General Secretary campaign unfolding from the sidelines. Following the departure of Margaret Greer from the race, there are four candidates currently chasing nominations – Assistant General Secretaries, Christine McAnea and Roger McKenzie, Kirklees UNISON Branch Secretary (and National Executive Council (NEC) member, Paul Holmes and Camden UNISON Education Convenor – and NEC member – Hugo Pierre.

Christina McAnea is – according to her campaign Facebook page (which has 366 likes) – pulling in various health branch nominations, as well as endorsements from a variety of senior members of the NEC formerly associated with support for Dave Prentis. Her support base is the clearest evidence any informed insider could see that her candidacy represents continuity with the Prentis era. Depending upon how much of the machinery of “Team Dave” is now “Team Christina” she may or may not be front runner at this stage, notwithstanding the relatively unimpressive evidence of support online. Christina will benefit from support from all those who feel that it is past time that UNISON had a female General Secretary.


Elsewhere on Facebook you learn that Roger McKenzie (whose page has 1,363 likes) has branch nominations across a range of service groups (including some health branches). He also has the support of some NEC members previously in the Prentis camp, as well as left-wing activists (such as my friend and comrade, Chair of the National Joint Council Committee, Sean Fox) and – most notably – of numerous UNISON members who are left-wing Labour MPs (including former Leader, Jeremy Corbyn). Roger’s campaign has an impressive profile and has got off to a strong start, but whether the breadth of his support across the Union matches the depth of support for Christina McAnea in the health service remains to be seen.


Meanwhile, rank and file left-wing challenge, Paul Holmes, (whose page has 810 “likes”) has picked up the endorsement of UNISON member, John McDonnell MP as well as nominations from numerous large and influential local government branches. Paul can also probably count upon the support of a number of NEC members sufficient to put him almost within striking distance of the NEC nomination (depending upon how former Prentis supporters on that body split between McAnea and McKenzie) and has the support of Glen Williams, who – as elected Chair of the Local Government Service Group (the largest Service Group) and Convenor of the North West Region (the largest Region) – is arguably the most senior and influential lay member in the Union.


The spoiler candidacy (as I consider it) of Hugo Pierre (whose page has 488 “likes”) boasts only a few branch nominations at this stage – but that certainly does not mean that Hugo will not pick up the 25 branch nominations necessary to make it onto the ballot paper, in which case the campaigning zeal of Socialist Party members (as evidenced in previous elections) may well enable him to achieve a tally of votes out of proportion to what is likely to be a relatively unimpressive number of nominations compared to other contenders.


It is – as yet – relatively early days to make an assessment of the relative strengths of the different campaigns, and it is in any case difficult to do so before the votes are cast, since the evidence which is (or will become) available (including online “likes”, individual endorsements and even nominations from branches, Regions, Service Groups – even the NEC) does not bear any simple relationship to the how members will vote when they receive their ballot papers. I have previously blogged about the results of past elections, and the lessons which can be drawn from those. There are obviously marked differences between those elections and this one, but that doesn’t mean that the evidence of the past is irrelevant.


For what it is worth, I still think that – if the Socialist Party can get Hugo Pierre on to the ballot paper they will drain sufficient votes from Paul Holmes to scupper Paul’s ambitious plans for UNISON (and to set back rank and file organisation in the Union by many years). In that case I think that the balance of the argument will very much favour socialists supporting Roger McKenzie, as the candidate who can win and deliver change (even if not all the change rank and file socialist activists would want).


If, however, the Socialist Party’s sectarian adventure falters then much depends upon how the relative strengths of the candidates appear going into the voting stage. Only if Christina McAnea emerges in a most unlikely third place does the danger that supporters of Roger McKenzie and Paul Holmes, through enthusiastic support for their favoured candidate, may ensure the election of the continuity candidate diminish.


In these circumstances, some dialogue between Roger and Paul would be the least that each of them would owe to UNISON members who want and need a more effective trade union.


For now, all anyone can do is campaign for nominations for the candidate they most support, and watch and wait.

Monday, August 24, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - and then there were four?

 Labourlist are reporting that there are now only four candidates still in the running for the role of UNISON General Secretary as “UNISON national race equality officer Margaret Greer…  …has been deemed ineligible by UNISON and is no longer a candidate in the contest.”

If this is correct then it must be that Rule E.3.2 of the UNISON Rule Book is a factor. This states that; “Any candidate for the post of General Secretary must either have been a member of the Union or one of the predecessor Unions for at least five years, or have been employed by the Union or one of the predecessor Unions for at least five years immediately preceding her/his candidature…”


These two conditions are alternatives – and a potential candidate cannot jump from one category to the other and remain eligible. However employees of the Union can apply for (or to retain) UNISON membership in accordance with Rule C.2.9 in the category of membership available only to employee of the Union. Rule C.2.9.1 provides that “this category of membership shall extend to employees of the Union who shall pay contributions as provided in Schedule A(1). A central register of such members shall be maintained at Head Office.”


I am not supporting Margaret for the position of General Secretary and – if she makes it onto the ballot paper – will not be voting for her. However, I like to be sure that UNISON is complying with its rules.


I don’t know the circumstances of the particular case, but a UNISON member who was appointed to a job with the Union, and who transferred their UNISON membership to the category of membership available to employees of the Union, would appear to be capable of satisfying the first of the two criteria set out in Rule E.3.2.


Section 47(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 protects the right of UNISON members (including members who are employees - though not UNISON employees who are not UNISON members) not to be “unreasonably excluded from standing as a candidate”.


I hope – and assume – that, if the Union is disqualifying a candidate for General Secretary this is being done in accordance with our Rules, and the law.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - what are the Socialist Party up to and why?

 I have blogged here recently both about my recollections of the five previous UNISON General Secretary elections and my uncertainty about whom to support in the election now underway. I am – as I have put it (and to the seeming amusement of some old friends and comrades) “torn” between two candidates, Paul Holmes and Roger McKenzie, both of whom I respect, each of whom are clearly fighting to win.


Another day, perhaps I will address the question of why the candidates on the left in an election to lead a Union with a million women members are all men – that is not the purpose of this blog post.


From my vantage point as a retired UNISON member on the sidelines of this campaign I have, however, also watched with growing distress the conduct of some supporters of another candidate. I have known Hugo Pierre since the NALGO Branch of which I was Secretary inherited the case of one of the members of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) Branch of which he had been Secretary (until ILEA was abolished in 1990).


I have never shared Hugo’s politics, as he is a member of the Socialist Party (SP) (except to the extent that all socialists share a great deal of our politics so that our various divisions baffle and frustrate many of those whom we try to persuade to support us). I have, however, respected Hugo as a long-standing NALGO and then UNISON activist, and continue to do so.


Unfortunately, the circumstances of his candidacy in the current General Secretary election have brought out the worst sectarianism of some of his SP comrades. There is, of course, no novelty in the SP insisting that the “left” should agree by consensus upon a single “unity” candidate for General Secretary (as long as they are a SP member) – but in the past the SP could at least rely upon the record of repeat candidate Roger Bannister (who came in second three times and third twice, every time out polling an alternative rank and file candidate – including myself in 2005 – even when that alternative candidate had secured many more nominations).


On this occasion, lacking the evidence of past electoral performance by “their” candidate in a General Secretary election, some SP members have been reduced to sniping at the candidate backed by UNISON Action Broad Left (UA) (Paul Holmes) – who defeated Hugo in a vote taken by the Steering Committee of that organisation following a hustings at which both Paul and Hugo had spoken, along with Karen Reismann who withdrew in Paul’s favour. Some SP commentators are even claiming to know details of allegations against Paul (which have led to his current lengthy suspension by both UNISON and his employer).


It is fairly clear to any informed observer that the action being taken against Paul by Kirklees Council and the UNISON bureaucracy is a political witch hunt – one can easily apply the test famously advanced by Rodney Bickerstaffe in one of his barnstorming Conference speeches back in 1998 (as I recall) that “if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck then it’s a duck”. It is quite disgraceful to see SP members – many of whom have, like myself, been on the receiving end of unjust misuse of UNISON disciplinary processes for political reasons – using this witch hunt to try to discredit Paul as a candidate.


This disgraceful conduct is then made farcical when those same comrades, upon being blocked in a public UA Facebook group for repeatedly attacking the candidate endorsed by UA or promoting another candidate, complain that this is in fact a “witch hunt”. This hysterical over reaction demonstrates a complete loss of any sense of proportion – but achieves its purpose of rallying the depleted numbers of SP members to the Party’s flag.


UNISON activists who don’t have the leisure time which is available to those of us who are retired may justly be perplexed by the ultra-sectarian and “over the top” reaction of some SP members in this General Secretary election. Having had the time to read two excellent posts (here and here) from former Vice-President of PCS, John McInally (himself I believe an SP member for very many years) I shall summarise what I have learned.


The context for the current behaviour of some SP members in connection with the UNISON General Secretary election is provided by two significant political events (for the SP) in the recent past. The first of these has been the SP’s loss of most of its influence within the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) as a result of their determination to defend an SP member holding the (elected) position of Assistant General Secretary even though – according to an authoritative source – he had lost the confidence of key lay activists and refused to abide by the SP’s signature policy of the “worker’s wage” for union officials.


As a result of this sorry episode the SP have lost a number of their leading activists in PCS to a new political formation within that trade union, and have also abandoned the dominant “Left Unity” group which, working with the socialist General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, has – over the past twenty years – established the largest civil service trade union as a militant force on the left of the labour movement. The SP went so far as to stand a candidate against Serwotka in last year’s PCS General Secretary election campaign.


The SP has not only lost their position of decisive influence at the top of one of the largest trade unions in the UK – they have also lost their leading role in what was probably, for a time, the largest international organisation of “Trotskyist” parties, tendencies and factions – the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).


Indeed, in this case, it was the leadership of the SP in this country (who also – in effect - led the CWI) who engineered a split between itself, supported by a minority of sections of the CWI, and the majority of sections – and members – of the organisation globally. The minority of SP members who remained loyal to the majority within the CWI (now calling itself International Socialist Alternative) were administratively removed from membership of the SP, and can now be found selling a paper called “Socialist Alternative”.


For a group whose raison d’etre is that it is the embryonic leadership of the global proletariat to lose the majority of its international comrades at a stroke is clearly quite traumatic, and the particular venom which SP members engaged in online argument have reserved for UNISON activists whom the SP expelled over this split is remarkable.


In this context, the reason why the SP are so determined to pursue Hugo’s campaign for UNISON General Secretary (which they certainly do not think can be successful) – and to damage the campaign of the other rank and file contender – is because the Party needs to show its own membership that the SP can still provide the leading “rank and file challenger” within UNISON, whatever the implications are for the Union (by way of impact upon the outcome of the election) or for the organisation of the left in the Union (by way of the bitterness being hard learned by a new generation of activists).


Their only objective is to secure 25 branch nominations for Hugo and then to pull out all the stops to ensure that, whilst he will not win, he gets more votes than any other “rank and file” candidate – though even if he does not, his campaign will be heralded as a victory for the “working class orientation” of the SP and its correct political platform.


This is a textbook example of sectarianism – but it isn’t in a textbook. It is taking place in the real world where it is doing real damage to the interests of our class. I hope that all those who care about building the strength of UNISON – including SP members – will see through and disown this futile exercise in party building.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Schedule D.24 of the UNISON Rule Book and the General Secretary election

This is a blog post about an obscure section of a trade union rule book. If that is not your thing then please, look away now.

Although it is now more than three years since I last held any office in UNISON, I do like to keep abreast of the latest edition of the UNISON Rule Book.


This is handy as, from time to time, people contact me and ask me about UNISON Rules (perhaps because – in the crowning achievement of a lifetime of troublemaking from within the rank and file of the movement – it was acknowledged in a footnote to paragraph 37 of the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer in 2017 that I was known as “Rule Book Rogers”).


I have a particular affection for Schedule D to the Rule Book, because – during my last participation as a branch delegate at UNISON National Delegate Conference in 2003 (after which I attended as an NEC member) – I successfully proposed an amendment to that Schedule (this set out how appeal hearings should be dealt with, and is now included in paragraph 26 of that Schedule).


As an aside, I recollect that I drafted this amendment, and proposed it in my own branch to go to Conference, based upon my experience of representing, at appeal, Candy Udwin, who had been expelled from UNISON as a result of criticisms of aspects of her leading role in fighting privatisation in the National Health Service.


As a further aside, I ought to recall that by correctly calling the vote on the amendment to Schedule D carried the then UNISON Vice-President, Dave Anderson, who would go on to serve not only as our President but as MP for Blaydon from 2005 to 2015, got himself into hot water with those on the top table whose approach to counting votes was to err on the side of what the platform wanted to see, rather than what it could see.


All of which is quite irrelevant to the paragraph of Schedule D about which I was today asked for advice, which is paragraph 24 of that Schedule, which states that;


“Any penalty imposed on a member will not take effect until the expiry of the time limit within which the member can submit an appeal or, if an appeal has been submitted, until such time as the appeal has been determined.”


What that means – bearing in mind that the Employment Appeals Tribunal has found that a UNISON member suspended from holding office remains eligible to stand for election – is that (given the timetable for the current election and the inevitable minimum timetable for pursuing a disciplinary investigation, hearing and appeal in accordance with Rule) there is no practical possibility that any candidate currently under investigation by UNISON could face disqualification before the conclusion of the election process.


One thing I find a bit odd, which relates to a topic to which I shall shortly turn in another blog post, is that some of those who (quite justifiably) make a great deal of their worthy campaign to “Defend the Four” (during the course of which they became perfectly familiar with the import of Schedule D.24) have been suggesting that a candidate under disciplinary investigation ought not to be standing in the General Secretary election.


Even though they know that a disciplinary investigation is absolutely no impediment to a candidate in these circumstances.


That, it seems to me, is either lazy, stupid or dishonest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What happened to Labour on Brighton and Hove City Council?

This is a cross-posting of a piece I wrote for Labour Grassroots (a site well worth a visit).

Last month, the Labour administration on Brighton and Hove City Council stepped aside, making way for the City’s second Green administration. To understand the circumstances in which this happened it is important, first of all, to understand the politics of the City, and secondly, the politics of the local Labour Party.

It is more than twenty years since Labour won a majority on the (then) recently unified Council for Brighton and Hove. In no election this century has any Party won a majority of the 54 seats on the City Council and, over this period, the Green Party have grown to be a major force in a way that is true in very few other local authorities (although they fell back badly after the City’s first experience of a Green administration between 2011 and 2015).


These are the results of the five sets of four-yearly elections since the turn of the century, showing the number of Councillors elected for each Party from the 54 seats on the Council;




















Green Party






Liberal Democrat













The biggest factors driving the changing fortunes of the parties locally have generally been national (and international) politics, as well as local demographics. Green gains have been made mostly at the expense of Labour (and, to a lesser extent, the now absent Lib Dems), with Labour making some compensatory gains at the expense of the Tories – who are now decisively relegated to the position of third party.


The unpopularity locally of New Labour economic policies and, in particular, of the Iraq War, drove the Green gains in the first decade of the century and buoyed them to becoming the largest Party in 2011, in the aftermath of the election, in Brighton Pavilion of the first (and only) Green MP in 2010. The crisis-ridden minority Green administration of 2011-15 set that Party back considerably, and even arrested slightly the decline of the Tories, but Labour still fell five seats short of a majority in 2015.


Our hopes of a Labour majority in 2019 were dashed by a further Green surge, this time driven by their uncomplicated opposition to Brexit, which played well in the strongly “Remain” supporting parts of the City – and saw the Greens take 15 out of 20 Councillors in Brighton Pavilion (where their sitting MP has increased her majority at each successive General Election since 2010). However, another significant feature of the 2019 results was that the combined number of Labour and Green Councillors was at its highest, with all 39 members of the two Groups having been elected on manifestos which had striking similarities.


At least as remarkable as the rise of the Green Party locally, for those of us who grew up and became politically active in the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove in the 1970s and 1980s, is the decline of the Conservative Party from its previous position of absolute pre-eminence. This probably reflects long-term demographic changes which have seen formerly “True Blue” areas become home to a progressive population who, at election time, choose between Red and Green.


Recognising that a large majority of local voters had voted for the very similar manifestos of the Labour and Green parties, the Labour Group, under the leadership of Nancy Platts, came to an agreement with the Green Opposition to work together constructively in three key areas – reaching the target of a carbon neutral city by 2030, tackling the City’s housing and homelessness crisis with an ambitious programme of building new homes and responding to the threat of austerity with an approach based upon community wealth building.


This radical approach to putting the people of the City first has not been without its opponents in both Parties. Given that the history of the Green Party in the City is a history of fighting seats previously held by Labour, that Labour was a strong voice against the 2011 Green administration and that the Greens were vigorous opponents of the 2015 Labour administration, at least in its first three years, many, particularly longer-serving, activists and Councillors in both Labour and Green parties find it hard not to focus on party-political point-scoring even to the exclusion of implementing manifesto commitments.


However, the Labour administration elected in 2019, working constructively with the Green opposition, has agreed, for the City Council, a corporate plan for the period 2020-2023, based upon progressive policies outlined in the manifestos of the two parties. This is an indication of the possibility of joint working between two progressive political parties to deliver radical policies for the benefit of local people – reversing the experience of the past twenty years, in which senior Council officers have been empowered (and elected Councillors of all parties disempowered) by circumstances in which the Chief Executive, when given strategic direction by the Council Leader, could always turn around and ask “but do you have political support for this?”


The organisational culture of Brighton and Hove City Council has been shaped by twenty years of minority administrations having to navigate what has, since 2003, been a “hung” Council. The “memorandum of understanding” agreed between Labour and the Greens last year, whilst fraught with difficulties, represents the first realistic plan to change this culture in the direction of greater democratic political accountability.


How, then, did we reach a point at which the Green opposition and the Labour administration have swapped places? This is a story about the Labour Party, and some of its former members, and it is one that can only be told in outline if it is being told by those who respect the Rules of the Party and the rights of its members.


This story also needs some historical context. Following the loss of all three Parliamentary constituencies in the 2010 General Election and of the City Council in the 2011 local elections, there was majority agreement to replacing the three constituency parties with a single City (or District) Party unit, governed by a small elected Executive (elected annually at a meeting open to all members in the City).


This Executive oversaw the selection of candidates for the 2015 local elections, which preceded the massive growth in Labour Party membership associated with the election (and subsequent re-election) of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Party. The Labour Group on Brighton and Hove City Council which greeted the accession to leadership of Jeremy Corbyn reflected to a considerable extent (like many other Groups up and down the country) the politics of the Party under Ed Miliband (if not even under Gordon Brown and Tony Blair).


The dramatic growth of the Party membership in 2015/16 saw an influx of new members (and former members re-joining) who found natural allies in the long-serving left-wing members of the Party in support of radical policies associated with the newly (and unexpectedly) elected Leader.


A majority of the Labour Group – and some of the sitting members of the City Party Executive – clearly felt threatened by this radical transformation of the Party membership, who were beginning, quite reasonably, to demand democratic accountability of Party officers and Labour Councillors.


The burgeoning membership did not appreciate how isolated and put upon the small group of Councillors and activists who had been running the Party locally had come to feel, and this lack of sympathy helped to lead to the local Party “establishment” circling its wagons against a membership seen as hostile.


In the summer of 2016, when attendance at the City Party AGM so exceeded the capacity of the meeting room which had been booked by the outgoing Executive that the meeting had to take place in three shifts, the antipathy of some of the local “leadership” to the rapidly changing membership of the Party boiled over into allegations of misconduct at that meeting, which led to the National Executive Council agreeing a recommendation from Party officials to suspend the City Party.


The bad feeling to which this measure gave rise further poisoned what were already difficult relationships between most of the Labour Group and the majority of local Party members. When the three constituency Labour Parties were reconstituted in early 2017, supporters of the the (then) Party Leader more or less swept the board in the elections of the new Executives.


Relationships between the membership and the Group were not improved when the (then) Council – and Labour Group - Leader chose to make public criticisms of alleged conduct at Labour Party Conference 2017, which local Party officials felt should have been raised within the Party.


In the absence of a City-wide Party structure, the Party also needed to reconstitute a Local Campaign Forum (LCF) to oversee the selection of candidates for the 2019 local elections (a process which, according to Party Rules, should have been concluded one year in advance).


The reconstitution of the LCF depended upon the Regional Party, and did not take place until late November 2017. The LCF then moved, as swiftly as possible, to select candidates, adopting an approach to membership of the panel (from which candidates would be selected) which was broad and inclusive (in recognition of the diversity of views within the local Party and of the importance of allowing local branches the widest choice of candidates).


In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out to the reader that I was elected (unopposed) as Chair of the LCF at that initial meeting and have held the position ever since.


The former Council Leader chose not to put himself forward to be a Labour candidate in 2019 (as did some other sitting Councillors), whilst a small number of other sitting Councillors were not selected by members in the branches. However, no sitting Councillor who sought to be on the panel was rejected by the LCF.


Having also stepped down as Leader of the Group, the former Leader then left the Party and sat (briefly) as a Councillor for the short-lived “Independent Group” (for which he would go on to stand as a candidate in the 2019 European elections, thereby putting himself outside the Labour Party for the immediately foreseeable future).


The process of selecting candidates for the local elections was not without controversy, but was generally comradely. The LCF had neither the time nor the resources to police the social media of every candidate who came forward or was selected and, during the election period, two candidates were suspended by the Party (with minimal notice to the LCF) following complaints which came to light about social media posts.


A year further on, and additional complaints emerged, one by one, about three more Labour Councillors. Either the complainants or someone else with knowledge of the complaints, made sure that details of the complaints were released (inappropriately) into the public domain.


I make no comment or observation about the validity of the complaints or the action which the Party should take in response to them because that would breach Party Rules (and, as far as I know, the complaints have still to be investigated). I am sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, a view which does not seem to be shared by the former Council Leader (and former Party member) who names all three in a list, published online, of thirty local Party members he clearly feels need to be disciplined by the Party of which he is not a member, having stood against the Party as recently as last year.


In the interests of full disclosure I should point out that I am one of the thirty (although I am in good company, alongside the Labour Group Leader and one of our Labour MPs).


The divisions between local Party members which were entrenched by the circumstances in which the City Party was suspended in 2016 have, regrettably, continued (at least in the minds of some) – even where some of those obsessed with the division are now, for one reason or another outside the Party. Disciplinary action has been taken against members on each side of the divide, for various reasons, of which the three Councillors are the latest cases.


One of the three Councillors is now suspended by the Party (but is still required to follow the Labour Group whip and counts, therefore, as a member of the Labour Group for the Council’s purposes). Two other Councillors chose to resign from the Labour Party and Group rather than be subject to the Party’s disciplinary processes. This changed the composition of the Labour Group, which now has one fewer member than the Green Group, and led to the change in administration of the Council.


This is the lengthy and complex narrative which has led to Brighton and Hove City Council losing its Labour administration (which had been the first administration since 2003 to retain control at the end of a four-yearly electoral cycle) and gaining its second ever Green administration.


This is not a simple story about antisemitism, as some would have it. Nor is it a simple story about unjustified disciplinary action, as others would have it. There are significant issues for the Party about how it handles complaints, when it administratively suspends members and office holders and how it deals with complaints which are released to the press and Party simultaneously – but these are not issues which are susceptible to simple resolution.


What matters most is what these developments may mean for the progressive policies on which Labour candidates in Brighton and Hove were elected in May 2019 and how Labour members can continue to support the radical political project of our local 2019 manifesto.


The new Green administration will still be implementing, as far as possible, the corporate plan drawn up under the previous Labour administration (in cooperation with the former Green opposition) – and the people of Brighton and Hove are the same progressive electorate who voted overwhelmingly against the Conservatives, dividing their votes evenly between Labour and Green candidates.


Maybe, just maybe, a path of political cooperation will remain open to be taken. The Labour LCF will certainly seek to consult the thousands of local Party members to get their views on how we move forward.



Monday, August 10, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election nominations open - who should socialists support?

 Nominations open today in the election to replace Dave Prentis as UNISON General Secretary, presenting quite a conundrum to serious socialists in UNISON’s ranks. My starting point is that serious socialists want to see UNISON achieve its potential for its members and the wider movement – and this poses the dilemma of how best to use our votes (and before that, any influence we may have over the nomination process) to achieve this objective.


I don’t think that the dilemma includes any question of support for Assistant General Secretary Christina McAnea, clearly the “continuity” candidate in this election – her online statement in support of her candidacy, whilst referencing her twenty-five years’ experience as a national negotiator, does not so much as hint at any criticism of the status quo in UNISON.


Nor, I regret, do I think that the candidacy of my former fellow London Region lay activist, now UNISON’s National Black Members’ Officer, Margaret Greer, will long detain many of those looking for a candidate with a transformative agenda who can win the election for General Secretary. (I was going to link to her campaign website but it seems to be down at the moment).


Whilst another former fellow London Region activist, Hugo Pierre (who was the last ever NALGO Branch Secretary at the Inner London Education Authority until its abolition in 1990) certainly has a transformative agenda for the Union, I also think that serious socialists will disregard his candidacy.


Hugo’s fellow Socialist Party member, Roger Bannister, a well-respected, and now retired, UNISON activist who has been a candidate in every previous UNISON General Secretary election saw his peak share of the vote twenty years ago (at 32%) (as explained in greater detail in my earlier blog post).


When originally indicating that he might stand, Hugo said that he aimed to be “the candidate of the left” – and he addressed a hustings organised by UNISON Action Broad Left, alongside Karen Reissmann and Paul Holmes, following which the Steering Committee of the Broad Left decided, by a large majority to support Paul’s candidacy.


I am afraid that this is an example of what an informed observer of the Socialist Party has described as “prestige politics.” The Socialist Party know that it is quite impossible that “their” candidate can win the General Secretaryship, but they hope that, trading upon the reputation of their previous candidate, and relying on the commitment and enthusiasm of their small but hard-working membership, they can garner more votes than any other “rank and file” candidate.


This brings us to the candidacy of my friend and comrade, Paul Holmes, whom I supported as General Secretary candidate ten years ago. Paul couldn’t break through in 2010, coming in third behind Dave Prentis and Roger Bannister, but with the (broader) support of UNISON Action Broad Left, Paul is not alone in believing the he could be the first rank and file member elected to lead UNISON.


Paul Holmes is a first-rate Branch Secretary and a totally principled and committed socialist, and he will gain support from many UNISON activists who feel strongly that our General Secretary should be a rank and file activist. The fact that Paul is currently suspended by his employer and by UNISON itself, could be turned to his advantage, if his campaign uses this opportunity to expose the long and sorry history of misuse of UNISON disciplinary procedures (and – sometimes – of collusion with employers).


Many serious socialists will be backing Paul Holmes. A strong case can be made that socialists should throw in our lot with the candidate who best expresses our beliefs about what UNISON should be and how it should be led, particularly if one believes that (with no incumbent candidate for the first time in twenty years) a rank and file candidate could “come through the middle” between two Assistant General Secretaries and win the election.


However, other serious socialists in the Union have already made the decision that, a rank and file candidate being unlikely to win sufficient support (particularly if the “spoiler” candidacy of Hugo Pierre can secure enough nominations to get on the ballot paper and split the vote of those who want to see a rank and file General Secretary), they will support the “change” candidacy of Assistant General Secretary Roger McKenzie.


Roger, who has picked up support across the Union, is clearly standing to change UNISON, albeit his criticisms of a status quo in which he has served in a senior position for the past ten years are mostly implicit – and far more muted than those of the rank and file contenders.


Roger wouldn’t turn the Union upside down as Paul would (he hasn’t for example – as far as I know – pledged to sell off our expensive London headquarters building – a.k.a. “the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road”) but if his commitment to turning UNISON into a genuinely “organising” union was given effect then I think that would count as transformative.


A socialist case can therefore also be made for supporting Roger McKenzie to achieve the most change that is practicable – if that is what one believes. A UNISON led by Roger McKenzie would certainly be a far less hostile environment for socialist activists than has been the case in the past, and would be a force on the left within the Labour Party.


As I hope regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will appreciate, your humble blogger is undecided as to which camp of serious socialists I belong in (others will doubt that I should be described as “serious” at all…)


At this point there will be serious socialists who will argue for support for Paul Holmes and others who will argue for support for Roger McKenzie.


As the nomination process proceeds, illuminating (to a limited extent) both the relative strengths of all the candidates and the number of candidates likely to make it on to the final ballot paper, many of those serious socialists may well revisit their decisions. I shall certainly do so.