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)

Sunday, November 29, 2020

UNISON General Secretary election - it's not over until the Returning Officer sings?

Friday was the closing date for receipt of ballots in the UNISON General Secretary election. This has certainly been an election unlike any other, having taken place during a global pandemic which has had dramatic implications for the functioning of our trade union.

Against (certainly my) expectations, there was a significant increase in the total number of branch nominations compared to the previous election, reversing a downward trend (which had matched a gradual reduction in the number of branches since the original process of branch merger in the mid-1990s). It will be interesting to see if the downward trend in turnout of members to vote in the election has also been reversed (we must certainly hope that it has).

In the absence of as many opportunities for in-person campaigning (leaflet drops outside or in workplaces for example) online campaigning has taken on an importance in this General Secretary election which it has never previously had (but may continue to have in future?) I myself, was proud to support my friend and comrade, Paul Holmes, and to speak at one of his online rallies.

We won’t know the result of the election until the New Year, and no one can say truthfully that they are certain of the result given the unprecedented circumstances in which the election has taken place. However, if is true that Christina McAnea (who didn’t want to be called the continuity candidate) got by far the largest number of nominations, and that the candidate with the most nominations has previously gone on to win the election.

It is also true that a great number of leading activists and officials who were not persuaded that it was important to elect a woman as UNISON General Secretary five years ago seem to have come round to that point of view now, and that - taken together with the presence on the ballot paper of three (male) candidates all (in their different ways) to the left of the apparent frontrunner - circumstances appear likely to favour a repeat of the outcome in which the candidate with the most nominations goes on to win.

In these circumstances, the fact that there appear to have been numerous instances of breaches of the election procedures online by supporters of candidate McAnea may give the Returning Officer (who has the power to order a rerun of the election) a bit of a headache. I won’t here go into the large number of breaches of the procedures at branch level, but I will remark that the scandalous misuse of the national website on behalf of the National Retired Members Committee (and therefore by UNISON) was far from being an isolated case of online misbehaviour by national - as opposed to branch - officials.

The culture of UNISON is, regrettably, that rules are seen as something to be imposed upon those upon whom the ruling clique of the Union wish to impose them, and not really something that supporters of that clique need to pay too much attention to. Whether the impact of that culture in this case this will mean that this General Secretary election has to be rerun will depend upon the extent of breaches of procedure which are found to have taken place, as well as the likelihood that such breaches would have altered the result.

Whatever the outcome of the complaints which must inevitably follow from the breaches of election procedures, it is to be hoped that supporters of the candidates who stood for change in this General Secretary election can find a way to cooperate in next year's elections to the National Executive Council.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Good Evans! Whatever is going on?

I have refrained from blogging much recently about goings on in the Labour Party, of which I have been a member for forty years (and which I shall leave only by reason of my death - hopefully still some time away - or my unjustified expulsion).

I was a strong supporter of the previous Leader of the Labour Party, having known him as a comrade for many years before his unexpected election - and I was not among those who were taken with the campaign which launched his successor into office.

I was also worried by the track record of the Leader’s preferred - and successful - candidate to become General Secretary of the Party.

Nevertheless, I have kept various criticisms largely to myself - or expressed them only within Party meetings, wanting to give the new leadership a chance to distinguish themselves by robust and forthright opposition to the appallingly incompetent and reactionary Government.

Today, however, the General Secretary of the Labour Party stepped so far out of line, and took a step which so obviously threatens to bring our Party into disrepute, that I was compelled to do the twenty first century equivalent of putting pen to paper.

So this is a personal blog post, on a personal blog - but it is about action which I took in a Labour Party capacity because I believe in a Labour Party in which debate takes place and dissent can be expressed.

The General Secretary wrote to CLP officers this afternoon as follows;

Updated guidance on motions from the General Secretary

Dear Jon,

Following the publication of the EHRC report into antisemitism in the Labour Party on 29 October, I provided some guidance to CLPs on what were and were not appropriate topics of discussion for branches and CLPs. The situation has clearly moved on since then, so I wanted to provide you with some updated guidance.

It remains the case that motions which seek to repudiate the findings of the EHRC or question its competency to conduct the investigation remain not competent business for branches or CLPs. Motions relating to ongoing disciplinary cases are also not in order, in line with the instructions of my predecessor.

I am aware that other motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the PLP) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order.

A number of CLPs have asked for further information on the basis on which myself and the NEC are able to rule on what can and cannot be discussed by local parties, and I am very happy to provide that explanation.

The Labour Party’s ‘Code of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism’ rightly states that “the Labour Party will ensure the party is a welcoming home to members of all communities, with no place for any prejudice or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion.” The NEC has the power to uphold the rules and standing orders of the Labour Party and to take any action it deems necessary for such purposes. The Rule Book is also clear that such powers can be delegated to, amongst others, the General Secretary. For the avoidance of doubt my previous rulings on these matters have all been properly reported to the NEC, which is supportive of my approach.

The Labour Party is committed to implementing the EHRC report in full, and part of that is to accept our previous failure to deal with antisemitism and adopt a genuinely zero tolerance approach which will ensure all members, and in particular our Jewish members, feel safe and welcome within the Labour Party. Please rest assured that when I took up post as General Secretary, I had no desire at all to hamper discussion by our local parties, but until we can improve our culture such restrictions may be required to stay in place.

Best wishes,

David Evans

General Secretary

I replied to the General Secretary as follows;

A response to the latest “guidance” from the General Secretary

Dear Mr Evans,

I have, as a CLP Chair, received various items of correspondence from you over recent months, which I have read with increasing incredulity.

Today I have received an email which, were it not for its similarity in tone and content to earlier correspondence, I would have assumed to a be a poor attempt at a spoof email, lampooning authoritarianism by purporting to illustrate a General Secretary writing to Party activists with the tone of a Headteacher addressing an assembly of badly-behaved pupils.

As it happens, I received your email at precisely the point at which I was considering a large backlog of motions due to be considered (or not) at a meeting of our General Committee this evening. I now have, from you, purportedly on behalf of our National Executive and purportedly in accordance with the Rules of our Party, guidance that “motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the PLP) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members” and that therefore “all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order.”

Your guidance to me, as a CLP Chair is therefore that I should rule out of order all motions which include expressions of solidarity and all motions which relate – in any way – to the internal processes of the PLP. Among the motions, submitted by Party branches, which are before our GC at present and which, according to your guidance, it appears to me I should rule out of order are the following;

  • A motion expressing solidarity with ACORN, the community based union of working class people: tenants, workers, residents in connection with attacks on that organisation;
  • A motion expressing solidarity with Julian Assange in connection with his threatened deportation to the USA;
  • A motion expressing solidarity with teaching trade unions in the context of risks to health and safety in schools during the pandemic;
  • A motion expressing solidarity with African people and calling for reparations for the role of the UK in the Atlantic slave trade.

If I were to follow your guidance I should rule all of these motions out of order.

I am also aware that our Executive Committee intends to urge the General Committee to express solidarity with school students who experience bullying because they are LGBT+ and to ask the officers of the CLP to call upon the leadership of our Party in Parliament to contest cuts in support for anti-bullying work proposed by the Government (thereby touching on matters which relate to the internal processes of the PLP). Again, if I were to follow your guidance, I should rule this recommendation from the Executive Committee out of order.

It may be that you do not really intend your guidance to have such widespread application. It may be that when you give me guidance to rule out of order motions “expressing solidarity” you have in mind only motions “expressing solidarity” with a particular individual. It may be that when you give me guidance to rule out of order motions “relating to the internal processes of the PLP” you have in mind only motions relating to the recent well-publicised decision of the Leader of our Party to withdraw the whip from a particular individual. This is not, however, how you have chosen to express yourself and your words mean what they say, not what you may have intended to say.

Given the absurd conclusions to which I would be forced were I to follow your most recent guidance (and leaving to one side the separate question of whether you genuinely have, under Rule, the authority that you believe yourself to have to issue such guidance) I have to inform you that I cannot possibly follow this latest guidance.

I note that you state that certain motions “are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members”. It is of course important that Party meetings should indeed provide a safe and welcoming space for all members. I do not know how much experience you have in chairing meetings, but it seems to me that it is the role of the chair to ensure that meetings of our Party are a safe and welcoming space for all members and that this important objective is logically incapable of providing a justification for censoring the expression of opinions (aside from – obviously – ensuring that there is no room for hate speech or for the expression of discriminatory opinions in Party meetings).

I also note that you state that when you took up post as General Secretary, you “had no desire at all to hamper discussion by our local parties”. I would be reassured of this desire if you would repudiate the views expressed by a Party apparatchik in 1999 that “the majority of local Labour parties are like Trotters Independent Traders.”

If you can provide coherent, reasonable and comprehensible guidance (which does not lead to absurd conclusions) accompanied by a reasoned justification for the basis in Rule for the issuing of such guidance then I shall be happy to consider it.

Until then, I wish you the very best of health.

Yours in solidarity,

Jon Rogers

Chair, Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party