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, July 31, 2022

Brighton and Hove Labour Local Campaign Forum 2017-2021: an accurate account

In the coming week, a relatively small group of Labour Party activists will meet in Brighton and Hove at the inaugural meeting of the new Local Government Committee (LGC) for our City. Having taken the decision not to put myself forward for the LGC because of
my state of health, all I can do is wish my comrades well for the work they have before them.

The LGC will have important work to do to draw up Labour’s manifesto for the 2023 local Council elections, and to coordinate the campaign to elect the largest possible number of Labour Councillors. One area of work which would normally be the responsibility of the LGC has been taken away from the Brighton and Hove LGC even before its inception - candidate selection.

The circumstances in which this has come to pass are circumstances in which a narrative is being promoted about the recent history of our Party in our city, and in particular about the predecessor body to the LGC, the Local Campaign Forum (LCF), which is inaccurate, misleading and untruthful.

Mark Twain reputedly said that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on. Since there is a real danger that the false narrative will come to inform not simply perceptions of the past but also conduct in the present and into the future, I thought I should find a shoehorn and help the truth with its boots by writing this blog post.

In addition to having served as Chair of Brighton Pavilion CLP since our CLP was re-established at the beginning of 2017, I also served as Chair of the Brighton and Hove Local Campaign Forum (LCF) from its inception at the end of 2017 and throughout its existence. Unlike many other commentators on this subject, I can tell you what actually happened.

Relevant pre-history

In common with many other areas of the country, the Party in Brighton and Hove experienced a massive increase in membership around the 2015 and 2016 leadership elections. Following the loss of all three Parliamentary seats at the 2010 General election, and the Party being forced into third place on the Council in the 2011 local elections, the three CLPs had been merged into a single City Party, with an All Member Meeting structure and a small 10 member executive (which, among other things, took on the function of the LCF for the area).

Having obtained their first seat on the council in the late 1990s, the Green Party had gained support locally owing to the unpopularity of the Iraq War (in particular) and by 2011 they were the largest group on the Council and formed the first ever Green local administration, following on from the election, in Brighton Pavilion, of the first ever Green MP in 2010. Whilst Caroline Lucas consolidated her popularity, the Green Council most certainly did not. Therefore, in 2013, we won a seat back from the Greens on the local Council for the first time in the Hanover and Elm Grove by-election. This was followed by further Labour gains in the 2015 local elections and the establishment of a Labour administration, as well as by the Party winning back Hove and Portslade from the Tories in the General Election which took place on the same day.

The Annual General Meeting of the City Party in 2016 attracted a very large attendance, although this was only a small proportion of the approximately 8000 members which the party by then had throughout the City. Since the venue for the meeting could not accommodate the numbers who turned up, the meeting took place in three shifts.

A new Executive was elected, some of whom had been members of the Executive previously, but most of whom (including the Chair and Secretary) had not. The new Executive, in common with a large majority of those in attendance at that AGM, were broadly sympathetic to the then Party Leader. 

Various allegations were promptly made about the conduct of the meeting by supporters of candidates who had been unsuccessful in the elections undertaken at that meeting. In response to these complaints the NEC declared the meeting null and void and suspended the City Party. 

Although a subsequent investigation undertaken on behalf of the NEC did not, as I understand it, uphold any of the complaints made about the 2016 AGM, other criticisms were made, in particular in relation to postings on a Labour Party Members’ Facebook group for Brighton and Hove.

The NEC agreed, in consultation with local members who had been elected to both the old and the new Executive, and with the leadership of the Labour Group, to split up the City Party and reconstitute the three CLPs. As part of these discussions, a constitution was agreed for a new LCF for Brighton and Hove.

The three CLPs were constituted at inaugural AGMs is early in 2017, held in the presence of regional officials who oversaw the elections which took place there. Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn were generally successful in the elections which took place at those meetings.

The inaugural meeting of the LCF, which was chaired at the outset by the Chair of the Regional Executive, and at which regional officials were present to conduct elections, did not take place until November 2017. Candidates of the left were successful. I, myself, was elected unopposed as Chair. This was reported in the local press with the sort of “balance” (and anonymous briefing from the right wing of the Party) with which we were familiar at the time.

The unfortunate legacy of the unfounded complaints made concerning the 2016 AGM of the City Party was that many active members of the reconstituted CLPs were very angry about the circumstances of the suspension and subsequent breakup of the City Party, which anger was compounded by what was perceived locally as an unnecessary delay in establishing the LCF (the only body which was seen as a successor to the previous citywide Party organisation).

For the best part of 18 months, there had been no citywide Party body which could relate to, and hold to account, the Labour Group on the City Council. This was regrettable, as the then Leader was widely perceived to have been associated with the unfounded complaints about the 2016 AGM, and went on, during Party Conference 2017 to announce that Labour Party Conference might well not be welcome in Brighton and Hove in future, apparently on the basis of equally unsubstantiated allegations (following which we had to ask him to allow elected officials of the party to have prior notice of any criticisms he wanted to make in public).

When I took office as Chair of the Brighton and Hove LCF in November 2017, along with other members of the newly elected Executive, I confronted a difficult situation in which relations between the Labour Group and the wider Party membership were poor and there was considerable contention between the majority of members at the time, who were supportive of the then Leader of the Party, and a hostile minority.

Panel interviews

Since our LCF had come into existence only 18 months ahead of the citywide local elections for which we needed to prepare, our first priority was to agree a timetable for candidate selection. At this point, I should probably stress that at every stage, and as required by the Rule Book, we kept colleagues at the Regional Office informed and consulted them on every step which we took. At no point was it suggested to us as an LCF EC that we were doing anything wrong or inappropriate.

Although our work was interrupted somewhat by the resignation of our first Secretary, we soon had in place a replacement. Our EC worked well together as a team, and, with advice and support from our regional official, we organised briefing sessions for members interested in becoming candidates, with separate dedicated sessions also organised for women members and for black and ethnic minority members.

By the summer of 2018 we were ready to hold assessment team interviews with potential candidates in order to populate the panel. Every assessment team was chaired by a party member from outside Brighton and Hove, generally by volunteers from Worthing. Again, I should stress that we kept our regional official fully informed at every stage.

I was mindful of the damage which would be done to the best interests of the Party at the time if anything took place which could exacerbate the existing divisions between supporters and opponents of the then Leader. Unfortunately, some existing Councillors displayed a sense of entitlement not only to be on the panel but also to be re-selected in the ward which they currently represented.

This obvious sense of entitlement was offensive, particularly to some of the new active members. The most extreme example was set by a long serving Councillor whom we admitted to the Panel but who was not selected by the local ward party. She ended up standing in that ward (unsuccessfully) but as a Conservative candidate!

I was aware that if our assessment teams excluded any sitting Councillors from the panel this would lead to well-publicised contention and adverse media coverage which would have a negative impact upon our election campaign.

I therefore successfully persuaded comrades and colleagues on the LCF EC that our assessment teams should adopt an approach that it was not our job to exclude people for political reasons if they were otherwise eligible to stand as a candidate for our Party. We agreed that we wanted to have the largest possible panel so that members in branches could have the widest choice from which to shortlist and select candidates.

We asked all potential candidates the same questions, in order to ensure equality of opportunity and avoid discrimination. We did, of course, ask everyone if there was anything about them which could embarrass the Party. This was one of our standard questions.

I am aware that there are those who might say that we should have done more "due diligence" at this stage. In response to that observation I would make three points. 

First, although we were in near constant communication with the Regional office we were at no stage advised that we should do any such checking of potential candidates. We were scrupulous in complying with the relevant provisions of Chapter 5 of the Rule Book and Appendix 4, which make no reference to "due diligence". Had we been given different guidance we would have followed it.

Secondly, and related to that point, there was (and is) no reference to "due diligence" in the Labour Party Rule Book. If there were such a reference it would presumably cover the important topic of how to avoid unlawful discrimination in selecting which candidates to scrutinise further, and also how to ensure compliance with The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when collecting and using the sensitive personal data upon which such checking would depend.

Thirdly, as a group of volunteer lay activists who were also responsible for manifesto development and preparing the campaign, we did not only lack any guidance on this point, we also lacked the necessary resources to dig into the background of approximately 90 applicants to be on the panel.

The only potential candidates which were rejected by our assessment teams were those who did not have the requisite 12 months party membership. In a small number of cases, we sought, but did not receive, dispensation to place on the panel individuals who had fewer than 12 months continuous membership of the party. This serves to underline the fact that we were dealing with the Regional Office throughout, who were aware of our every step.

I think it is also important to point out that, having organised a dedicated event to encourage Black and ethnic minority members to come forward as potential candidates, we did approve every such candidate with the requisite period of membership. Having set ourselves a target of six candidates (based upon our reading of 2011 census data) we found ourselves with six Black and ethnic minority members on the panel. This wasn't nearly good enough but it is not quite the picture painted by recent media coverage.

Shortlisting and selection

Having populated the panel with more than 80 members we moved on to shortlisting and selection of candidates for the 54 seats on the Council. A majority of our candidates were women. We applied the rules in relation to the selection of women candidates in winnable wards with the exception of South Portslade Ward, where members voted automatically to reselect their two sitting male Councillors, and Woodingdean Ward, where the Regional Director intervened to authorise the selection of two male candidates (underlining the point, which I have already made, that the Regional Office was closely involved in the process at every stage).

In order to try and assist in the selection of Black and ethnic minority candidates in particular we recommended to all branches that prior to shortlisting and selection meetings they should play a training video about unconscious bias. As far as I am aware, this recommendation was complied with in every branch.

In the event, Black and ethnic minority candidates stood in Wish ward in Hove (two candidates), which we considered winnable . There was also one Black/ethnic Minority candidate in the winnable Woodingdean ward. Other Black/ethnic minority candidates stood in Patcham ward (safe Conservative) and Brunswick and Adelaide ward (relatively safe Green). Given that none of these candidates were eventually elected, this was a very disappointing outcome. However, we had required branches to address the question of unconscious bias and, whilst it is clear to me now that we should have gone further and implemented antiracist training at branch level, I must emphasise that we received no such guidance from the Region at the time.

It has recently been suggested that "factional" activity may have impacted upon the selection, or non-selection, of Black and ethnic minority candidates in safe wards, I think that I should address this point directly. By way of introduction on this point, I should add that I am not a member of Momentum or of Labour To Win (or either of its predecessor organisations). I am a member of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). The LRC played no active organising role in relation to candidate selection for the 2019 elections in Brighton and Hove.

I was aware that there was a “Momentum slate” in many wards, although (in spite of the fact that the great majority of members at that time were probably very sympathetic to the politics of that organisation) inclusion on that “slate” was certainly no guarantee of selection in a safe Labour ward. Less openly, I am aware that there were invitation-only meetings for potential candidates at the office of Peter Kyle, MP. So-called "factional" activity took place on both sides of the aisle within the broad church of the Labour Party, and if anyone has been given to believe that this was not the case and that it was only supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who were organising in this way, then they have been deliberately misled.

Issues with candidates during and after the selection process

Before the conclusion of the selection process, a (white, male) candidate who had been selected to fight Patcham ward for the Party circulated to ward members a statement which included stupid and offensive content. As Chair of the LCF I contacted the individual and expressed my opinions about his conduct. He promptly resigned and we were able to replace him. Patcham was a safe Conservative ward.

During the election campaign, some historic tweets which had been made by a (white, male) candidate selected to fight St Peter’s and North Laine (SPNL) ward came to light. These were drawn to the attention of the Regional Office rather than the local party and the Party (reasonably) viewed them as offensively misogynistic. The candidate was suspended from the Party, although he had already been nominated and therefore remained on the ballot paper. SPNL was a safe Green ward.

Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by our Regional Official who told me that the Party was suspending a Black woman candidate in the winnable Wish ward on the basis of some historic posts on Facebook, which were considered to be antisemitic. On behalf of the LCF I objected to this action, which I considered to be precipitate and unjustified. The candidate remained on the ballot paper, but neither she nor the other ethnic minority Labour candidate in that ward were successful. The ward was held by the Tories.

Election manifesto, campaign and results

In the run-up to the election, the LCF had organised three open sessions for Party members to contribute to the writing of the manifesto, following which a member of the LCF EC collated all the comments and contributions into a document which was subsequently edited by the Labour Group and became our manifesto. This manifesto was very popular within the Party and the process whereby it was drawn up was widely viewed as a successful model.

The LCF also coordinated campaigning activity across the city in the run-up to the elections and solicited support and donations, including significant and important support from the GMB. We focused support from the LCF on Labour-held and winnable wards, whilst also providing nominal support for other wards where members were keen to launch an effective local campaign (which would draw the resources of opposing parties to defend their wards).

I make these points in order to emphasise that the LCF and its EC were engaging in a great deal of work for our Party which is not recognised in the ill-informed criticism now being made in relation to candidate selection.

The results of the 2019 elections were not what we would have hoped for. Although we performed well against the Tories (with the exception of Wish ward to which I have referred above), we lost ground to the Greens, losing several of the seats which we had won back from them in 2015 (and 2013). We remained, at that point, the largest party group on the council (with one more Councillor than the Greens). 

This was the first time in 20 years that the largest group on the council had continued to be the largest group after the quadrennial election. For the first time, the Conservatives were relegated to the third largest group on the Council.

Labour formed an administration and came to an agreement with the Green opposition about developing a strategic plan for the Council to reflect the considerable common ground between the election manifestos of the two parties. As Chair of the LCF I attended regular meetings between the two groups to monitor implementation of the memorandum of understanding which governed their cooperation on certain issues.

Issues raised about Councillors after the election

In mid 2020 complaints were made about three members of the Labour Group, which were allegations in relation to antisemitism. In each case these complaints were historic in the sense that they referred back to matters which had arisen when the individuals concerned were not sitting as Members of the Council. The complainant(s) had either sought out such historic information or had been sitting on the complaints for some time.

Two of the three Councillors concerned resigned from the Party rather than face investigation and still sit as independents. No one can know if the conclusion of the investigations which did not take place would have led to disciplinary action against either of these two individuals, nor if such action would have led to suspension or expulsion or in either case. Comparison with the one case in which the member did not resign rather suggests that they would not have.

In the third case a disciplinary investigation led to the suspension of the individual for 12 months, followed by a further period before they were readmitted to the Labour Group. Subsequent developments mean that the individual is now once more listed as an Independent Councillor.

To say that we lost three Labour Councillors "because of antisemitism” is, at best, a gross oversimplification. As I have explained elsewhere online the answer to the question of why Labour lost our position as the largest group on  Brighton and Hove City Council in 2020 is considerably more complicated than that.

In any event the problems faced in these three individual cases in 2020 cannot be attributed to the work of the LCF, undertaken in 2018, to select candidates for the 2019 elections. The LCF followed all advice and guidance which we received from the Party, and did not fail to comply with any such advice. Furthermore, we involved the Region every step of the way.

If, which would not be reasonable, it were to be held that the LCF had been in any way responsible for the circumstances which led to the loss of three members of the Labour Group in 2020, then one would have to conclude that the Region were equally culpable. I should stress that I do not believe that the Region were at fault in this matter, because I do not accept that the LCF bore any such responsibility.

Recent events

Over the past year, discussions have taken place between members of the 3 CLPs in Brighton and Hove about establishing an LGC. We had been working on the assumption that this LGC would have the full range of powers of such a body as set out in the Labour Party Rule Book.

However, at 16.42 on 26 May, the Regional Director of the Labour Party wrote to the senior officers of the three Constituency Labour Parties in Brighton and Hove. He expressed “grave concerns with the current situation in Brighton and Hove”.


He expressed concern about the candidate vetting process; 

“To lose one councillor due to antisemitism allegations is unacceptable, but to lose 20% of the Labour group and control of one of the largest councils in the South East is appalling and cannot ever be allowed to happen again.” 


He also reported that he had been having extensive conversations with prospective BAME candidates who attempted to stand in 2019 and the Brighton BAME forum, as follows; 

“The reports back to me have been shocking. 


It is bad enough that Brighton was highlighted by Operation Black Vote for having no BAME councillors but hearing some of the experiences faced by BAME candidates who attempted to stand last time, it is clear that the situation is indefensible. 


Some told me that they attempted to stand in winnable wards only to be told “you can’t stand here because if you do an anti-Jeremy candidate may win” and some told me of the pressure applied to them by other members of the local parties and those within positions of authority which has been shocking to hear.” 


He reported that he had referred these concerns to the National Executive Committee (NEC) and that it had been decided a panel will be appointed to conduct selections in Brighton and Hove. This panel will be made up of five members split from between the NEC and the Regional Executive Committee (REC), with at least two of the five members from BAME backgrounds. 

On the same day, at 7:20 pm (before this recipient had even opened and read the email sent less than three hours earlier), this development was reported in the media, as follows; 

“Labour leaders in Brighton and Hove, Sussex, have been informed they can no longer conduct election candidate contests, due to continued concerns over antisemitism, and a lack of Black and other ethnic minority representatives…

…It follows repeat allegations of antisemitism amongst councillors and members, which eventually contributed to Labour losing overall control of Brighton Council to the Greens…

…It is also comes after BAME members told Labour’s regional bosses they felt they were being excluded from being selected as candidates because they were not part of the hard-left pro-Jeremy Corbyn faction.”

One anonymous source reportedly said: “Despite all the welcome steps taken since Keir Starmer became leader, the Momentum faction still carries a lot of weight in some local branches.

“These people are overwhelmingly white and middle-class, ‘Posh Marxists’ is how some describe them.

“The problem is, they have contributed to the continued toxic atmosphere at some meetings, and have also succeeded in ensuring we having an appalling lack of BAME candidates at elections.”

Quite apart from any opinions which I might (and indeed did) have about the inaccuracy of the criticisms of our local party which were being made, and the thoroughly misleading way in which they were being expressed, I was quite struck by the similarity between the content of the correspondence, and of the press report which appeared within three hours of the email having been sent.


If the anonymous sources for media reports really exist, and are not merely figments of the imagination of lazy hostile journalism, then they either know nothing about the subjects on which they opine or they are deliberately lying. 

It is a pity that the NEC have taken decisions without seeking full information from party members in a position to provide an informed account. It is also a pity that correspondence generated from within the Party, and then promptly and all too predictably leaked to the press, made unsubstantiated allegations against unidentified party members in a way which could only encourage hostile media coverage which would damage the Party.

Since criticisms of the LCF, a body which no longer exists, could not logically justify the recommendation to remove powers from the LGC, a body which does not yet exist, I have not written this blog post with any misguided hope of influencing the decision already taken about candidate selection for 2023.

My purpose in writing the above has simply been to set the record straight and to demonstrate that ordinary Labour party members in Brighton and Hove elected by and accountable to the local membership did the best job we could in the circumstances leading up to the 2019 local elections.

I was proud to serve the Labour Party as Chair of the Brighton and Hove Local Campaign Forum over recent years and to have been a member of its Executive. We were inclusive, tolerant and democratic. We didn't get everything right and there were things we could've done a lot better, but we certainly don't deserve to be traduced in correspondence emanating from the Party we served or in press reports based upon anonymous briefings.

I wish the members and officers of the new LGC the best of luck for 2023 and the future.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

No room for neutrality in the cost of living crisis!

In what may be a first for this Blog, I am indebted to the
North Yorkshire branch of UNISON for speedily reporting the outcome of yesterday's meeting of the National Joint Council (NJC) Committee (the indirectly elected body which oversees pay negotiations in respect of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

The committee had before it an offer from the employers, payable from 1 April 2022, for £1,925 on all pay points, plus an extra days leave and 4.04% on all allowances. This was in response to a pay claim for a flat rate pay increase of £2,000 or the current RPI rate, whichever was the higher.

The retail price index (RPI) was 11.1% higher in April 2022 than it was in April 2021. The employers offer is worth the following percentage amounts at the following points on the national pay spine;

SCP 2; 10.4% (or a 0.7% pay cut in real terms)

SCP 10; 8.87% (or a 2.23% pay cut in real terms)

SCP 22; 7% (or a 4.1% pay cut in real terms)

SCP 30; 5.6% (or a 5.5% pay cut in real terms)

SCP 43; 4.04% (or a 7.06% pay cut in real terms)

In response to this generous offer to cut the real pay of all the members they represent, the NJC committee did not decide to request an industrial action ballot but instead to hold a consultative ballot. Rather than make a recommendation to members in the consultative ballot the committee decided, according to the North Yorkshire branch, to adopt "a neutral position”.

Having been around a while, I thought I would compare the approach of the NJC Committee in 2022 to the approach which it took 15 years ago.

The retail price index (RPI) was 4.5% higher in April 2007 than it had been in April 2006. The employers offer that year, of 2.475%, therefore fell short of price inflation by 2.025% (or a 2.025% pay cut in real terms). In response, UNISON’s NJC Committee agreed to proceed to a strike ballot, albeit this was not successful. A year later RPI inflation had fallen slightly to 4.1%. The employers offer that year, of 2.45%, fell 1.65% behind price inflation (amounting to a 1.65% pay cut in real terms). Once again, the NJC Committee agreed to call for a strike ballot. Two days of patchily supported strike action in July 2008 eventually led to a reference to arbitration and an additional 0.3% on our pay.

Since those disputes in the long ago world of a (New) Labour Government, over the past 12 years, NJC staff have lost on average 27.5%from the value of their pay when measured against the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation. The offer in respect of which the NJC committee could not even bring itself to make a recommendation not only does nothing to reverse this decline but permits the pay of local government workers to fall further behind  rising prices, at every point on the pay spine.

It is, of course, utterly disingenuous for trade union negotiators to put an offer from the employer to their members without making a recommendation. This is tantamount to recommending acceptance, without having the courage to acknowledge that that is what one is doing. If workers do not see that their leaders are prepared to lead them in a fight then they will not have confidence that such a fight can be won.

I appreciate that the lamentable turnout in last year's national ballot may have shaken the confidence of the committee to proceed to a strike ballot. However, things have changed very much since then, both in relation to the rate of inflation and in relation to the beginnings of a significant strike wave across the country. In any event, even if the committee felt that a preliminary consultative ballot was the correct course of action, there can be no excuse whatsoever for failing to make a recommendation to the membership.

As between employers and workers there is no "neutral position”. 

In the light of the dereliction of duty by the NJC Committee, UNISON branches and activists in local government in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must use their rights in accordance with rule B.2.5 to campaign, vigorously, for rejection of the employers offer of a real terms pay cut (if someone tells you that you are not permitted to campaign, ignore them. If someone threatens you with disciplinary action ignore them even more. This was my approach over many years and I never found it did any harm).

It may not be possible to secure rejection of the employers offer in the absence of leadership from the NJC Committee, but that is no excuse for not trying. 

The most active and committed minority of UNISON members, who are most likely to vote in internal trade union elections, will be motivated to support those whom they see sticking up for them in this cost of living crisis. 

On the other hand, if members see no resistance from within UNISON to a further real terms pay cut, then the forces of apathy and despondency, who seek a restoration of the Ancien Régime, will have the advantage in the coming year.

In the meantime, all UNISON members can support our Scottish local government comrades who have voted to take strike action and our members in higher education who are being balloted for strike action.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Our NHS at risk - support health workers

As regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be aware, I occasionally comment upon my state of health, since my
cancer diagnosis in 2018, and the spread of my cancer in 2020.

My cancer has given me more cause than most to be thankful for our National Health Service (NHS). I can, from my own personal experience, illustrate in a very practical way the value of the NHS.

Recently my cancer has developed resistance to Enzalutamide, a recently authorised cancer drug which has held my advanced prostate cancer at bay for a couple of years.

Whilst reading up on my limited options for further treatment at this stage, I found a document online which reveals the price of the drug which I have been receiving, free of charge (of course) since May 2020.

The list price of a 112‑capsule pack of 40 mg Enzalutamide is £2,734.67 (excluding VAT; BNF online, accessed May 2020). The daily dose of enzalutamide is 160 mg and costs £97.67. Thankfully, the NHS has negotiated a discount.

Had I had to buy this drug at its list price, I would have needed £95,000 (which I don't have) just to get to today. Without being unnecessarily dramatic, I can honestly say that without the NHS I might well be dead by now.

As it is, thanks to the availability of Enzalutamide on the NHS, together with palliative radiotherapy for my secondary tumour, I'm enjoying a good quality of life and I'm able to postpone chemotherapy for a little and have a good summer. 

All being well, I should still be blogging here for another couple of years. As I do, I will try to keep abreast of campaigns to defend the NHS, which is more at risk now than at any time in the past 74 years of its existence.

Under this Tory Government, we are seeing not only the consolidation of privatisation of service provision under the banner of the NHS. We are also witnessing the persistent underfunding of our health service, leading foolish people to think that “going private” is a way to reduce pressure on the NHS. In fact, “going private” is the way to help hasten our NHS into its grave.

With the NHS facing unprecedented staff shortages, only an inflation busting pay increase for health workers can halt the spiral of decline, which the Government are deliberately encouraging in order to undermine our health service. 

I certainly won't be here for the centenary of our NHS in 26 years time. If we don't fight now to save it there won't be a centenary for those of you who are here to mark. That fight will mean supporting strikes for higher pay.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Proportionality or Hypocrisy at the UNISON Health SGE?

Last month’s UNISON National Delegate Conference (NDC) opened with unanimous support for motion 15, which included the following text;

“At its creation, UNISON became a union with the majority of its members being women and from the start put rules in place to ensure proportionality. 

Delegates to UNISON conferences and committees across all its structures ensure that two- thirds of those nominated to participate are women, with seats reserved for low paid women. 

However, now as the UK’s largest union, the proportion of women members has grown to approximately 75 percent and it is possibly higher, numbering around one million in total. 

As UNISON approaches its landmark birthday in 2023, it is the time to review what progress has been made to ensure women are represented in proportion to their strength in the union.” 

The motion went on, as was appropriate for a motion to NDC to issue instructions to the National Executive Council (NEC), with the support of whom it was carried, but it is the responsibility of UNISON members and activists at all levels to implement proportionality. 

That is why our General Secretary, speaking earlier this year at National Women's Conference called upon men to stand beside women in the fight for equality. She noted that, while “75% of the membership is women, leadership positions don’t reflect that.”

One theme of the criticisms made against UNISON's new left-led NEC, with little subtlety and less justification, has been that they have failed to support proportionality, fair representation and self organisation. 

It was with some surprise, therefore, that I learned of goings-on at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Health Service Group Executive (HSGE), a majority of whom are very much not in sympathy with the majority of the NEC.

The AGM of the HSGE elected UNISON’s five representatives on the Staff Council of the National Health Service (NHS).  The election for Staff Council had 5 seats,  at least 2 of whom were required to be registered staff, and at least 2 unregistered. 

At least 3 of the seats were required to be held by women, and at least one of the registered staff and at least one of the unregistered staff representing UNISON on the Staff Council were required to be female. 

I understand that clear instructions as to how to make sure that these arrangements, to ensure both proportionality and fair representation (as between registered and unregistered staff), were maintained were produced for the election.

According to the report which I have seen, five women stood for the unregistered seats. 

Two men stood for registered seats but no women. One of the male candidates secured the most votes and was elected. 

The second male candidate, could not take the seat as it could not be held by another man.  Proportionality, as it had been interpreted previously, including at the start of the meeting, meant one of the registered seats must be female so the second male candidate could not take up the seat. That final seat was, at that point, unfilled (and therefore vacant). 

Nominations should therefore have been sought for a woman to stand for the vacant seat (the goal of proportionality would all too easily be frustrated if a man were permitted to stand in whenever a seat intended for a woman was vacant for want of nomination), but this is not what happened.

Instead it was then proposed that the vacant seat be reopened but rather than being a seat for women only, it would become a general seat (open to men or women). I understand that among those supporting this proposal (which went on to be agreed by 22 votes to 11) were those who have been very much to the fore in criticising the majority of the NEC for perceived shortcomings in the approach of the NEC to proportionality and fair representation.

In the subsequent vote to fill what was now a vacant "general" seat the previously unsuccessful male candidate received 20 votes and and his female opponent received 10 votes.

So it would appear that UNISON has only 2 registered representatives on the NHS Staff Council both of whom are male, against the agreed approach to proportionality which has been custom and practice for some time. 

Furthermore, UNISON's delegation of five members of the Staff Council consists of three women (60%) and two men (40%), whereas proportionality would require that of a delegation of five intended to be representative of a membership, 75% of whom are women, should consist of four women and one man.

As Christina McAnea had said to Women's Conference, “75% of the membership is women, leadership positions don’t reflect that.” Although the HSGE had agreed sometime previously that the minimum number of women among UNISON’s five representatives on the Staff Council should be three, they had been careful also to specify that at least one of the registered representatives should be a woman.

In 2022, after NDC had concluded that; “it is the time to review what progress has been made to ensure women are represented in proportion to their strength in the union”  the HSGE felt that it was appropriate to backpedal from their previous position in order to allow two men to hold the two registered member seats on the NHS Staff Council (as part of a team of five representatives which does not represent women in proportion to the number of women unison members whom it is representing). 

One of the steps which might be taken to address the concerns raised at NDC in relation to proportionality might well be to redesignate seats previously reserved for men as "general" seats, but no one who supported and understood motion 15 at NDC could possibly think that redesignating a seat previously reserved for women members as a general seat was consistent with the will of Conference, any more than it is consistent with our rules on proportionality.

This decision was taken with the support of a number of those who have been prominent critics of our left-led NEC, and the beneficiary of this highly questionable decision (the male candidate who stood unsuccessfully for a place on the NHS Staff Council and was subsequently elected only when the HSGE decided to change the rules for his benefit) is a former President of UNISON, who has, in spite of his previously forthright support for Jeremy Corbyn, been a fierce critic of "Time for Real Change”.

It is often a good idea to judge people by their deeds rather than their words.

You might almost think that the criticisms made of our NEC in relation to proportionality, fair representation and self organisation are not being made in good faith but are simply opportunist attacks from the remnants of the Ancien Régime!