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)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A bold progressive move by the Labour Group in Brighton and Hove



I was very pleased, earlier this evening, to receive the following news in an email to Labour Party members in Brighton and Hove from the Labour Group on the Council;

“Tonight, the Brighton & Hove Labour Group of Councillors have elected Councillor Carmen Appich and Councillor John Allcock as their new co-leaders.

Councillors Appich and Allcock will be job-sharing the roles of Labour Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition on Brighton & Hove City Council and will work together as a united team to provide scrutiny and constructive opposition in the best interests of the city.

Between Councillor Appich and Allcock, Labour’s new co-leadership team boasts a wealth of experience in the civil service, local government, and the voluntary and community sector in policy areas such as finance, children’s services, health, equalities and culture, and together they will prove a robust and talented team to stand up for local residents.

Councillor Appich and Councillor Allcock are looking to continue and build on the work of outgoing Leader, Councillor Nancy Platts. In her time leading the Labour Group and the Council, Councillor Platts steered Brighton & Hove through the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, oversaw the building of more council and affordable homes, and set up the city’s first ever climate assembly.”

The decision to elect two co-leaders is a bold and pragmatic move by the Labour Group which can be the beginning of turning the Party’s political fortunes in the City around - it is also strictly in accordance with Labour Party Rules.

Since this is pretty much a niche blog for people with an arguably unhealthy level of interest in the goings on within the Labour movement - and since I was once called “Rule Book Rogers” in a footnote to a decision of the Certification Officer I thought it might be of interest to anyone who has made it this far through this blog post to explain why Labour Party Rules absolutely and unequivocally permit the progressive and rational approach of job-sharing the position of Labour Group Leader.

Chapter 17 of the Rule Book sets out Model Procedural Rules, Clause I (the only clause in that chapter) sets out Model Standing Orders for Party Units.

Clause I Part 1 states that; “these model procedural rules are designed to provide a framework for well-ordered Party meetings. Party units will want to adopt local standing orders to reflect their specific method of operation; however, local arrangements must not conflict with the provisions of these model rules which have the full authority of the NEC and form part of the rule book.”


Paragraph O.iv of Part 2 reads as follows;


“The conditions under which job shares are allowed are as follows: 

  1. A job can be shared by a maximum of two members. 
  2. Those members must be specifically nominated as a job share, by whatever system of nomination is being used by that Party unit. 
  3. Chair cannot be a job share, nor can Treasurer, due to the statutory responsibilities of these roles. 
  4. Any members sharing a role will only have the equivalent of one vote between them either as: 1. One vote each, where only one member will be attending any meeting at any given time; or 2. 0.5 votes each, where both members will be in attendance; or 3. Both members agree to nominate one of them as the voting member. 
  5. Where a man and a woman are job sharing, the woman would not count towards the minimum quota for women, unless a woman is part of another job share. 
  6. For positions requiring access to data, a personal data form must be signed and returned by each job sharer.”


(See page 85 of the Rule Book at https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Rule-Book-2020.pdf


Clause X, part 1 of Chapter One of the Rule Book deals with the scope of the rules and states that; "The general provisions of these rules shall apply to all units of the Party and the model rules and standing orders appended to these constitutional rules shall apply to:... ...F. local government Labour groups" (see p10 of the Rule Book)


Therefore the Rule Book is quite clear that the Labour Group is a unit of the Party to which the relevant rule applies and that the position of Labour Group Leader (although not Labour Group Chair or Treasurer) may be job shared as set out above. Labour Groups do not need anyone’s permission to make the sort of democratic decision which was made this evening in Brighton and Hove.


A united Labour Group, in partnership with a united Labour Party, can now move forward with the essential campaigns which we need to be waging - starting with support for the March for Moulsecoomb on Saturday.


Saturday, May 08, 2021

Integrity, Authority, Unity - and sacking other people...


For just one of my seven terms as an elected member of the UNISON National Executive Council I served alongside a young UNISON Branch Secretary from the North West Region, Angela Rayner.

She was a supporter of the UNISON leadership on most occasions, whereas I tended to be a critic (not to say an irritant). We sometimes therefore found ourselves on different sides in various votes but I never doubted her commitment to the trade union - and if, as it turned out, she harboured (or was encouraged to harbour) Parliamentary ambitions, she was hardly alone in this among the leadership’s supporters on the NEC.


I was never completely convinced by Angela Rayner as a Corbyn supporter (any more than I was by the UNISON Centre generally), but she deserves credit for standing up to serve in his Shadow Cabinet when so many resigned in 2016 and it was this loyalty to our Party (ahead of loyalty to the majority faction of the PLP) which gained her the experience which made her a credible candidate for Deputy Leader last year.


Unlike most senior Labour Parliamentarians these days, Angela Rayner came up through the ranks of our trade union movement and today’s over-hasty dismissal of her as Chair of the Party is a slap in the face not just to one working class woman but to the working class movement generally - and to UNISON in particular. If UNISON’s new General Secretary has nothing to say about this then she will have set a most unfortunate tone for the future.


To see someone who rose to the leadership promising “Integrity, Authority and Unity” move within twenty four hours from accepting full responsibility for the Party’s generally (but not universally) poor election results to sacking other people (starting with the elected Deputy whom he has no power to remove from that role) is a truly startling display of the absence of all three of the originally advertised qualities.


Where Labour performed well in Thursday’s elections (in Wales, Manchester, Sefton, Preston, Worthing etc.) it did so by rooting itself in communities and articulating a clear defence of those communities against the Tory Government - it is the absence of such a vision from the top of the Party that needs to be remedied and no amount of reshuffling ambitious nonentities in the Palace of Westminster can do that.


I can, at least, see how I ought to conduct myself in the aftermath of disappointing by-election results in Brighton. I should say that, as Chair of the Local Campaign Forum, I take full responsibility and then I should phone round other people suggesting that they resign their positions…


Friday, May 07, 2021

Not a good day for Labour

I see that I haven’t blogged here for several weeks, partly because I have been engaged in another project, but also because some of the other time which I had was taken up (in the earlier part of my blog-free period) with the selection of two excellent socialist candidates to stand for the Labour Party in by-elections in Brighton.

Unfortunately - on a day in which election results across England appear generally to have been poor for our Party - neither of our candidates was successful.  In Hollingdean and Stanmer, Leila Erin-Jenkins, who would have been an excellent local Councillor, lost out on (what I estimate on the back of an envelope to have been) a 5.5% swing to the Greens (whose rise in this constituency has only really been interrupted by the unpopularity of the Green administration on the Council between 2011 and 2015). 


Although the Tories held on to Patcham (with their candidate who was formerly a Labour Councillor until she was deselected in the run up to the 2019 elections) the Greens again made significant gains with a roughly 9.5% swing from the Tories, pushing our brilliant local candidate Bruno De Oliveira into third place with 18% of the vote.


There is no dressing up such results - and the Party locally as much as the Party nationally  has to understand and respond effectively to very disappointing results. Our candidates are certainly not responsible for these results - in each ward voters would without doubt be better represented had they elected the Labour candidate. This was a defeat for the Party rather than for individuals.


There are some practical things which the Party could have done better (for example, had we been in a position to select our candidates earlier and started campaigning sooner). The perception of a divided Party, which has plagued us locally quite as much as it has nationally continues to do us harm also - but elections are fought between political parties, not by individual parties in isolation and what I think is clear (in Brighton Pavilion at least) is that the “Green surge” of which I wrote two years ago had not yet abated.


Locally, the Green Party continue to have forward momentum which perhaps can only be lost if the Green led administration on the Council manage to lose it again. The challenge for those of us who believe that progressive politics has to be grounded in the workers’ movement if it is going to lead to sustainable social change is to find a way forward which unites social democrats and socialists and connects with the voters.


This is not just a challenge which we face in Brighton. It is a challenge we face nationally and which is faced by our sister parties across Europe where (with the exception of Portugal and Spain) social democratic parties are being eclipsed in a process known by the name of its most noteworthy victim - Pasokification. The political ground on which social democrats could once stand - to deliver some amelioration of the conditions of existence of the majority within the framework of the social and economic status quo - has been shrinking since the economic collapse of 2008, but the roots of decline on the left go back further.


In General Elections in this country, Labour’s share of the vote fell in each election after 1997, falling from 43.2% to 29% by 2010. Only under Ed Miliband was this decline stalled, with a vote share of 30.4% in 2015 before - in 2017 (against weak Tory opposition) we reached a vote share of 40% in 2017 (under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn) falling back to 32% in 2019, when our equivocal position on Brexit led to us losing support both to parties with a clear “leave” position and to parties with a clear “remain” position. 


What stands out in the history of Labour’s share of the vote in General Elections this century is the “blip” of 2017 when Labour’s radical socialist manifesto came as close as is possible - in a country with our traditions and our electoral system - to the “Iberian model” of a social democratic party working with forces politically to its left. In the UK this model can only be applied if Labour charts a clearly socialist course, but the shocking impact of the defeat of 2019 on our Party stands in the way of that approach for the time being - and perhaps for some time to come.


There are clearly different perspectives within the Labour Party about what we should do next and where we go. If we can have a comradely debate based upon an assessment of evidence then we may be able to find a way forward. If we see further bitter division, and the use of administrative measures (such as suspensions, removal of access to Party resources and withdrawal of the whip) to try to resolve political differences, then we will see no progress.


It is a good job I always keep some “optimism of the will” handy because today is a good day for “pessimism of the intellect”.




Friday, February 19, 2021

Workers uber alles...

Today’s Supreme Court decision that Uber drivers are “workers” - with some (but not all) of the legal rights of employees - and not self-employed contractors is not just a victory with which the GMB can be justly pleased, it is a decisive victory, at the highest court in the land, for many working in the “gig economy” - and it is, in particular, an important defeat for a global tech giant.

Reliance upon legal protections is no substitute for organised industrial strength, but that doesn’t mean that our movement should pay no attention to the law. Indeed, the workers of the mid-nineteenth century who fought to limit working time realised that making demands of the capitalist state is part of the struggle against capitalism.


More than a hundred years later, Governments conceded individual statutory rights to employees in response to the strength of our movement in the workplace. Employers have sought to circumvent these rights by creating new models of precarious employment which deny these legal protections to their workers.


The challenge which the GMB now faces is to unionise tens of thousands of Uber drivers in order to help them to enforce their newly confirmed legal rights.


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Time for the debate about electoral reform?


Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party (CLP) has become the latest CLP to back a model motion from Labour for a New Democracy, following a meeting of our General Committee (GC) on Thursday which had been preceded by an informal meeting, open to members, addressed by Clive Lewis, MP.

It was the discussion with Clive which swung me myself from abstention to voting in favour (as the motion was passed nemine contradicente with one abstention). 


I have never been particularly taken with electoral reform as a political objective, perhaps because I don’t think it matters too much whether “votes have equal weight” or parties are represented in Parliament in proportion to their support from the electorate. I can't bring myself to care about such inconsequential things when capitalism is destroying the planet and humanity.


I don’t see the point of elections as being some sort of grand opinion poll - the point of elections is to enable people to change their Government - and I used to be persuaded that, for all its manifest flaws, “First Past the Post” (FPTP) was a good voting method to deliver that objective (plus it seemed to give the prospect of a majority Labour Government).


However, given the impossibility of Labour regaining any significant number of seats in Scotland whilst Scottish politics is dominated by the national question - so that a Labour majority at the next General Election would require a swing, in England and Wales, exceeding any we have ever achieved - and bearing in mind that FPTP has benefitted the Tories far more than it has benefitted the left for decades - there is a strong argument for a “one off” electoral deal with other parties to deliver meaningful electoral reform. This would create new challenges for the future, but they don't appear any more challenging than those we face at the moment.


This is not an argument for a “progressive alliance” (the case for which always begs the question of whether the Liberal Democrats who governed for the first five years of our current bout of austerity can be counted among the “progressives”), nor does it address comprehensively the constitutional changes required in this country (such as replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber, abolishing the monarchy and the Corporation of the City of London and properly empowering local communities - never mind “expropriating the expropriators”).


However, we cannot ignore the case for electoral reform indefinitely. None of the new democratic institutions created by Labour this century use FPTP for their elections and, whilst the voting system for the Westminster Parliament is far from being the most important question confronting the working class (that would be how to rebuild our labour movement) it is a question which we must now ask, and to which we must find an answer.


Exit payment cap doesn't fit!

Five and a half years ago I was blogging here about how the (then proposed) exit payment cap would hit local government workers a long way away from the “fat cats” of Daily Mail legend.

So I was very pleased to hear that, just three months after (finally) imposing the cap, the Government has been forced to back down, citing (unspecified) “unintended consequences”.


This is a very good outcome for public servants and a marvellous testament to the sheer stupidity and incompetence of the gaggle of reactionaries purportedly running this country.


If only other stupid Tory policies could so easily be undone!


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

UNISON National Executive Council elections - the case for unity on the left

I will blog further about the content of the Returning Officer’s report into the UNISON General Secretary election in due course (regular readers of this Blog - Sid and Doris Blogger - will appreciate that my modesty makes me uncomfortable with the observation in that report that over 100 complaints which were upheld came “from one member between 24 September and 20 November 2020 identifying apparent breaches of procedures by nominating bodies in support of one candidate, Christina McAnea.”) 


My purpose in blogging today is in relation to the forthcoming UNISON NEC elections, in which nominations open on 1 February 2021. These will be the third set of biennial elections in which I will not be a candidate, having served seven successive two-year terms as an NEC member in the Greater London Region from 2003 to 2017.


Throughout my time on the NEC, those of us who considered ourselves to be on the “left” (in the sense of wanting a trade union which would fight more effectively for our members’ interests) tried and - mostly - failed to create a unified organisation of the left (a sorry saga which I covered here a few months ago in anticipation of the - then - forthcoming General Secretary election). As a rule General Secretary elections - in which there could only be one candidate - would be a particular occasion for division.


However, in NEC elections, in which a certain amount of “horse-trading” has always been possible - generally - we managed to organise unified campaigns for a “slate” of candidates even in the absence of a unified organisation of the left. 


The price of failure to agree is high - as we discovered in Greater London in 2005, when we lost incumbent left-wing NEC member Fiona Monkman because the Socialist Party insisted on standing Nancy Taaffe in opposition to United Left member (and then Deputy Regional Convenor) Mandy Berger for the second female seat in the Region. Taaffe came fifth out of five candidates for two seats, but none of the three left-wingers were elected.


A key ingredient in coming to agreement (when we could) was the principle that socialists did not stand against fellow socialists who were incumbent members of the NEC, regardless of whether we were members of the Labour Party, one of the small far-left parties or no party at all. After the setback of 2005, we did manage, slowly and inconsistently to increase the number of critical voices on the UNISON NEC over the years.


Times have changed of course. When the challenge from the left became so great that supporters of the status quo admitted the truth long unacknowledged, that they were themselves a faction within the union - and yet the left came within a whisker or a majority on the NEC in 2017, the lesson was learned - in the great White Elephant of the Euston Road - that what needed to be done was to do all that was possible to frustrate - and delegitimise - rank and file organisation within UNISON.


Comrades challenging for seats on the UNISON NEC today do so in a more challenging environment than that with which I was familiar - the point of electoral procedures which seek to ban groups of members coming together to support slates of candidates is plainly to empower the Union bureaucracy and disempower the rank and file.


Perhaps the lessons which I learned in the past (when the left won far fewer seats on the NEC than are now held) can safely be forgotten. Certainly, in the aftermath of the best performance by a rank and file candidate in any General Secretary election I can see the sense in capturing the momentum of that campaign to take forward into the NEC elections - and that those who chose not to be part of the campaign to elect Paul Holmes can hardly expect to be part of such an endeavour.


However, it is worth bearing in mind that, as the Returning Officer’s report for the General Secretary election points out “Christine McAnea received the most votes in 11 out of the 12 regions and that she received the most votes or was tied for first place in 694 of the 848 branches involved in the election.” 


Her supporters may have squeaked to the narrowest General Secretary victory in UNISON’s history - but they will nevertheless be looking to capitalise upon that victory. Expect election addresses from candidates of the status quo in the UNISON elections to associate themselves with our new General Secretary.


This is probably not a time in which candidates for change in the NEC elections should be facing each other in “first past the post” elections. It’s not that those who refused to accept the decision to support Paul Holmes for General Secretary deserve - or are entitled to - automatic support just because they are current NEC members. 


The point is that UNISON members crying out for change in our Union do not deserve to see socialists fighting one another for those NEC seats, when so many NEC seats are normally filled by supporters of the status quo who are elected unopposed.




Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Outstanding complaints cast a shadow over UNISON General Secretary election result

Christina McAnea has been elected General Secretary of UNISON and deserves congratulations on her victory and best wishes for the challenges she will be leading UNISON members to face. 

The candidate I voted for, rank and file challenger Paul Holmes came a strong second, with more than a third of votes cast - the best showing for any rank and file candidate in UNISON this century.


I have written elsewhere an initial analysis of the election results, from which the following main themes emerge;


1. Christina McAnea won a share of the vote fractionally below that gained by Dave Prentis in 2015 - our new General Secretary needs to reach out to supporters of other candidates if she is to build the strength of our trade union;


2. For the second time in succession our General Secretary has been elected without a majority of the vote - our Conference Standing Orders Committee should facilitate a debate about the merits of an alternative system of voting;


3. The disappointingly low turnout in the election did not significantly reverse the long term trend of declining participation in UNISON elections - increasing member participation will be a major challenge for UNISON activists and officials;


4. Paul Holmes gained the highest share of the vote of any rank and file candidate (and indeed of any defeated candidate) - driving the highest share of votes going to rank and file candidates in 20 years;


5. Holmes’ vote was more than four times that gained by the candidate backed by the Socialist Party, Hugo Pierre - destroying the threadbare justification advanced for he and his supporters having mounted his divisive campaign.


One aspect of the news about the General Secretary election, which has not yet been reported, concerns the numbers of complaints which have been upheld as a result of breaches of the election procedures.


Such breaches have been reported on this blog on more than one occasion.


In the last General Secretary election the outcome of investigations into complaints was published in the report of the Returning Officer and summarised in an Appendix, from which the reader could conclude that 30 complaints had been upheld.


Your blogger is aware, from correspondence with the Returning Officer, of more than 100 specific complaints having been upheld in relation to breaches of the election procedures in this election campaign, which sought to benefit the candidate Christina McAnea.


(As an aside, sources close to the campaign of Paul Holmes believe that no complaints of breaches by supporters of that campaign have been upheld.)


There have been no examples of such astonishing wrongdoing as was exposed in the Greater London Regional Office in 2015, when a staff meeting was misused by the former Regional Secretary as a campaign meeting for a particular candidate. 


It is, however, very disappointing, that after the previous General Secretary election led to a decision of the Assistant Certification Officer, following which (although there does not seem ever to have been the full, inclusive and transparent discussion that was warranted) UNISON reviewed and revised its election procedures - there have been so many instances of breaches of those election procedures, found by the Returning Officer.


The Assistant Certification Officer decided - in 2017 - not to order a rerun of the previous General Secretary election because the evidence suggested that the egregious malpractice sanctioned in the Greater London Regional Office was simply ineffective - and because there was not evidence of widespread malpractice.


It is perhaps likely - but not at all certain - that a similar outcome would now arise were complainants to pursue their complaints to the Certification Officer. This is a matter for the complainants to consider and upon which they will need to decide.


The fact that breaches of the election procedures found to have taken place in 2020 were in connection with misuse of UNISON’s online resources does not make these breaches less significant in an election which (thanks to the pandemic) largely took place on computer screens.


An important consideration for the Returning Officer (who has obviously already made this decision) and, hypothetically, for the Certification Officer (who has not yet been asked) is whether the large number of breaches of the election procedures found to have taken place could have influenced the result of the election.


The size of the majority of the winning candidate over the second placed candidate is one factor which will have been (and would be) taken into account - and it is therefore worth reminding ourselves of how the majority of the successful candidate in this election compares with that in previous elections for UNISON General Secretary;


Election

Winner

Second placed candidate

Majority

1995

Rodney Bickerstaffe

Peter Hunter

58,491

2000

Dave Prentis

Roger Bannister

54,563

2005

Dave Prentis

Roger Bannister

143,363

2010

Dave Prentis

Roger Bannister

102,700

2015

Dave Prentis

Heather Wakefield

30,722

2020

Christina McAnea

Paul Holmes

18,680


Under the relevant provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, complainants have six months in which to consider whether or not to bring complaints before the Certification Officer.


No doubt complainants will take various factors into account in making their decisions.


Will the trade union take seriously the need to address widespread breaches of our election procedures or will these be treated as dismissively as they were five years ago?