Unison NEC changes voting rules during meeting after left-winger Holmes looks set to win nomination

Grassroots left challenger looked likely to win vote on usual ‘first past post’ system, but rule changed mid-meeting

Grassroots-left challenger for the leadership of the giant Unison union, Paul Holmes, was robbed of the chance to win the nomination of the union’s national executive committee (NEC) by a mid-meeting change to the voting rules, according to a former NEC member.

Jon Rogers, who served on the Unison NEC from 2003 to 2017, reports that a switch to the ‘single transferable vote’ was made during the NEC’s meeting to decide which candidate it would support in the forthcoming election to choose the union’s new general secretary after incumbent Dave Prentis retires – and that the switch took place only once right-wing NEC members had “done the maths” and realised that Holmes might win.

After three rounds of voting, right-wing ‘continuity’ candidate Christine McAnea ‘won’ – but only because some supporters of softer-left candidate Roger McKenzie switched their vote to her or abstained in the final round to prevent a Holmes nomination. McAnea and Holmes were tied for first in the first round of voting and Holmes was ahead in the second.

McKenzie received less than half the votes of McAnea and Holmes in round one, while Socialist Party-backed Hugo Pierre – whom Jon Rogers considers a ‘spoiler candidate’ to take votes from Holmes – received fewer than a fifth of the votes of the leading pair. Had the vote proceeded on the normal basis, the result might have been a Holmes win or a no-nomination.

Although the NEC awarded itself the opportunity to switch to ‘STV’ for the nomination meeting, Unison members will not be given the same opportunity. STV in the full Unison election would all but guarantee a win for one of the left candidates, while the ‘first past the post’ system that will be used is more likely to mean that a split left vote will allow the right-winger to slip through.

Right-wingers on Labour Party’s NEC forced through a switch to STV for the multi-seat NEC elections about to take place, because using STV when multiple places are in play ensures that the left will not win the clean sweep that its numbers among the party’s members usually secures. This guarantees right-wing dominance on Labour’s NEC – at least unless and until the leadership of Unison and GMB, which is also holding a general secretary election, changes and the make-up of their representation on the NEC changes in consequence.


Unison has been dominated for years by the right, which will do everything it can to retain control. It’s essential that it fails and only one left candidate should stand in the full union vote, to prevent right-wing success.

The SKWAWKBOX needs your help. The site is provided free of charge but depends on the support of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal or here to set up a monthly donation via GoCardless (SKWAWKBOX will contact you to confirm the GoCardless amount). Thanks for your solidarity so SKWAWKBOX can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.

If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.


  1. Back to the day job, now whats the answer, we know what happens when the left cannot get their act together, if your serious about getting rid of Temporary Embarrassment and clearing out Quislings and Bad Actors get it sorted
    Would be good to reach more than 8% of members as well

  2. Staggered at their grubby slime all manoeuvring
    Just give him the position you robbing scum

  3. After three rounds of voting, right-wing ‘continuity’ candidate Christine McAnea ‘won’ – but only because some supporters of softer-left candidate Roger McKenzie switched their vote to her or abstained in the final round to prevent a Holmes nomination.

    Several prominent Labour politicians have endorsed candidates in the election, with former leader Jeremy Corbyn supporting McKenzie and former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell backing Holmes.

  4. You refer to three ’rounds of voting’. I don’t understand what that means. Who is involved in these rounds of voting? i’m a unison member and haven’t seen any opportunity yet to vote. Does anyone know? Thanks

    1. Alison – The vote described above was a nomination vote. Using STV voters rank all (or as many candidates as they wish to) in order of preference. There is only one actual vote.
      At the first count if no candidate gets a overall majority then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and their second preference votes are allocated for the second round count and so on until a candidate achieves an overall majority (more than 50%). It is the same system as used in Labour’s leadership election. BUT as the article above makes clear (unless there’s a change) the actual ballot carried out by the small number of members who can be bothered to vote will be carried out using FPTP so there will be no change in the way you vote.

  5. Is it time for UNISON to split in two as a trade union, and have Paul Holmes, Roger McKenzie and Hugo Pierre to form their own UNISON, inviting members to choose a ‘Corbynite’ with them, or right wing Labour version under Christine McAnea, of the trade union, to be members of.

    UNISON was separate trade unions in its history … The union was formed in 1993 when three public sector trade unions, the National and Local Government Officers Association (NALGO), the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the Confederation of Health Service Employees (COHSE) merged.

    1. I became a NUPE steward at 19 and remember meeting Jeremy at conference. He was a former NUPE full time official before becoming an MP. NUPE was a was a workers Union

  6. British trade unionism at its best. It should be serialised by Netflix.

  7. Second/third/etc ballots – elimination of lowest candidate until one obtains an absolute majority.
    Alternative vote – one ballot with voters listing candidates in order of preference; if no candidate wins an absolute on the first count then the votes are transferred according to next preference until one candidate obtains an absolute majority.
    Single transferable vote – used in multi-member constituencies (the higher the number of seats then the more proportionate is the outcome); candidates are listed by voters in preference, which are redistributed until all the seats are allocated according to a formula re number of votes and seats. Check Electoral Reform Society.

  8. So time to bang heads together and nominate one left wing candidate
    Who is going to do that

    1. Good look with that when Corbyn and McDonnell can’t agree on who to back. It should be noted that according to the above it was McKenzie’s supporters that pushed Christine McAnea over the winning line – “but only because some supporters of softer-left [Corbyn backed] candidate Roger McKenzie switched their vote to her or abstained in the final round to prevent a Holmes nomination.”

  9. Could someone clarify whether UNISON rule book allows the NEC to spontaneously change/amend rules without consulting the membership. If it sounds unfair then in a democratic system it probably is. The gravy train of UNISON’s staffers would be in jeopardy if Paul Holmes were to win and start the process of moving away from current premises in London.
    This is something that should be decided by at conference.
    What occurred, if true, could be a tactic used by Trump or Lukashenko to distort a FAIR and EQUITABLE vote .
    Was Prentice involved I wonder?

    1. It was only a nomination vote so I would think that the Unison NEC is quite entitled to decide for itself how its internal votes are conducted. Unless things change the actual leadership election will use FPTP.
      However I think it would lead to a fairer outcome if they followed the Labour Party’s example and adopt to an STV system for their leadership elections. You never know it might even improve the currently abysmal turnout.

  10. I am not a Unison member, so, like I suspect many on here, I do not have a call on their rules

    That said, what sort of a democracy facilitates nominations from its NEC? That is the real problem here. They may as well allow the President to appoint the GS!

    Nominations shouid come from members via their branches.

    Ironic isn’t it, that Paul is the ‘grassroots’ candidate. Grassroots my arse, if he was relying on a nomination from the NEC!

    Anyway, it is bizarre for an organisation to change the voting rules after the election process has started.

    1. Milton – Whilst I agree with much of what you say I would like to clarify that the voting rules for the actual Unison leadership election have not changed.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: