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.
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