Archive for January, 2010

Jack Dromey loses his parachute

Wednesday 27 January 2010

There’s been a fair bit of speculation over the past few months about the career plans of Mr Harriet Harman, as he probably doesn’t want to be known. I broke the story that the deputy general secretary of Unite was being touted as a possible Unite general secretary candidate in September. And of course he’s been mentioned several times as coveting a parliamentary seat – Leyton and Wanstead is the most commonly mentioned; the new constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn has also cropped up. This week’s Tribune should have more details – go and buy one.

But all this gossip reminds me of what I’ve been told privately – that even if Dromey does run, he will no longer be ‘parachuted’ into a seat by the Unite machine. Last year, joint general secretary Tony Woodley was going round telling his staff to find Dromey “a seat, any seat”. Anyone would think he wanted the man out of his office. Anyway, that is now over and the parachute is, the blog fan club tells me, firmly back in its box. That’s not to say Dromey won’t run – but he won’t be pushed.

And rumours are still flying around that Dromey may still throw his hat into the Unite leadership ring, on the grounds that since he ran in the last two T&G elections, it wouldn’t be the same without him. It’s getting crowded. A poster below has pointed out that John Rowse of the former T&G section also intends to run. I did actually hear about this but Rowse hasn’t made any public pronouncements. Watch this space.

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Unite election: Gail Cartmail joins the fray

Saturday 23 January 2010

Gail Cartmail is Unite’s assistant general secretary for the public sector. I quoted her once in a Tribune article about Colombia, about two years ago, and remember it was hard to get hold of her as she was “very busy” back then.

And she’s decided to stand for Unite general secretary. Her website is here.

Gail is from the Amicus side of Unite, so if members vote along Amicus/T&G lines, Les Bayliss, Paul Reuter and Jerry Hicks are now looking severely disadvantaged compared to Len McCluskey.

Maybe I should change this blog’s name to “René Lavanchy’s Trade Union Eleciton and Associated Dirt Blog”…

Unison election: what happens next

Saturday 23 January 2010

Readers of more frequently updated blogs (and Tribune) will have noted that Unison’s Dave Prentis did indeed decide to stand for re-election, a decision that was promptly approved by his national executive committee this week.

In Tribune this week I also revealed that Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government, has decided not to stand. This makes it likely that the election will be between Prentis – widely tipped to be endorsed by his NEC as their approved candidate at a meeting early next month – and a left candidate approved by the Unison United Left faction, who’ll need the support of 25 branches to stand.

NEC member and perennial critic of Unison head office Jon Rogers has a report of Wednesday’s meeting which is both colourful and revealing:

Many NEC members felt immediately driven to compete for superlatives with which to describe our General Secretary (and his passionate and unswerving commitment to our democracy).

Dave was brave. He was brilliant. Bob Oram from the North West Region went furthest when he said that he hoped that there would not need to be an election as we would all unite behind Dave. (I have a feeling that that approach to socialist politics – one party which gets 100% of the vote – was tried somewhere in the twentieth century and did not get on too well…)

Leading NEC member, Paul Holmes made an obvious and important point when Dave left the meeting[…] Dave had told us first that he would graciously permit an election, then that he would be a candidate, and then which timetable he felt we ought to have for the election.

Paul wondered whether there might have been a conflict of interest in the leading candidate for election to a post recommending the timetable for that election (but in any case the candidate had in effect determined that timetable himself by the timing of his announcement of his intentions).

Jon goes on to say that:

Paul was also first to respond when our President, Gerry Gallagher, suggested that anyone else who might be seeking nominations should withdraw from the discussion. As Paul said, NEC members had had no notice of the decision of our General Secretary, and no one could yet know whether they would be a candidate.

This is not suprising. Paul Holmes is a well-known figure among the Unison left and tipped to be their candidate. He has the advantage of being both a left-wing critic of Unison policy and a Labour Party supporter, which prevents Prentis from writing him off as a “trot” or similar. Looks like he’s considering his options.

So what happens now? Nominations close on 1 April (insert joke here) but Unison United Left wants to pick a candidate long before then. So watch this space.

Will Unison election overshadow general election?

Monday 18 January 2010

First one, now two union elections threaten to overshadow Labour’s prospects in the general election. This week, Unison – the biggest public sector union and one of Labour’s biggest donors, will decide whether to hold an election this summer for general secretary. And there may be a challenger in the wings, which would drag the union’s loyal links to Labour into the spotlight.

Dave Prentis, Unison’s current general secertary and a Labour loyalist, was last elected in 2005, and by law union bosses have to be elected every five years. But here’s the thing. Contrary to what Wikipedia says, Prentis was born in 1948, not 1950, and turns 62 this year. The law also states that a union leader within five years of retirement can stay on till they do retire – in 2013 in Prentis’ case.

But the last union general secretary to try to stay in office past five years without an election was Derek Simpson – and he was forced to stand for election in the end. True, he’d have been over 65 by the end of his term. But Unison’s national executive have been asked to rule on the issue at a meeting this week, suggesting that there’s no great certainty. The meeting was unscheduled and announced with just two weeks’ notice.

Will Prentis tell his executive he wants to stay on without a vote? Will he call an election and run? Or call an election and not run? I don’t know.

But I have learned that one person is being encouraged to seek to replace Prentis. Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government, is the preferred candidate of a number of senior figures in the union, according to reliable accounts. Wakefield is seen as somewhat to the left of Prentis, and several of her supporters expect her to hold a ballot on the union’s affiliation to Labour and shake up the political fund. (Disclaimer: this blog in no way suggests that she will do that, or even that she’ll stand, and has no desire to put words into Heather Wakefield’s mouth!)

If an election is called and Wakefield wins, she could be in power by the end of June. So the direction of Britain’s second biggest Labour-supporting union would be being argued over at the same time as Labour was trying to drum up support… including among Unison’s 1.3 million members in local government and other public services. Core vote, anyone?

This is exciting stuff. If Prentis decides to soldier on, one of Unison’s left-wing activists could well mount a legal challenge. Even if an election is called, it wouldn’t necessarily please everyone. NEC member Jon Rogers (who incidentally challenged Prentis for the top job  in 2005) has blogged about how he fears the union being forced to hold a snap election that would conclude just after the general election – an unecessary distraction from the issue of keeping Labour in power, he argues, when an election could be held on a longer timetable.

Unison head office will doubtless want to avoid the acrimony that accompanied the Unite Amicus election in 2008. Question is, can they avoid it? And when it’s all over, will the union opt to tighten the financial screws on the party?

Update: The Unite election was of course in 2009, not 2008 – my mistake.

Also, for the avoidance of doubt this blogpost is a personal blog based on personal information not obtained through Tribune.

John Denham backs TUC view of Middle Britain

Saturday 16 January 2010

Communities Secretary John Denham isn’t associated with the left wing of the Labour Party. But speaking at the Fabian Society’s new year conference today, Denham armed himself with a rhetorical weapon used by the unions: namely, that Middle Britain, those aspirational voters Margaret Thatcher won over in 1979, isn’t what you think it is.
“We are not in the middle of middle incomes,” the £140,000-a-year Secretary of State said. Middle income earners earned much less than him and his like, he explained. He’s right you know. Denham’s constituency home in Southampton is in a conservation area in the distinctly upper-middle class leafy district of Highfield, where he is a member of the residents’ association. A private residents’ garden with adjoining tennis courts completes the scene of domestic bliss. My parents moved there after eleven years in a middle-middle suburban street, patiently saving up. It’s a nice place to live if you can get it.
Anyway. The argument – which the TUC made out in a report last year – goes something like this. The median wage – the wage the person in the middle would earn if you lined up all the wage earners in the country in single file – is a little over £20,000. People who earn significantly more than this – £45,000 for example – are not the bulk of the population, they’re in a distinct minority. Earners over £50,000 make up less than 10 per cent of the population; earners over £118,000 a mere 1 per cent. Yet people in both income groups, when polled, often say they think they are in the middle income bracket, presumably because they see themselves as middle class.
So if Denham was setting himself against this view when he said “What we have to do is win the votes of people in the middle [income sector]… social class and being in the middle aren’t necessarily the same thing”, he was associating himself with a social democratic, redistributive strand of thinking in the Labour Party (and the union movement). Is there an opportunity for Labour to capitalise on this in the election campaign? The Fabians seem to think so.
More about Denham and his views on Lord Mandelson as a great leveller from Fabian boss Sunder Katwala here.

Unite election: Bayliss inviting Reuter to join campaign?

Monday 11 January 2010

This is interesting. A reliable corner of the Unite union’s ever-grinding rumour mill believes that Les Bayliss, Derek Simpson’s preferred candidate to be the next general secretary, is asking his rival Paul Reuter to join his campaign.

Reuter has been considering for some months now whether to declare his candidacy to be the union’s first single leader. From his many on-the-record comments it’s clear that sees himself as a unity candidate who isn’t associated with either Amicus (his half of Unite) or the T&G. Bayliss would say the same thing no doubt, but as preferred candidate of Simpson, whose clashes with the T&G are well known, it’s perhaps a bit harder to make the case for being a unity candidate. The same goes for the other prominent contender, Len McCluskey of the T&G, Tony Woodley’s man for the job.

So if this is true* (which I think it is or I wouldn’t have bothered writing this) what does it mean? It could mean that Bayliss sees Reuter as a formidable opponent and wants to neutralise him. Or maybe Reuter, with his long track record in the union, is just a useful man to have on board and rally the troops?

Watch this space…

*I have asked both Bayliss and Reuter, but they haven’t replied yet. I’ll post their replies if and when they do.

The Times has been forced to print month-old stories about Labour, this blog has learnt

Tuesday 5 January 2010

“Labour has been forced to scrap a planned manifesto meeting of its National Policy Forum on cost grounds, just before a campaign in which Conservatives are preparing to out-spend it by a factor of about three to one, The Times has learnt.” Thus today’s front-page splash.

All well and good – except I wrote the same thing, in slightly less attention-grabbing language, in Tribune last month. And the meeting of Labour’s Joint Policy Committee where it was decided not to hold an NPF was actually held two weeks before that. Breaking news eh?

Anyway, the Times report quotes David Blunkett as saying that Labour’s campaign war chest is only £8 million. I’ve no idea about this, but I do know that £8 million is funnily enough the size of the Unite union’s political fund, or was in late 2008 when Charlie Whelan said so. Not that the two are the same of course…

Okay, I promise to stop bitching and find something original to write about next time.