I have put up tonight a very interesting story on Byline Times about a rushed award of a £1.7m contract without competitive tendering to Idox, an electoral management software company, which will change the canvassing system to get you on the electoral register next year and mean sharing data on you held by the Department of Work and Pensions. Read it here.
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Britain’s biggest public sector union last month escaped the embarrassment of having to rerun an election for its well known general secretary, Dave Prentis despite a judge deciding that one leading official ” flagrantly ” broke union rules to get him re-elected.
The union had faced a barrage of complaints from three rival candidates to Prentis – Heather Wakefield, John Burgess, and Roger Bannister – and a long standing party member, Jon Rogers at a hearing at the end of last year before an assistant certification officer and part time judge, Mary Stacy.
She rejected demands for a rerun of the election, criticism that the Electoral Reform Services who had a £1 m fee to supervise the election were not independent, and also threw out a complaint against Liz Snape, Dave Prentis’s long term partner, that she had broken rules by campaigning for him in union time,
But the judge upheld a complaint against Linda Perks, now a national secretary and previously London’s regional secretary, for flagrant breaches of union rules – after reading a transcript and listening to a secret tape of a meeting held at the TUC’s Congress House, where, it is said, 50 officials were urged to break campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis. The code name for the campaign was ” Special Chocolate Biscuits”.
The judge ruled out taking enforcement proceedings to force another election only because she was satisfied that Dave Prentis did not know that Linda Perks had taken such actions and because she thought he would still have won despite electoral irregularities in the campaign.
The election took place in a febrile atmosphere just after Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour party leader and when Jeremy Corbyn was mounting his successful bid for party leader.
Mr Prentis who had won overwhelming support in previous election but was facing a much tougher challenge with a leading union official, Heather Wakefield, standing against him alongside two other candidates.
The judge, said some of the criticism of Heather Wakefield by Prentis supporters amounted to “demonization” and she also criticised the failure of the union to apologise to Jon Rogers for threatening him with a libel action when he complained of electoral malpractice.
But she reserved her most damning criticism for Linda Perks and the way the union later handled disciplinary proceedings against her and its failure to investigate other people who were involved.
After listening to the tape the judge ruled :“ Ms Perks tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.
She blatantly had known she was breaking union rules by getting officials to organise support for Dave Prentis during work time which was against union rules. The judge notes that it almost looked that for 3 or 4 days officials would do little else but campaign for Mr Prentis.
Linda Perks was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge says:
“The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”
The judge is asking the union to review its procedures and set up a police for whistleblowers – which the union does not have – despite relying on whistleblowers from other public bodies to provide it with information.
” Work is also required to restore trust amongst its Greater London members following the activities of the regional secretary and the RMT ( Regional Management Team ) which have done so much damage to the Union’s reputation both internally and externally.”
The union’s response is this :
“UNISON welcomes the assistant certification officer’s decision to uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants that there should be a re-run. The union’s development and organisation committee will be now be considering the ACO’s comments.”
It strikes me that though the union escaped an election rerun for such an important post – that it does need to put its house in order. Unions play an important part in a democracy in exposing appalling conditions and treatment of workers in this country and abroad. They must be seen to be squeaky clean in the way they run their affairs or their own reputations will be damaged. They can’t fight causes against rogue employers if the break their own rules or try to fix election results.
I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.
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Candidates who fought Dave Prentis for general secretary of Britain’s second largest union urged the certification officer yesterday to order a rerun of the election because of malpractices by his campaign team exposed at a four day hearing.
The call which is also backed by a long standing member Jon Rogers was fiercely opposed by Unison’s lawyers as a ” disproportionate ” response and even interfering with fundamental human rights by insisting the election should be run again.
The clash over remedies came at the final day of the hearing when all sides were asked to make submissions to the presiding certification officer, judge Mary Stacey, who chaired the hearing.
The case had been bought by his three rival candidates, Heather Wakefield, John Burgess and Roger Bannister. and long standing member Jon Rogers.
One of the central points of the case is that senior Unison officer, Linda Perks, exceeded her role in convening a meeting in union time to plan a campaign to support Dave Prentis which is against union rules. The information came to light after a tape of the meeting was leaked.
Her action, which led to disciplinary proceedings, is not defended by the union. The dispute is whether her action was part of a much wider breach of union rules – which forbid officials from using union time and resources by ” Team Dave ” – amounting widespread malpractice. The union refuses to accept this – the other candidates says this is central to their arguments.
There is also the question of whether Dave Prentis knew this was happening – the complainants suggest he did – the union insist he didn’t. Judge Mary Stacey promised she would make a finding of fact on this issue if she can.
Yunus Bakhsh, the lawyer representing Jon Burgess, in his submission , said : ” The tape and the Team Dave emails lifted the lid on what we submit was a quite shocking level of deceit. subterfuge and rule breaching by a group of paid officials who occupied the highest positions in Unison…. These officials had a total disregard for the rules of the union they felt they could act with impunity in using union resources, funds and property to campaign for Dave Prentis.”
Ms Ijeoma Omambala , barrister for Heather Wakefield, was also highly critical of the role of the Electoral Reform Services, who received a fee of nearly £1 m for supervising the election, in not acting to take up complaints themselves. Instead they left it to Unison to investigate the complaints – when many of the officials who did so were members of the Team Dave campaign team. She described the ERS’s action as amounting to ” a dereliction of duty.”.
In her submission she says:” Ms Wakefield has sought to challenge unfairness and cronyism when she has encountered it. her efforts and those of her colleague complainants have revealed systematic manipulation of Unison rules, resources and funds on a startling scale.
“The Respondent (Unison) would have the assistant certification officer characterise this dispute as ” a little local difficulty,” regrettably the damage has spread far wider. It encompasses activists, branch officials, regional officials, the union’s senior management team and its President.”
Anthony White, barrister for Unison, while accepting that some enforcement order could be made by the judge, fiercely challenged whether there was any evidence that there was any widespread malpractice at Unison. In an exchange between the softly spoken judge, he refused to accept any suggestion that the election should be rerun. He cited that it would cost £1m for Unison members and saying that it had not materially affected the result which showed overwhelming support for Dave Prentis. He also defended ERS saying they had provided “a helpful witness” with enormous experience of elections.
He attacked the other complainants for what he called using ” absolute privilege ” to make allegations of corruption in Unison. ( This means they cannot be sued for what they said at the hearing).
He also insisted that evidence submitted by Mike Jackson on previous malpractice at Unison general secretary elections involving Dave Prentis- which I believe may have only been published in full on this blog – had gone unchallenged because it was ” irrelevant ” to the hearing.
This is challenged in the submission from Heather Wakefield who regarded Mr Jackson’s evidence as an example of past malpractice.
The judge is unlikely to deliver a verdict for a month but when it comes it will be one of the ground breaking rulings that will decide how elections for union general secretaries will be conducted in the future.
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This is a statement that has been submitted to the tribunal examining whether Unison broke the rules to ensure that Dave Prentis was re-elected as general secretary over a year ago.
The statement was not challenged by Unison at the hearing where their lawyers could have cross examined the official, Mike Jackson, who supported Heather Wakefield in the last election. The inference of his claim is that the practice exposed in a leaked tape where officials – who should be neutral – at the Greater London Region meeting discussed how to back ” Team Dave”, the campaigning organisation for Prentis, had happened before.
STATEMENT BY MIKE JACKSON
FORMERLY UNISON REGIONAL ORGANISER GREATER LONDON REGION 1978 – 2004 AND UNISON DEPUTY HEAD OF HEALTH 2004 – 2011
- This statement concerns my role in previous UNISON General Secretary elections during my time as a paid employee and Officer of the union.
- In the year 2000 an election was held to elect a new General Secretary of UNISON following the announced retirement of the then incumbent Rodney Bickerstaffe.
- Although it was officially stated that full-time officers should play no role in supporting any candidate in this election, a meeting was called by members of the then Regional Management Team (RMT) of UNISON’s Greater London Region where I worked, for all Regional Organisers of which I was one.
- The meeting was held at 5pm in the same building (Congress House) although not in a UNISON rented area. It was stated that attendance was voluntary but there was an expectation that all organising staff attend – and almost all did. It was made known that the meeting was to discuss organising to support Dave Prentis’s campaign.
- At the meeting the then Deputy Regional Secretary advised us that we should maximise branch nominations for Dave Prentis. An amount of money was suggested that we should each donate to the campaign. We were advised to use non-unison email addresses although no restriction was placed on the use of union phones.
- Regular meetings were then held convened by members of the RMT in which we were asked to report back firstly on progress on achieving nominations and later on getting out the vote for Dave Prentis. I personally was responsible for 13 branches at the time and I persuaded all to nominate Dave Prentis. I was told that Dave Prentis was very pleased with my efforts by an RMT member.
- During the election itself, we were asked to distribute Dave Prentis’s election material to branches for which we had responsibility. If the branch officers were not ‘reliable’ we were asked to arrange distribution ourselves. This was done during normal working hours and personally distributed thousands of leaflets and placed posters on hospital notice boards.
- Although all these activities were said to be voluntary the culture of the Region was that there was an expectation on us as organising staff to deliver support for Dave Prentis. It was said that if any of the other candidates were elected our positions would be insecure as we could be subject to election as officials – this being a policy position put by other candidates from far left groups.
- In 2005, Dave Prentis stood again for election. By this time I had recently been promoted to a national position. I was made aware that a national steering group of full time officials had been set up to support Dave Prentis. My then manager attended this group. Although I did not attend she reported back to me on the organisation to get Dave Prentis re-elected. Again an amount of money was suggested as a donation to his campaign which I paid.
- In 2010 Dave Prentis again stood for election. This time I was invited to attend a national steering group of full time officials to support Dave Prentis. The meetings were held at 5pm in the building of the National Union of Teachers directly opposite the then UNISON Head Office. The meetings were chaired by the Regional Secretary from UNISON’s Yorkshire and Humberside Region and attended by national officials, representatives of each UNISON Region (usually an RMT member) and Dave Prentis himself.
- The discussion focussed on maximising nominations for Dave Prentis from within each region and from national lay member bodies such as Service Group Executives. I had no doubt that the type of activity that I was involved in during 2000 in the Greater London Region was being replicated around the country as full time officials were being mobilised to deliver nominations and votes for Dave Prentis.
- Again an amount of money that we should donate to the campaign was suggested which I paid.
- In April 2011 I left UNISON’s employment and went to work in the NHS in the East of England on a self employed and part time basis finishing in July 2015 aged 67. During this time I remained a UNISON member and kept in touch with former colleagues.
- In 2015 I learned that Dave Prentis was standing again as General Secretary. I was also aware of the reasons for this, primarily that he could not gather enough support for his chosen successor – his wife Liz Snape, Assistant General Secretary.
- I decided to support Heather Wakefield for General Secretary whom I had worked with for many years. I made my support known by writing a letter of endorsement that Heather’s campaign which was circulated by her to all UNISON’s Health branches.
- What then followed was a letter signed by the Regional Convenor in the Greater London denouncing my involvement as a former full time official and inferring that I was not a UNISON member. I then received an email from a former branch secretary saying that he had been told that I was not a member of UNISON. I assured him I was.
- I had no doubt that the Convenor letter and the information that I was not a member had come from a member of the RMT in the Greater London Region as the information would only have been available to the RMT member. I was also ‘trolled’ on twitter anonymously claiming that as a former employee I should not be involved. Information that would only have come from the same source.
- When I rang the UNISON help line to enquire why I hadn’t received a ballot paper I was told that membership had been cancelled on the 4th August 2015 despite the fact that I continued to pay subs as a self employed member. I then discovered that my standing order to UNISON had been cancelled from September (not by me).
- Although I had retired from my project at NHS HEE I continued to be self employed. In my experience no one ever gets removed from the UNISON membership list this quickly. I have no doubt that I have been subject to ‘dirty tricks’ by a member of the RMT to discredit my support for Heather Wakefield.
- I was not at all surprised to listen to the tape of the Greater London Regional Secretary speaking in support of Dave Prentis although surprised that it was in an ‘official’ meeting. I have no doubt that the anti-democratic practices I experienced in 2000, 2005 and 2010 continued in 2015.
24th September 2016
I have left out his personal details and will leave the reader to decide what they think.
The hearing resumes for a day on February 22.
Editor’s Note: To repeat RMT are the initials of the Regional Management Team – not to be confused with the Rail Maritime and Transport union
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On Monday a three day public hearing begins into serious allegations over the running of the election campaign that saw Dave Prentis elected general secretary of Britain’s largest public sector union, Unison last year.
The Certification Officer has ordered the hearing after every candidate who stood against him filed complaints alleging that union resources were used by officials – who should be neutral during elections – to favour Dave Prentis against them.
The hearing is according to an Acas spokesperson is unprecedented. There are often grievances from individual candidates who feel they have been badly treated and quote the rule book back at the union but in this case every single candidate who stood against Dave Prentis has complained. Nor is it one Left faction against another – whatever political standpoint any of the candidates might have – they appear to be united in complaining that the odds were stacked against them. I have also written a news piece for Tribune magazine.
The four complainants are Heather Wakefield, John Burgess, Jon Rogers and Roger Bannister .
The hearing has an added spice because of the leaking of a covert tape of an union official meeting in Congress House, London which appears to show overzealous support for ” Team Dave” as his election campaign was known by officials working in the union’s time and using union resources. This has been covered in Private Eye whose reporting seems likely to be referenced in the hearing.
Officially ACAS issued this release: “The applicants allege that, during the election period, the Union breached a number of its rules and a paragraph of the General Secretary 2015 Election Procedures as well as section 49 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. This is the full hearing of the complaints following the preliminary hearing held on 6 October 2016.”
Full details of the proceedings and the issues are listed here.
As people can see it is a detailed series of complaints. It also raises questions around the scrutiny of elections by Electoral Reform Services and the original handling of the complaints and whether the scrutineers were sufficiently independent of the union.
One complaint says:”The Scrutineer/ Electoral Reform Society did not independently investigate and respond to the complaints that were made to it in relation to the General Secretary 2015 Election in accordance with the terms of reference of the election timetable and procedure. Specifically with reference to the complaints arising from the disclosure of the audio tape of the meeting held on 21 October in the UNISON Greater London Regional Office.”
It will also test the interpretations by both the union and the complainants about exactly what was said to whom and where and whether this did effect the election.
And it contains allegations that a senior official – “Cliff Williams, Assistant General Secretary,_ encouraged paid officials across the Union to liaise with employers where the branch might be unsympathetic towards Dave Prentis, to work towards distributing literature in support of Dave Prentis.”
And there are allegations against Liz Snape ( who is the long time partner of Dave Prentis) and a union assistant general secretary, encouraged branches to nominate him.
The public hearing is at Fleetbank House,2-5 Salisbury Square LONDON EC4Y 8JX beginning at 10.0am.
The county council elections are upon us. Ed Miliband goes on a soapbox, leaflets are pushed through doors, canvassers turn up on doorsteps and people are supposed to rush to polling stations.
How brilliantly nineteenth century when Gladstone and Disraeli drew crowds of thousands or even early twentieth when Churchill (then a Liberal like Clegg) and Balfour campaigned across Manchester.
Politicians seem wedded to the old ways – like our splendid heritage railways – harking back to the glorious age of steam.
But this is the twenty-first century – the age of the internet, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and the rise of the blogger. – and the parties still – especially Labour – seem totally oblivious.
Indeed it is said that Tony Blair never communicated by computer – always getting a gopher to do his work – and Gordon Brown tried to – but I gather his mistyping and mispelling are going to provide a field day for commentators when his 5.30 am e-mails are eventually released in 20 odd years time.
I see from my lobby colleague Oliver Wright ( http://ind.pn/11rWoWi) – that Ed Miliband has asked Matthew McGregor, the British savvy computer guy who helped Obama attack dog Mitt Romney to work on a new project for them. But this is but a straw.
Compare this to the massive success of campaigns since 2010 by groups like 38 degrees and the glimmering of fights between Political Scrapbook and Guido Fawkes blog on the net , the rapid rise of hyper local blogs across London from Barnet to Kidbrooke and rural Derbyshire to West Wales. Compare this also to the end of newspaper buying (unless free) by almost anybody under 40, TV losing ratings, and most news being confined to a few sentences on an I phone.
Yet many politicians still behave as though the entire public still engage in debate in the same way as the crowds listening to Gladstone and Disraeli and avidly reading the morning newspapers. Sorry, I do not see people on the Berkhamsted Flyer debating the merits of Matthew Ancona versus Polly Toynbee.
It is time that Britain’s political parties looked at how 38 degrees harnessed public opinion and not only used the net to find out what people want but engaged with their own members.
Otherwise David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are little more than replicas of Squire Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd They are sad political estate owners who give an annual Christmas party ( substitute party conferences) for their labourers who till the land ( the party faithful). Why not use the net for dialogue with their members and bring in the public to debate the issues.
Deference is dead, people want to communicate on an equal basis. They have great freedom to express themselves, from praise to local attack dog, and through the net reach a wider audience than they could possibly dream about a decade ago.
But politicians cling to being patricians, all not only out of touch but out of date. None of them has to live on £50 or even £250 a week. No wonder an old fashioned election campaign is encouraging a party harking back to a Golden Britain, UKIP. Wake up you dozy leaders, get a grip.
I support progressive electoral reform. The present system does need changing. It normally delivers firm government but does not necessarily represent the collective views of the country. The present system normally allows one party with the largest minority of votes to implement its manifesto, but at least we have a good idea what this means when they are elected.
If we are going to move to proportional representation it will mean that we will have to trade the clarity of a manifesto for a compromise. But I am only willing to do this if the voting system – as to a large extent it does in Scotland and Wales – genuinely reflects the view of the electorate. In other words a serious dose of proportional representation.
AV leaves us with the chance of a botched government elected by a botched electoral system. Rather than taking into account the votes of all the people and topping up Parliament to reflect this, it allows a small minority of people to exercise their choice twice at the expense of the majority of people who will only be able to use their first preference. In many places it won’t apply at all.
In my own seat, Herts South West, for example, Tory David Gauke, was returned with 54.9 per cent of the vote, so AV will be irrelevant here. And if it was just below 50 per cent, it would be second preferences of an independent, BNP and UKIP candidate in that order, that would have been redistributed.
In East Ham it is more pronounced with ex Labour minister Stephen Timms being returned with 70 per cent of the vote – a majority of 27,826-the largest in the country. No AV there and 30 per cent of the electorate ignored. Similarly foreign secretary William Hague had 62 per cent of the vote in Richmond, Yorkshire and Gordon Brown would be unaffected in Kirkcaldy with 64.5 per cent of the vote. And also for that matter David Cameron, Dominic Grieve and John Hayes (all 58-61 per cent).
It would have made a difference in Watford (Tory gain from Labour) and won with only 34.9 per cent of the vote because all three main parties were close (the Lib Dems came second) and the bottom three shared only 5.6 per cent of the vote. But why should your second preference count in Watford but be barred in next door Herts South West?
Supporters of AV say it is a step in the right direction towards full PR but I wonder whether it could make matters worse. And I am afraid that the performance of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable in government does matter. They got elected on a manifesto that they stood on its head as part of the negotiations to get power, particularly in the grotesque way they pledged to abolish student tuition fees but instead tripled them.
I think they are unaware of how damaging this has been to politics-confirming the view that people will cynically promise anything to get elected but can’t be trusted in government. No doubt at the next election they will pledge to defend the NHS and then proceed to abolish it once they are in power. Clegg has actually left people believing he is a serial liar ( reports on the doorsteps in Dacorum include people saying they will never vote Liberal Democrat again ).
They also failed in negotiations with the Tories to use a referendum to offer the public a full choice for electoral reform. So the choice is only first past the post versus bastarised PR – AV. We are not even given a chance to vote on the system used by Scotland or Wales.
I have been disenfranchised by these shenanigans so I will stick to the present system and wait for a government to be elected that will offer real choice for electoral reform.