As the hyper-cuts budget is announced it would be easy to overlook the election of the General Secretary of one of Britain's largest unions, and one whose members will be bearing the brunt of the public service bonfire. Who leads the union in this crucial time is extremely important.
The incumbent Dave Prentis, who Cameron took the trouble to slag off the other day, won the votes of 67% of the 216,116 people who cast a ballot (14% turnout, which is pretty standard). A fairly ringing endorsement of a union moderate who has been able to make the right noises in the press but has also taken a hard line approach with the left in the union, including some extremely dubious expulsions.
His two challengers were both from the left. Roger Bannister of the Socialist Party won an impressive 20% of the vote and Labour Party member Paul Holmes won the remaining 13% for the 'United Left'.
The result is no surprise given that Prentis was nominated by a whopping 371 branches, 11 regional councils, 7 service groups and the National Executive Council (compared to Bannister's 31 branches and Holmes' 52 branches) but the size of the opposition is significant, as is the fact that it all came from the left of Prentis.
It's also interesting that Prentis has seen his support among members decline from the 77% of the vote he received five years ago, with the left increasing it's share of the vote (last time round Jon Rogers, also a left Labour Party member stood as the United Left candidate).
|2010 candidates||2005 candidates|
|Dave Prentis||145,351||(67.3%) ||Dave Prentis||184,769||(75.6%)|
|Roger Bannister||42,651||(19.7%)||Roger Bannister||41,406||(16.9%)|
|Paul Holmes||28,114||(13.0%)||Jon Rogers||18,306||(7.5%)|
It's interesting that in both elections Bannister was put under a great deal of pressure by the 'United Left' to stand down in favour of their candidates who on both occasions received more branch nominations but less support from ordinary members.
Quite rightly in my view the Socialist Party understood that they had the better placed candidate among members, even if the United Left was able to mobilise a certain layer of branch officers. On both occasions it was seen as the height of sectarianism on the part of Bannister not to step down, and on both occasions it turned out that it was the United Left that was in fact speaking to a more narrow section of the membership.
At no time did the United Left seriously consider stepping down in favour of Bannister despite the fact that such a move could bode extremely well for a more coordinated approach to elections and campaigns at other levels of the union. Such as it is the different cliques of the organised left in the union are still at daggers drawn and will, therefore, remain unable to win a majority influence.
However, the good news is that 32.3% of the union's membership who voted opted for a fighting union that takes on the government cuts agenda head-on. Whether that one in three can be translated into victories in the public sector depends not just on UNISON members but the wider movement as a whole.