So far the selection of the candidate for London Mayor has left much to be desired. A selection process was imposed on London that no section of the party in London wanted – not the trade unions, not the constituency parties, not the regional board of the party. Then the process was designed as if to minimise the number of trade union levy payers who could be recruited in time to participate. When the timetable for all other internal party ballots was adjusted (in line with the leadership election timetable) to give adequate time after the general election for nominations, that for London Mayor alone was left as it was. Now one of the biggest trade unions affiliated to the Labour party has adopted a process that makes a nonsense out of the Labour rule which requires that “all nominees should have fair and equal opportunity to seek selection“.
Linda Perks, the London regional secretary of public sector union UNISON (as well as vice-chair of the London Labour Party), has written to all its London who pay a political levy to the Labour Party seeking their views on whom the union should nominate as the mayoral candidate. So far so good, and the lucky respondents stand to win a Kindle Fire. However, Perks goes on to say:
In accordance with the agreed process UNISON will prioritise nominating and supporting candidates who are UNISON members.
It turns out that only three of the eight candidates who put themselves forward are UNISON members as you can see in the survey. No elected body of UNISON had any prior discussion of the exclusion of the remaining nominees – it has been done purely on the basis of who is a member of UNISON (or even perhaps has just joined it).
Is this a way of encouraging ordinary UNISON members who work delivering local government or health services to Londoners? Of course not. The permitted nominees are Tessa Jowell, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy. Tessa did have a career as a social worker and may therefore have been a legitimate member (by which I mean someone who joins a union for the normal reason people join unions) of Unison prior to becoming an MP 23 years ago though she told Unite’s hustings that she’d been a Unite member in that period too (presumably she meant a member of one of Unite’s predecessor unions). Sadiq Khan was a partner in a law firm for all but the first three of his years as a solicitor prior to his ten years as an MP. David Lammy (who also claimed to have been a Unite member for many years) spent his working life before Westminster as a barrister.
It’s obviously not unusual for MPs to retain membership of whatever union they used to be in and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with MPs who act as advocates for a union’s members in parliament joining that union. Aspiring parliamentary candidates often seem to think it’s desirable to maintain membership of several unions in order to maximise support in selections – but that’s not a good reason for a trade union giving them their backing.
UNISON is not following a similar practice in the election for leader or deputy leader, nor did it do so in last year’s Scottish leadership elections. It is claimed that Linda Perks justifies this stance for the Mayoralty on the basis that it is a ‘selection’ rather than an election, and that in selections “we only support candidates who are UNISON members“.
However it is simply not true that UNISON only supports its own members in selections. For example, in the selection for St Helens South and Whiston last year, UNISON backed Marie Rimmer (now its MP and never a member of UNISON) against UNISON member and Southwark councillor Catherine McDonald.
So what is the real reason that Linda Perks only included three names? To prevent and possibility that members would back Diane Abbott? To assist Tessa Jowell in a union whose membership is mainly female? I think we should be told.