PCS NEC elections: contradictory results in factional jockeying

Dave Vincent - photo: Tom Bimpson

Dave Vincent - photo: Tom Bimpson

Dave Vincent warns that the right is close to regaining control after a poor turnout in the PCSU elections

Again the Democracy Alliance electoral pact between the Socialist Party-dominated Left Unity and the chancers and opportunists of the PCS Democrats has won out in elections to the national executive of the Public and Commercial Services union – even more decisively this year. It got 29 out of 30 NEC places (with typically over 140 branches nominating their candidates).

The challengers from the right remain ‘4 the Members’ – a breakaway grouping from the once all-dominant (and now non-existent) National Moderate Group. They continue to command far more votes than the small number of nominating branches (typically 16) would suggest. Their electoral pitch is always to oppose strikes called by the “extreme left” in favour of “effective negotiations”. They never say what they will aim for in negotiations or why the government will make concessions to a rightwing-controlled NEC.

Another breakaway group – this time from Left Unity – was the other faction contesting. Independent Left (with around 25 branches nominating their candidates) came bottom, as it did the previous two years. IL candidates stated they were “proud to be standing on a slate with so many women”. Interesting then, in a union comprising 60% female members most people do not seem to vote according to gender – the Democracy Alliance stood only nine female NEC candidates. I have always argued against reserved seats for ‘underrepresented’ categories of members and, once again, these voting patterns seem to support my stance. Members tend to vote for the faction that their trusted PCS rep recommends, with very few choosing to read the actual election addresses.

The main platform of the IL is for more effective strikes, including calling for paid selective action. Based on the different stances of the three factions, the NEC results suggest that most PCS members who bother to vote (only one in 10 – down from one in nine last year) follow the lead of local activists who support the current NEC’s strategy. They are closely followed by those against more strikes, and then members who think PCS should be more combative. This electoral pattern is reflected at conference in the major debates, where the NEC is consistently supported and more combative strategies presented by the IL rejected. This is exactly what happened in 2008 and I have no reason to doubt, given the similarity of the NEC results, that this will be the case again on May 21-23.

But there were contradictory results in elections for posts that come up once every five years. For deputy general secretary there were two candidates – current incumbent Hugh Lanning (initially backed by the SP when he first stood for general secretary against notorious rightwinger Barry Reamsbottom and Mark Serwotka, whose candidature was denounced by the SP as a left adventure that would split the vote and help Reamsbottom retain power – Serwotka won!). Lanning’s opponent, backed by IL, was John Moloney, who made no mention of his Alliance for Workers’ Liberty membership nor even described himself as a socialist.

Moloney had only 33 branch nominations to Lanning’s 129. Despite this Moloney pulled in an impressive 11,547 votes to Lanning’s 13,755. It is tempting then to deduce that the IL is on its way to seriously challenging the DA’s control of the NEC in 2010 – until, that is, you then look at the results for the election for assistant general secretary.

Here SP member and current incumbent Chris Baugh (who also failed to declare his party affiliation) had 137 branch nominations to a mere 20 for rabidly anti-left challenger Rob Bryson of ‘4 the Members’. This was an even more overwhelming ratio than for the deputy general secretary contest and yet Baugh only just made it, with 12,952 votes to Bryson’s 12,757. Does this suggest then, that ‘4 the Members are also poised to regain control of the NEC in 2010?

How can you make sense of such contradictory results where a far-left challenger for one position does surprisingly well, but then a rightwing challenger against a left incumbent does even better? I would argue that Baugh has more respect among activists (and more branch nominations) than Lanning, yet he very nearly lost to the right.

On balance, it remains the case that the right is far, far closer to regaining control of the NEC than the IL is of catching up with LU. That is why the cynical ‘hide any mention of being left’ Democracy Alliance electoral pact continues and why the SP-dominated NEC may talk of strike action, but will delay carrying it out, call it off halfway through and move such cautious motions on pay strategy at conference.

The very poor 9.3% turnout, which can hardly be said to give anyone a mandate, shows that the SP, despite toning down its left stance, is not enthusing the wider membership. However, it has cultivated a layer of activists, whereas the right has the support of the more passive ordinary members.

How did I do personally? Whereas I came 78th out of 78 last year, this time I was 79th out of 85, once more standing as a socialist independent. At this rate I might get on the NEC just as I’m about to retire in 10 years time!

For others on the left wondering how to get elected here are some lessons:

  • You have to join a faction – preferably with a meaningless but populist name. Most members do not read election statements.
  • Make sure you agree with the handful who control the faction. Follow the line, deliver it, get noticed. Be a useful dupe! You can be rubbish, but you’ll still get on the slate, if only to make up the numbers and keep off the dissidents. You might even get to be a full-time unelected officer if you crawl enough.
  • Play down your leftwing credentials. Concentrate on current issues and avoid condemning your opponents. Call strike action now and again – but not too much! Ensure you have the support of activists who will get members to vote. In PCS, out of the 283,244 who received ballot papers only 26,292 returned them. It was possible to get elected with just 9,116 votes.
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