Christina McAnea ahead as nominations close in UNISON general secretary race

Andrew Kersley

UNISON’s Christina McAnea has received almost twice the branch nominations of the next closest candidate in the race to succeed retiring Dave Prentis as the party-affiliated trade union’s general secretary.

McAnea, understood to have the support of the current union leadership, secured 212 branches ahead of nominations closing on Friday. Four candidates passed the 25 nominations threshold needed to reach the ballot.

At the close of nominations, the final counts for the candidates still in the general secretary race were as follows:

  • Christina McAnea – 212 branches, nine regions, five service groups
  • Roger McKenzie – 113 branches, one region, one service group
  • Paul Holmes – 102 branches, two regions, one service group
  • Hugo Pierre – 31 branches

The nominations process saw a significant rise in branch turnout, with 458 of UNISON’s 834 participating branches nominating a candidate compared to just 373 branches casting nominations in the last general secretary election.

McAnea said: “I am honoured that the national executive council, the majority of service groups and regions, and members in branches across our union, in every type of workplace and in every part of England, Scotland, Cymru/Wales and Northern Ireland have nominated me.

“Every nomination matters to me, just as every vote matters. I will be continuing to work hard to earn every single one right up until the ballot closes.”

Of the four candidates in the running, Glasgow-born McAnea is seen as the candidate most closely aligned to the current leadership, whilst McKenzie, Holmes and Pierre have positioned themselves further to the union’s left.

Several sources have told LabourList that Pierre only managed to reach the ballot after receiving tactical nominations from several McAnea-supporting branches seeking to split the union’s left-wing vote.

Supporters of McAnea’s campaign have dismissed the claims as “conspiracy theory nonsense” and said that branches wanting McAnea to be UNISON’s general secretary would have nominated her.

Pierre, who is being supported by the Socialist Party, has since written to the two other opponents of McAnea offering to stand down if a single left-wing candidate can be agreed upon.

McAnea narrowly won the backing of UNISON’s national executive council earlier this month, securing 29 votes on the union’s governing body compared to 26 for her closest challenger Paul Holmes.

Reacting to the close of nominations, Holmes said: “We have seen how the Tories hate public provision in the Covid-19 crisis. The health workers have seen how much the government appreciates them by clapping them and not paying them.

“This union needs to go onto the front foot and lead the fight. Our campaign will continue to be open, transparent and enthusiastic. There will be no deals ‘behind closed doors’. Be in no doubt, though, our campaign can win this election.”

Alongside the union’s local branches, the nomination process also included regional councils and service groups – bodies that represent the different UK regions and industries in the union.

McAnea, who is currently working as an assistant general secretary in UNISON, was backed by five of the union’s service groups as well as nine of its regions, including her native Scotland.

Holmes won the support of the largest service group and region, as he received backing from the local government service group and North West region. He was also endorsed by the South East region.

McKenzie, also a serving UNISON assistant general secretary, received the backing of the water, environment and transport service group, as well as the West Midlands region.

On the nomination results, McKenzie said: “I am beyond grateful to have so much support from branches alongside thousands of members signing up to my campaign to build a stronger, fighting, winning union… A union is nothing without active members shaping its future.”

McKenzie has suggested that UNISON should hold a live-streamed national hustings to increase engagement in the general secretary election and give members a chance to hear from all the candidates seeking to succeed Prentis.

Several prominent Labour politicians have endorsed candidates in the election, with former leader Jeremy Corbyn supporting McKenzie and former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell backing Holmes.

Outgoing general secretary Prentis has been in the role for 20 years but announced his retirement in July. He has been very supportive of Keir Starmer’s as Labour leader after endorsing him in the party leadership election.

UNISON members will vote on their preferred candidate to replace Prentis from October 28th to November 27th, with the results set to be announced on January 11th, 2021.

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