Timewasting tactics of FBU leadership cause further delay to long-overdue national officer election

THIS BLOG HAS reported previously on the failure by the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union to hold an election for the key position of national officer, which was left vacant as a result of the sudden and controversial departure of Sean Starbuck.

Starbuck left the union on 30 June 2021. Under rule E3(2)(iii) of the FBU rule book, an election for his replacement should have been held within six months of that date. (The principle of running elections when an elected national officer post falls vacant was also reinforced by the union’s most recent annual conference.)

Yet, for reasons unexplained, the leadership decided to breach the existing rule. For here we are, more than nine months since Starbuck disappeared from the scene, and the process for electing his replacement has not yet even commenced.

Now we have learned that the leadership is to put a policy statement, entitled FBU Structure – National Officers, to the union’s next annual conference in May.

Policy statements provide a mechanism for the leadership of the union to submit proposals or demands to annual conference which are then debated and voted upon by delegates. They are usually reserved for setting out future policy direction on key issues.

So what does the policy statement on national officers tell us? What is so important or radical or new about the leadership’s position on the topic that it saw fit to submit such an entire statement to annual conference?

Frankly, nothing at all.

The statement wastes a lot of time setting out positions that are already enshrined in the FBU rule book and conference policies, and background information that is already known or could easily have been relayed through standard communication methods to members and officials. It then seeks the approval of conference to run the outstanding national officer election.

In essence, then, the policy statement does little more than set out the status quo – which will doubtless leave some members to ask: what is the point of it? We know what the rules are: the rules state that the election must be held. The policy statement doesn’t alter things one jot in this regard. The statement can therefore be summed up as the leadership saying to conference delegates, “We ask conference, through this policy statement, to give us the authority to run an election which we were already obliged under existing union rules to have commenced several months ago, but – for reasons we won’t tell you – chose not to!”

The statement is, frankly, a waste of everyone’s time. Moreover, it is an abuse of conference and, in particular, an abuse of the policy statement mechanism.

Indeed, if this way of operating is allowed to be established as precedent, what would be to stop the FBU leadership choosing not to implement other rules pending a policy statement debate up to a year in the future at the next annual conference?

The policy statement seeking authorisation to run the outstanding national officer election will almost certainly be approved by conference delegates. Indeed, its rejection would mean that delegates had, without an associated rule change proposal to cover themselves, placed the union’s conference in direct conflict with its own rule book – an inconceivable scenario which further illustrates why the statement is utterly pointless.   

Instead of engaging in these timewasting tactics, the FBU leadership should learn to respect the rules and policies of the union and get on with running the national officer election without further delay.

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