Linda Perks
Linda Perks was condemned by a judge for “flagrantly” breaking union election rules (Image: Sky News)

A Labour candidate in May’s Greenwich Council election was condemned by a judge last year after “flagrantly” breaking the rules of the UK’s biggest public sector union to help its general secretary get re-elected.

Linda Perks, who was formerly Unison’s London regional secretary, was picked last September to represent Charlton ward in this spring’s poll.

Her selection came just four months after it was ruled that she breached union regulations by calling on her staff at Union to vote for Dave Prentis, and for “openly campaigning” for him during working hours.

After hearing a recording of Perks which was posted online by an anonymous whistleblower, Judge Mary Stacey said her tone was “not just confident but swaggering in so openly breaking the rules, but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.

The judge said Perks’ behaviour was “extremely shocking”.

Greenwich Labour has said that Perks was “open and transparent” about the issue when she put herself forward for selection and that she will continue to stand in the election. Perks herself has not responded to a request for comment.

Ordering staff to back general secretary

Congress House
Perks told her staff to store campaign leaflets at the union’s London HQ at Congress House in Bloomsbury, in breach of election rules
(photo: Paul the Archivist via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

Perks’ role in the re-election of Dave Prentis was one of a number of issues considered by the Certification Officer – a government office which supervises the conduct of trade unions and employers’ associations – after rival candidates complained about irregularities in the 2015 poll.

The complaints about Perks were the only ones to be upheld by Judge Stacey, the assistant certification officer, when she ruled in May 2017. Unison was also found to be vicariously responsible for her actions.

In one incident, Perks called a meeting of all her London regional staff at the University of London in September 2015 to tell them that Prentis was “the only credible candidate”.

Judge Stacey branded this an “inappropriate expression of her personal opinion”, adding “it has the effect of supressing dissent and implies that anyone who supports a different candidate is both stupid and wrong”.

A month later, Perks summoned all her staff to a second meeting, held at Unison’s London region HQ at Congress House. She told them to campaign for Prentis during their working hours, explaining she had a list of nominations she was not entitled to see, adding: “You haven’t seen [it] so it is not for distribution anywhere. Because this has been obtained unofficially. You have not seen it.”

Judge Stacey said this served to implicate the 50 staff members present at the meeting, “forcing them to collude with her and using the cloak of humour to deter dissent”.

‘Special chocolate biscuits’

Perks told her staff to store pro-Prentis leaflets – which she codenamed “special chocolate biscuits” – at Congress House, a breach of union rules, and added they should lie about where they got campaign materials from.

However, this second meeting was recorded, and posted online in December 2015. (The recording is still available together with a transcript.)

Linda Perks ruling
Judge Mary Stacey’s view on the transcript of Linda Perks’ meeting

Perks admitted gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing, was suspended by the union and given a final written warning.

But while those who complained about her behaviour thought she had been moved to a different regional office, she actually took up a new role as national secretary at its Euston HQ, just half a mile away, on “special projects”.

Judge Stacey said this may appear “to be a reward rather than punishment”.

The ruling was little-reported beyond the left-wing press and Private Eye, with Judge Stacey not finding in favour of the other complaints and ruling that the disputed election not be re-run, in part because of the size of Prentis’s victory.

Investigative journalist David Hencke has written about the wider aspects of the case.

Automatic selection in Charlton

Perks, who lives in Charlton, used her union background when campaigning to be selected. In one email seen by 853, she says: “My union work has also enabled me to develop a good understanding of how councils work and how decisions are taken.” She retired in September 2017. One union member told 853 that the email announcing her retirement made no reference to her change of role.

Absolutely packed house to thank Linda Perks, one of our longest serving regional secretaries. We will all miss her

— Dave Prentis (@DavePrentis) September 29, 2017

Even if local party members knew about the her “flagrant” rule-breaking at Unison, it is unlikely they would have been able to ask her about it. She was automatically selected after incumbent councillor Miranda Williams withdrew from consideration, and party rules state that comments from members must be couched positively.

At a second meeting, she had to ask to address members after current councillor Gary Parker and newcomer Gary Dillon were confirmed as running alongside her. 853 understands she did not refer to the controversy.

The decision to put Perks on the approved list of candidates was made by the Greenwich Labour Local Campaign Forum, which works across the borough’s constituencies.

Greenwich LCF chair Jo Van Den Broek told 853: “Linda Perks was open and transparent about this issue and it was considered as part of her selection process.

“It was clear that mistakes had been made – and that they had been learned from. Linda has demonstrated her commitment to serving her community and she is standing as a Labour candidate in Charlton.”

Linda Perks has not responded to a request for comment.

  • The full ruling is available on the website. See paragraphs 106-111, 134-155, 208-213, 258 and 295.
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