Dirty election tricks

Members of the Fire Brigades Union are currently in the process of electing a new assistant general secretary (AGS) to replace Mike Fordham. But the election has been plagued by accusations of 'dirty tricks', as the embattled FBU leadership struggles to retain its grip on the union, which has been ridden by strife since the ending of the long and bitter firefighters' pay dispute. There are three candidates in the AGS election: John McGhee, a national officer and pro-leadership loyalist; Matt Wrack, London regional secretary and 'reclaim our union' challenger; and Dean Mills, an executive council member who some see as the compromise candidate. The two frontrunners for the position are McGhee and Wrack. The contest is being seen as a litmus test for the election of the union's general secretary, which will be decided in May. Since the pay dispute, the FBU has been in turmoil, with members across the UK feeling bitterly let down by the leadership. The final settlement not only went nowhere near to achieving the union's 40% pay claim, but has allowed employers to destroy national conditions of service and make huge cuts in fire cover. Two senior national FBU officials have already been deselected as part of the backlash, losing out to candidates from the grassroots, and there is every chance, say some, that the leadership will lose the assistant general secretary election too. In recent weeks, many rank and file FBU members have expressed outrage at what they see as the blatant electoral skulduggery of the leadership - including the general secretary, Andy Gilchrist - which is employing blatantly underhand tactics to ensure victory for their candidate (McGhee). The accusations against the leadership include: * the persistent breaching of a long-established union rule which prohibits written canvassing in an election. Accusers say the union's head office has been "spilling-out" pro-McGhee propaganda for weeks in the form of official bulletins, circulars and press releases, and has even incorporated his election slogan into many official documents. * the deliberate denigration of the two challengers, in particular Matt Wrack, including two eve-of-election circulars from Andy Gilchrist which lambasted them both, and were designed to discredit their campaigns * involvement in the circulation of numerous anonymous flyers canvassing for McGhee, which were sent to hundreds of fire stations throughout the country and the content of which, in parts, bore a striking resemblance to McGhee's official election address * bribing the members with their own money, after McGhee was officially put in charge of a hardship fund for injured firefighters just days before the election began, and an "unexpectedly large surplus" was discovered in the fund. McGhee subsequently promised that the "surplus" would result in a "substantial rise in benefits for the most vulnerable members" * clear breaches of the canvassing rule by the outgoing AGS, Mike Fordham, who in interviews and articles for national magazines pledged his support to both McGhee and Gilchrist in their respective elections * suggestions that McGhee had advanced sighting of Wrack's election statement, thus enabling him to tailor his own statement accordingly * the deliberate planting of pro-McGhee/anti-Wrack stories in the press, again in breach of the union's rule on canvassing * rumours that Wrack or Mills will, if elected, be suspended immediately on spurious charges One outraged FBU member said: "I've been in this union for 18 years, and have never seen the kind of gerrymandering that's going on at the moment. It brings shame on all those involved. We half-expected the leadership to pull a few strokes, because everyone knows they are hanging on to power by a thread, but nothing on this scale." The result for the AGS election is due to be declared on February 4. The process for the election of general secretary begins three days later. Phoenix Bulletin