NUJ leadership thwarted in plan for a political fund

Yes campaign had two mailouts Cleo: could be basis for UK launch MEN: splash attracted nationals Wheal: co-ordinated no camp

NUJ rank and file members have opposed the leadership and voted against starting a new fund for political campaigning.

The cost of the ballot and associated “Yes” campaign has been estimated at £25,000. According to the “No” camp, the money would have been better spent presenting a more balanced picture to members.

High-profile members, including broadcaster Jon Snow, had threatened to resign from the NUJ if the vote was carried.

The political fund was narrowly defeated by a margin of 4,120 to 3,651 in a postal ballot. The turnout of 28.6 per cent was high compared with previous NUJ postal votes.

Union members agreed to hold the ballot at last year’s annual delegate meeting. The NUJ’s ruling council, the NEC, backed setting up a fund and agreed £25,000 to go towards the cost of the ballot and campaign.

Those in favour of the fund argued that it was needed to comply with trade union legislation on political campaigning. The no camp said the legislation only applied to party political campaigning and not to the various issues that the NUJ deals with.

Freelance journalist Chris Wheal, who co-ordinated the no campaign, said: “The yes campaign had everything on their side, they had The Journalist magazine, they had three e-mails sent out to members and two postings out to members. In The Journalist there was something like five pages of coverage in favour and just one page against.”

He said that, by contrast, the no campaign sent out just one e-mail to members.

Journalist editor Tim Gopsill responded to the allegation of bias, saying: “It was biased because it was a union campaign. It was decided at the national conference that the union should campaign for a yes vote.”

Peter Murray, who was chairman of the NEC’s political fund committee, said he hoped the no vote would not affect the way the union campaigns.

He said: “We will have to continue and do what we have always done and hopefully somebody won’t come and pull us up for it. We always argued that we needed this fund as legal backing.

Chris argued that we don’t and I guess we have to assume now that Chris was right. I respect the decision and hope it doesn’t compromise us in terms of the law.”

Snow told Press Gazette he had withdrawn his threat to resign and added: “I want them to run the union, I don’t want them running some political campaign on my behalf.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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