Derek Kay was elected General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union in 2000 defeating the incumbent, Dennis Scard by a majority of eight votes.
This was an unexpected result, not least because a sitting General Secretary had never failed to be re-elected in the Union’s history. Kay, a bass player who was a member of the East London branch, was also the first General Secretary to be elected without having previously held office within the Union.
He was due to take office on the 2nd January 2001, but prior to this was suspended from membership of the Union for a period of nine months and banned from holding office within the Union for a period of five years by a disciplinary committee for allegedly bringing a member and the Union into disrepute during his election campaign.
While choosing to be absent from the initial hearing (he maintained the Executive Committee did not have the power to discipline the General Secretary) he subsequently appealed the suspension, with the appeals committee reducing the five year penalty to two. Details were not made public but the then chair of the Executive Committee, John Patrick, explained at a media briefing held by the Union to address the mounting criticism in the press, that this was “all we could say on this because of the ongoing proceedings.”
Bob Wearn, the union’s assistant general secretary, subsequently told the Guardian: “During the course of the appeal hearing, given the sensitivities, feelings are running high, and he has been asked not to come into the office. It’s a difficult time for those who work here, and for the membership, which is why we are trying to expedite it as fast as possible so everyone knows where they stand.”
In the same report, Kay was quoted as saying (of the Executive Committee) that: “they are not informing members what the complaints are about. I refused to go to such a circus event. This would all be hilarious if it wasn’t being taken seriously.”
Kay took legal action against the Union, prompting what the Musician called “the most serious constitutional crisis in the 108 year history of the Union.” He firstly questioned the legality of the EC’s plan to ballot members on his suspension (which he lost: the ballot went ahead and endorsed the EC’s position) and secondly challenging the legality of the disciplinary action against him. Almost a year after the election result (and two years since Scard’s second term ended) a settlement was reached between the two parties details of which remain confidential.
By the time the an election was held to find a replacement for Scard in 2002, Kay was able to stand again, and while picking up enough nominations to appear on the ballot paper, he did not receive enough votes to either be elected or to continue into the second round.
While Kay’s election sparked a crisis within the Union and its members never had the chance to discover what his leadership would have been like, his election could also be seen as leading to the Union modernising its structure and finally addressing the financial problems that he had raised during his campaign.