Runners and riders in Labour’s general secretary battle

With the resignation of Jennie Formby, Labour needs a new general secretary. Who are the runners and riders?

Labour needs a new General Secretary. The incumbent – Jennie Formby – has quit, much to the relief of new party leader Keir Starmer. Her supporters may have hoped the recently launched inquiry into the ‘leaked report’ into disciplinary matters would encourage her to stay, but Formby plainly had more sense than that.

Starmer faces a tough job in getting a candidate he will be comfortable with. For all their rhetoric about equal opportunities, the union bigwigs who dominate Labour’s National Executive – which will vote as a whole on who gets the job – like to pick their favoured sons and daughters for the role.

Starmer’s grip on the NEC is far from firm and the wafer-thin majorities he won on the inquiry – 18 to 16 – also obscure the fact that in the event of a tied vote the hard left chair of the NEC would not be an ally of the new leadership.

Indeed, Unite and the hard left still have a majority amongst NEC officers, who met on Tuesday to attempt to impose a truncated timetable and take control of the shortlisting process.

So who are the runners and riders?

Annaliese Midgley

Political director of Unite the Union who previously worked for Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone

Backed by Shadow Chancellor and namesake Annaliese Dodds, the Unite union, and Starmer aide (and former Trotskyist) Simon Fletcher. 

Pros: current favourite, leading union candidate, personable, long standing political aide to left politicians. She can (presumably) secure Unite’s votes on the NEC making her appointment a shoo-in if Starmer backs her.

Cons: Appointing one of Len ‘mood music’ McCluskey’s chief lieutenants (and a former aide to Ken Livingstone) to Labour’s top staff job could be seen as sticking two fingers up to the Jewish community. There is no suggestion that Midgley is or has ever been personally antisemitic, but giving her the job would signal that past collaboration with the enablers of Labour’s antisemitism crisis is no impediment to career advancement under Starmer.  Other unions might also feel that Unite have had their chance over the last five years of acting as Corbyn’s spear carriers and the results – political and financial devastation for the party – are visible everywhere.

Lisa Johnson 

GMB political director, who has long coveted the job of Labour’s general secretary

Pros: Jordan might still be favoured by the GMB, who have clout. Her partner, Nick Parrott, is a long standing aide and recently appointed Chief of Staff to Angela Rayner, and Johnson is widely believed to be the preferred candidate of the deputy leader.

Cons: After her ally Tim Roache quit his job as general secretary of the GMB following serious allegations about his personal behaviour, Johnson may no longer be able to call on her employers for support and would thus be effectively dead in the water.

Brian Roy

Former general secretary of Scottish Labour now working as a political consultant

Has support from some prominent Blairites and the – much diminished – Scottish Labour Party but not from its leader Richard Leonard.

Pros: To win power Labour needs to transform its fortunes in Scotland and at least there would be someone at the top who understands the politics of that.

Cons: Left his job in Scotland after a political stooshie (as they say) with Scots leader Richard Leonard and his appointment would therefore be a huge vote of no confidence in Leonard, whose coat is already on a proverbial shoogly nail. Would be odd to make him GS in these circumstances.

Laura Parker 

Social movement campaigner

Joined the Labour Party as recently as 2015, swiftly appointed as Jeremy Corbyn’s private secretary before departing to become Momentum’s National Co-ordinator. She failed to be selected for either Vauxhall or Enfield North before the last election. Parker attracted criticism in 2018 when she referred to allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour as “mud-slinging”. After failing to be elected as an MP in the 2019 election, Parker accused Corbyn’s Labour of having “shied away from this election, it was vision free.”

Pros: Parker backed Starmer for the leadership, showing that while she’s on the left she is prepared to be flexible.

Cons: Aside from her chequered record as a political campaigner, her appointment would suggest Starmer has little issue with those who previously downplayed the depth and seriousness of Labour’s antisemitism crisis.

Alicia Kennedy

Former deputy general secretary, now in the Lords

Late-comer being encouraged to stand by a  number of MPs and key aides to Sadiq Khan who want an experienced campaigner at the helm.

Pros: was once the most powerful woman you’d never heard of in the Labour Party and is the most experienced and professionally qualified candidate. She served successive Labour leaders from across the political spectrum and know the party machinery inside out.

Cons: Now a working peer in the Lords, which may count against her, and recently worked for Tom Watson – the man the far left love to hate. Her lack of factional backing is both a strength and a weakness.

Johanna Baxter

Union negotiator and Labour NEC member

Baxter has only just been re-elected to the NEC, getting back on to the constituency section in the wake of Starmer’s triumph and the far left’s break-up. A Scot with London roots.

Pros: Would be seen as making a decisive break from the Corbyn years and turning the party to the centre. Might get Unison’s backing.

Cons: To take part she’s have to withdraw from the NEC meaning Starmer would lose a vote from the start. Low profile – but competent – and with few enemies but certain to be pilloried as the Labour First candidate if she does run.

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