David Evans has become Labour’s new general secretary following a vote of the national executive committee today that saw the ruling body choose from a shortlist of six applicants.
In a victory for Keir Starmer and the new leadership team, the three-week process has seen a former assistant general secretary picked to replace Corbynite trade unionist Jennie Formby.
According to LabourList sources, the result was close with only two votes in it. NEC members were split 16 to 20 in favour of Evans over left-favoured candidate Byron Taylor.
Scottish leader Richard Leonard was absent, and Peter Willsman remains suspended. GMB’s two votes were decisive, as well as that of Welsh Labour’s Mick Antoniw.
Commenting on the news of his appointment, Evans said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed general secretary of the Labour Party.
“We face a defining period in the history of our great party, with a global pandemic, an imminent recession and a mountain to climb to win the next election. Through the strength of our movement, I know we can rise to this challenge.
“I look forward to working with our party, trade unions and members to build a team that can win us the next general election and give us the opportunity to once again serve the British people in government.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “I want to congratulate David on his appointment as general secretary. He brings a wealth of experience to this crucial role and a clear understanding of the scale of the task ahead of us.
“I look forward to working with David to build a team that can help us restore trust with the British people and build a team that can win the next election.”
Deputy leader Angela Rayner added: “David will make a fantastic general secretary of the Labour Party.
“Last year’s election result was devastating for our movement. It is now our duty to work as a team to unite our party, reconnect with the British people and offer the better future that our country deserves.”
Evans was a senior Labour official during the era of Tony Blair’s leadership, between 1995 and 2001. It was widely understood that he was the favoured candidate of the leader’s office for the post.
He was a councillor in Croydon from 1986 to 1990, and he is the founder and director of political research and consultancy firm The Campaign Company.
Reacting to the result, one NEC member told LabourList: “If Evans now takes us back to the toxic culture in HQ, purges of left-wing members and stitch ups of parliamentary selections exposed in the leaked report, his appointment will be the worst mistake of Keir’s leadership.
“Keir and Angela both stood on election platforms promising to unite the party. Members won’t forgive them if they allow a hard-right general secretary to wage factional warfare against the left. They are responsible for making sure Evans fulfils their election promise to bring our party together, not tear it apart.”
NEC member Rachel Garnham tweeted: “Today Keir and Angela had the opportunity to prove their commitment to uniting our party.
“Instead in their choice of gen sec so closely aligned to the right of the party they have shown their pledge to end factionalism to be a sham. Any remaining illusions must now be shattered.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, had warned colleagues against picking Evans, describing him as a “factional figure” and “likely to be extremely divisive” on the basis of comments made during the Blair era.
Concerns were raised by the left after it was highlighted that Evans wrote a report in 1999 describing local parties as “dysfunctional” and comparing them to Del Boy’s “Trotters Independent Traders”.
Trade unions on the left pointed out the paper recommended a “radical overhaul” of the party that could “empower modernising forces within the party and marginalise Old Labour”.
But Labour council leader Stephen Cowan defended Evans, calling the applicant a “professional political campaigner – one of a small number of experts in the UK, and arguably the best in the country”.
Allies say Evans is an excellent organiser, having overseen the campaign that allowed Labour to regain control of Croydon in 2014 and helped Labour beat the BNP in Barking in 2010.
Barking and Dagenham Council leader Darren Rodwell told LabourList that Evans really understands how to “connect” with voters, and thoroughly grasps the value of local government.
The Labour left on the NEC were in favour of trade unionist Byron Taylor, while many members on the party’s left had hoped that former executive director of policy Andrew Fisher could take up the role.
The soft left of the party, including a number of Labour MPs, had picked out former Co-operative Party general secretary Karin Christiansen as the applicant on which they were most keen.
President of the National Education Union and former parliamentary candidate Amanda Martin and Labour MEP for the West Midlands Neena Gill were also in the running.
Reactions from the movement…
Jewish Labour Movement: “We welcome David Evans’ appointment as Labour’s new general secretary. We look forward to working with him to ensure Labour deals with its flawed disciplinary processes and the toxic culture in local parties, including acting on the 19 steps we set out for his predecessor.”
Jenny Chapman: “Congratulations to David Evans, Labour’s new General Secretary. He’s got the experience, the professionalism and most importantly the values we need to inspire and win. Looking forward to working with him.”
Anneliese Midgley: “Many congratulations to David Evans the new general secretary of @UKLabour. Looking forward to working with you for a Labour government David.”
Progress: “Congratulations to David Evans on his appointment as GS of @UKLabour – an innovative community campaigner, and great friend to Labour local government, a team-builder and an open-handed leader, we’re excited to get stuck in behind him!”
Tom Watson: “When I was a young party staffer David taught me a great deal about the organisation of elections. I wish him all the best in what is a crucial post for Keir and Angela’s future plans.”
Siobhain McDonagh MP: “Brilliant choice! Great campaigner and great guy!”
Steve Reed MP: “Fantastic news! David’s the best choice to help Labour win the next election. Worked with him in Lambeth and Croydon – an outstanding appointment”.
Andrew Gwynne MP: “Congratulations to @davidrevans, @UKLabour’s new general secretary. One time @LabourNorthWest director and more recently working with @LGA_Labour, I can’t think of a more experienced organiser and campaigner to help take our party forwards.”
Jon Ashworth MP: “Congratulations David Evans our new @UKLabour general secretary. I first met David at an activist’s election training event at @GMB_union College, Whalley Range, Manchester in 1996! David was vital to our election wins in 97 & 01. He will build a winning machine for the next GE.”