Exclusive: FBU leader warns against “factional” general secretary frontrunner

Sienna Rodgers

David Evans – a frontrunner among candidates to become Labour’s next general secretary – is a “factional figure” and “likely to be extremely divisive”, the Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack has said.

Ahead of the interviewing and shortlisting of candidates for the top party post today, LabourList can reveal that the left-wing FBU general secretary has warned trade unions against picking the Blair-era official.

Evans emerged as the Labour leadership’s preferred candidate to succeed Jennie Formby this week. He was assistant general secretary of the party from 1999 to 2001 and a regional secretary from 1995 to 1999.

Currently the director of a political consultancy firm, The Campaign Company, it is understood that Evans was longlisted by the appointment panel comprising officers of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC).

But the Labour left has expressed alarm over his candidacy, with concerns raised over a 1999 report he authored that described local parties as “dysfunctional” and said in terms of “high street presence” they were “more like Trotters Independent Traders than Marks & Spencer”.

Matt Wrack – the left-wing leader of the party-affiliated FBU, which has a seat on the NEC and on the panel responsible for longlisting and shortlisting – has said Evans is “likely to be an extremely divisive figure who will antagonise Labour Party members and the trade unions”.

The FBU general secretary said: “David Evans has attacked the reputation of hard-working Labour Party activists, authored a report which called for representative democracy in the party to be abolished, and played a key role in the party in the Tony Blair era when trade unions were sidelined”.

Wrack added: “Keir Starmer rightly said when running for leader that he would unite the party. Now he must ensure that a factional figure like Evans does not become general secretary.

“We need someone who believes in the power of all of our movement, including the membership and trade unions. The trade unions were central to the creation of the Labour Party, we will not be silenced once again.”

Ian Hodson – national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), another left-wing affiliated trade union with a seat on Labour’s NEC – has made a similar intervention.

“David Evans was Margaret McDonagh’s right-hand man in an era defined by contempt for trade unions, contempt for members and contempt for democracy,” Hodson said.

“His candidacy will sound alarm bells across the union movement, who will never vote for one of the key figures involved in our isolation under New Labour.

“After years of factional strife and after the explosive revelations about toxic right-wing factionalism in the leaked report, Keir and Angela must choose a general secretary who is a unifying figure, who can bring our party together and command confidence across our broad church.”

The 1999 internal report authored by Evans argued for a “radical overhaul” of the Labour Party that could “empower modernising forces within the party and marginalise Old Labour” – sidelining the Labour left and unions.

It stated that “representative democracy should as far as possible be abolished in the party”, with general committees in constituency parties replaced with all-member meetings and executive committees.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy at the time described the proposal as “a bid to remove all intermediate structures in the party so that we’re left with a passive, powerless membership and an all-powerful leadership”.

Friends of Evans have said he is an excellent party 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.

Other applicants in the running to be Labour’s next general secretary include Karin Christiansen, who was general secretary of the Co-operative Party from 2012 to 2015, and former trade union liaison organisation officer Byron Taylor.

After shortlisting is completed today, Labour’s full NEC is set to hold a vote on Tuesday and choose a new general secretary from the narrowed field of candidates.

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