General secretary appointment underway, plus concerns over Serco

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David Evans has emerged as the Labour leadership’s favourite for the general secretary post. There was talk earlier in the process that the leader’s office could remain neutral on the appointment, but insiders warned against that idea and a preference has now been expressed after the timetable was lengthened to allow for new possibilities to come through. Who is Evans, why has he been picked out and are there alternatives with a good shot at succeeding Jennie Formby (spoiler: yes, Karin Christiansen)? That is all covered in my write-up here. The next thing to watch out for is whether the national executive committee (NEC) officers group, which has a Labour left majority, agrees with the leadership on which candidates are up to the job. Interviews and shortlisting will be done tomorrow.

Labour conference 2020 has been cancelled. Due to coronavirus, the NEC ruled that the biggest political event of the year for Labour activists could not go ahead in September. It is expected that some kind of virtual programme could be organised instead – to facilitate a leader’s speech, necessary rule changes, and possibly policy debate – but the details have not yet been agreed. Like the chances of NEC elections going ahead this summer, a decision that has been deferred to June along with the proposal to adopt a preferential voting system, online arrangements depend on whether the party can buy a tool that is good enough and can be used by local parties to meet virtually. Other details of the NEC meeting can be found in Alice Perry’s latest report.

In light of conference being cancelled, some activists are wondering whether the party can be so decisive on something set to take place four months away and yet slightly ambiguous on the issue of school reopening in less than two weeks. Labour councillor and teacher James McAsh wrote for LabourList earlier this week on why he will be listening to his trade union and the British Medical Association over the government (and he explained what his school is already doing, which was interesting). The key to schools reopening is, of course, a mass testing and tracing programme. Unfortunately, outsourcing firm Serco is being used to put that in place.

The company has already had to apologise for accidentally sharing the email addresses of hundreds of contact tracers. And the Guardian report on how these tracers are being trained is pretty alarming. Shadow health minister Justin Madders has raised in LabourList the importance of a comprehensive strategy including the use of “local public health teams who know their communities”, while Helen Hayes as new shadow minister for the Cabinet Office wrote for LabourList about whether “outsourcing is necessary instead of funding the public sector to deliver”. Perhaps these concerns will feature in PMQs today. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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