Jennie Formby resigns and Keir Starmer calls for coronavirus “consensus”

Sienna Rodgers
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Jennie Formby has announced her resignation as Labour’s general secretary. Her statement yesterday did not shy away from this decision being linked to the election of Keir Starmer, saying explicitly that she applied to the role to support Jeremy Corbyn and “now we have a new leadership team it is the right time to step down”. Commenting on the move this morning, Starmer told BBC Radio 4: “It was a mutual agreement and I wish her the very best. We need to move on as a party.” And asked what should be the number one priority of Formby’s successor, he enthusiastically replied: “Focus on winning the next general election!”

Who is in the running to replace her? We’ve put together a very early runners and riders list. Although there is a commonly held view that this represents “UNISON’s turn”, the leaked report had an impact, and it is currently thought that this will be a straight fight between Unite’s Anneliese Midgley and GMB’s Lisa Johnson. But there is also speculation that Starmer, as a bit of an outsider himself, might be keen on the idea of bringing in someone from outside the labour movement. It’s easy to imagine that he and chief of staff Morgan McSweeney could favour a council chief executive or nonprofit sector leader.

Of course, that would be a tough ask – not only because trade unions have key votes on Labour’s national executive committee, which appoints the general secretary, but also because running large parts of a union offers relevant experience and a thorough understanding of party dynamics. These crucial attributes are almost impossible to gain elsewhere. And there is a lot to understand about the factionalism that Starmer wants to banish. Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s latest piece for LabourList gives some indication of what is going on within the Labour left right now.

Keir Starmer also talked to the BBC this morning about his latest intervention in the coronavirus crisis. He has called for a “national consensus” on the next steps taken by the UK government. This sounds remarkably like the commitment made by Boris Johnson when he returned to work, which saw the Prime Minister talk of ‘consensus’ outside 10 Downing Street. And as I said last week, any such consensus would have to be centred around the TUC demands for “tough new measures” needed before people were asked to return to their workplaces. Yet the new draft back-to-work guidelines have been slammed by trade unions.

The GMB says the advice was “thrown together in a hurry and it shows”. They have warned that “many may refuse to work” under the latest guidance. The TUC is reiterating that it wants “binding rules for employers to publish their risk assessment and action plan”, “clear guidance on the standards employers must meet” and a “tough, new approach to enforcement”.

Starmer has similarly argued that the government draft is “very very vague with lots of gaps in it”. As a result, Labour has set out seven “core principles” for next steps – including new targets, guaranteed supply of equipment and the publication of several national plans. “Our priority is protecting the public’s health and saving lives,” the Labour leader said. The movement has a fight ahead to make sure that the government agrees.

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