Who could replace Jennie Formby as Labour’s general secretary? She has only just resigned, but already the Labour Party is buzzing with rumours of who her successor might be.
The appointee must have a thorough understanding of the party to do the job, and probably need to match the key principles espoused by new leader Keir Starmer, with ‘unity’ being the watchword.
Subject to the approval of conference, general secretary appointments are made by Labour’s national executive committee (NEC). That is pretty good news for Starmer: he has only lost one vote so far, and that was a minor error apparently caused by Zoom-fuelled confusion.
The political director at Unite the Union has emerged as a unity candidate. She has a track record that pleases the party’s left, having worked for Ken Livingstone (he would need to be publicly disowned) and as Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy chief of staff. But many of the party’s right also favour her – and if that comes as a surprise, remember never to underestimate the complexity of Labour Party and labour movement politics.
The director of external relations at GMB is widely tipped for the role, and she has been for quite some time. She is also regarded as one of the more left-wing potential candidates. Some cast doubt over her chances last week after she was mentioned in the letter that made allegations against Tim Roache, but others reckon NEC members know her well enough not to be swayed by that.
The assistant general secretary UNISON was thought to be in the running for some years, like Johnson. She used to be Labour’s executive director of governance, membership and party services. This should be a plus, but it is no longer due to the recently leaked report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints. Other UNISON names have not yet been floated.
The former Scottish Labour general secretary has plenty of relevant experience, and he backed Starmer’s leadership bid. He has not made many enemies in the party, and Starmer might like the optics of a Scottish appointment. But it is difficult for non-trade unionists: he wouldn’t have a base of support on the NEC as the others do.
Another Scottish name circulating is Baxter. She is highly respected by many who backed Starmer for the leadership. But she has just been elected once again as a local party representative on the NEC, which means her appointment would make crucial NEC votes tougher for Starmer.
Unlikely names being promoted include Laura Parker, former national coordinator of Momentum and previously a private secretary to Corbyn, and Alicia Kennedy, who was Tom Watson’s chief of staff. As one source pointed out, the latter is already a Labour peer, which means there would be no obvious appointment with which to barter when the time came for a change.
The new leader could try to bring in an outsider, perhaps a barrister. But that probably wouldn’t fly with trade union reps. Alternatively, Morgan McSweeney, Starmer’s chief of staff, could pick a name out of left field – someone from local government or a third sector organisation. They would have a tough job convincing the NEC that they have the level of experience and depth of knowledge required, however.
This article may be updated as further tips come in…