By Alys Hewitt
Labour’s General Secretary, Iain McNicol, has resigned from his position in the past week after serving for a ‘tumultuous’ seven years – at a time fraught with what he called ‘hugely exciting’ turning points for Labour. In a statement released on Friday night, McNicol – a former trade union official who became General Secretary in 2011, under the leadership of Ed Miliband – cited a desire to pursue ‘new challenges’ on behalf of the Party’s cause and wider Labour movements as his primary reason for stepping down, and expressed his continuous support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and his fellow staff.
Corbyn and several key figures within the party have paid tribute and expressed their gratitude and best wishes in the wake of this announcement, with McNicol being praised for his dedication to the role and resilience during ‘a time of great change, including a near tripling of the membership, two general elections and the EU referendum’. His role as General Secretary involved responsibilities such as the running of campaigns, recruitment of staff and organisation of conferences, and he has been commended for helping to restore the Party’s finances and clearing its debts over the years. However, McNicol has not received unadulterated support from all divisions of the party during his time as Secretary, particularly after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. He became the centre of controversy during the 2016 leadership election, when he was accused by Mr Corbyn’s allies of attempting to stop the Labour leader from being included automatically on the ballot paper for a second time without a nomination from MPs. He has thus come under scrutiny and suspicion from some factions of the Party since its shift in leadership, which suggests that a fresh face in his place will be welcomed by many members. Conservative Party representatives have taken McNicol’s resignation as an opportunity to emphasise the alleged weakness and skewed priorities of the Party, with a spokesperson saying that his ‘departure shows once again that Labour are putting their own bitter internal politics before ordinary people and their priorities’.
Labour will now begin talks surrounding the election of a successor, and have assured that they will do everything possible to maintain stability during this transition period. The next General Secretary will be confirmed at the Party’s general conference, after a recommendation is put forward by the National Executive Committee – of which three members of Momentum, a group which has extensively advocated and campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, were elected to just last month.
Mr McNicol’s resignation has been seen by many as a consolidation of the burgeoning shift in the influence of Corbyn and his supporters upon the structure of the party, with almost all senior roles now being occupied by Corbyn-backing politicians. Few figures from a pre-Corbyn Labour remain in these positions – deputy leader Tom Watson being one of them – with some staff members having stepped down in recent times and been replaced by candidates more sympathetic to Corbyn’s cause. Commentators have speculated that a more explicitly Left-wing candidate will take over the role of General Secretary, rather than somebody on the more moderate side of the Party. It has been suggested that that the post might be filled by Jennie Formby or Andrew Murray, both officials of the trade union Unite, despite Unite’s already large representation on the National Executive Committee. Other possible frontrunners include Sam Tarry, a former campaign organiser for Corbyn, and senior party executive Emilie Oldknow. It is difficult, however, to be absolutely certain at this time of the outcome of this changeover and the impact it may have upon the mechanisms of the Labour Party