Labour GenSec will remain appointed – McNicol’s departure shows why it must

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Since the announcement last week of Iain McNicol’s resignation, there have been calls from both wings of the party for the position of General Secretary to become an elected one.

The circumstances around the announcement of McNicol’s resignation show why this would be a bad idea.

On Friday, the announcement was precipitated, according to Labour sources, by McNicol’s failure to commit to the suspension of two senior Labour officials in Sandwell in the West Midlands, who have been accused of extremely serious misdeeds ranging from sexual harassment and racism to financial impropriety and interference in local democratic selections.

According to locals in Sandwell, those two officials have been protected by the local Labour bureaucracy for years and have still not been suspended in spite of the seriousness of the allegations – an intolerable situation that was allowed to continue.

McNicol, as an employee of the party at the pleasure of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), could be sacked or, as in this case, allowed to resign – and be replaced by a candidate more willing or able to implement the will of the democratic NEC.

If McNicol had been an elected General Secretary, this could not have happened.

Since his election in 2015, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has lost huge amounts of support among party members because of his behaviour during and after the 2016 ‘chicken coup’ – but because his mandate from 2015 is still in place and a challenger has not, in spite of a near miss last year, been quite able to raise the nominations among MPs to force a contest, he’s still in place. Attempts to remove him were stigmatised by the media as undemocratic.

Electing a General Secretary as well would only add a another, potentially conflicting power-base at the top of the party. If McNicol’s replacement were elected, it’s possible that a right-wing candidate campaigning on – for example – a ‘remain’ ticket might scrape a win and become an obstacle to the internal democratisation of the Labour Party that has made such progress in recent months.

There’s a reason we don’t elect our civil servants – they exist, at least in theory, to carry out the will of those elected by the people, not to exercise their own democratic mandate. So it is with Labour’s General Secretary.

The good news for Labour members is that no such move is on the cards. A new General Secretary is set to be appointed at the next NEC meeting next month – and will be a woman.

And she’ll be a woman with all the right qualities, who has never had an ambition to be General Secretary but who will take on the role for the good of the party at some considerable personal sacrifice – rather like the party’s leader.

Except appointed, not elected – which is something we should all welcome.

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  1. Agree – an alternative centre of authority (and in control of the apparatus ! ) would be a very bad idea indeed.

  2. I agree.

    My initial thoughts were in favour of an elected general secretary.

    On reflection, and having examined the options, it is clear to me that the argument for the NEC continuing to appoint the GS is far stronger, coherent and convincing than the argument in favour of electing a GS.

  3. Spot on… and the reason that Unions resisted (unsucceffulyy) the election of their general secretaries as demanded by Tory TU Legislation.

  4. Not surprised to read that the West Midlands officials were not suspended by McNicol despite serious allegations against them. I think we may see more of this in the future as the regions face the reality of the change in direction of the party and the membership.

    I certainly have my doubts about what has been happening in the North West Regional Office. Some of it is down to a incompetence on the part of the officials, but I suspect there has been quite a lot of collusion between the right of the party and the RO, especially over disciplinary mattes and members suspension and expulsions.

    1. Why would that be Ben , if you have information pse share it so that we can all be informed

  5. So the post isn’t even officially advertised yet, but it has apparently already been decided no man will be found suitable for it. Imagine the outrage if the genders were reversed.

    This is not progressive. Obsessively trying to rig things to result in equal outcomes for women is not progressive. All it says is this woman, whomever she may be, wasn’t good enough to compete on a level playing field with men. Equal treatment means giving women an equal OPPORTUNITY to apply and interview for a job and no more.

    People of all political persuasions are sick to death of divisive identity politics and it will cost the Labour Party vital votes if they don’t wake up and smell the coffee fast. We’ve presumably all seen the Jordan Peterson/Cathy Newman interview by now – there are a multitude of reasons why women are under-represented in some professions and over-represented in others, and this will always be the case unless you force people to pursue careers in which they are not really interested. That’s the only way to get equal outcomes and you only have to look back at the history of the 20th century to see that it doesn’t work.

    1. He’d then very likely have to give up his elected NEC position, so this seems unlikely. The GenSec traditionally does not have a NEC vote for good reason, tricky to have the job of doing the NEC’s bidding while having argued and voted possibly for a different outcome.

      If he does resign his current CLP NEC position, he is replaced thus: “NEC co-opting the highest unsuccessful nominee in the division
      concerned”. Not quite sure who this would be given 2 elections this term, but probably not a pro-Corbyn replacement.

      Though it is worth recalling the rule book says “The General Secretary shall be elected by Party conference on the recommendation of
      the NEC”, so I guess anything is possible at conference,

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