By Megan Dyson
A wave of senior Labour Party staff have resigned following the appointment of Unite trade union’s Jennie Formby as the new General Secretary. Among the high-profile members resigning following Formby’s appointment are John Stolliday, the former Governance and Legal Director in charge of disciplinary issues, and Neil Fleming, the former London Regional Director who has worked for the party for around 20 years. Dan Simpson is quitting his post as the Parliamentary Secretary, and the highly respected Director of Policy and Research, Simon Jackson, is also resigning.
Senior members are not the only ones who are uncertain about Formby’s appointment; at a grass-root level, people have been voicing their concerns over the future of the Party and thence their reasoning for resigning their membership. One member explains that his 21 year-long membership, which he is now resigning with ‘great sadness’, saw the Labour Party make a positive difference to quality of life, with policies focussed on increased spending on the NHS, higher educational standards, infrastructure, minimum wage, and LGBT rights. Now, he avows that the Labour Party has become a party of protest; a party that values its members’ views more than the views of the electorate. Despite the acknowledgment that Corbyn has ‘excited’ new members, many argue that these new members are vocal of the Socialist Workers Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, with increasing prioritisation of ‘protest over policy’.
Senior members are not the only ones who are uncertain about Formby’s appointment; at a grass-root level, people have been voicing their concerns over the future of the Party
Formby, who won the election by 35-2, was a Regional Secretary and Political Director for the Unite trade union for 17 years before replacing Chief Iain McNicol as the Labour General Secretary. She has been a member of the Labour Party for 40 years and has served on the National Executive Committee (NEC) for the past seven. The party has downplayed the raft of senior resignations by insisting that staff turnover and departures is a necessary and inevitable norm in the wake of a General Election coupled with an incoming General Secretary.
It seems as though her experience and talents as a political operative leaves the right-wing media barons scared; her appointment will play a vital role in leading Labour forward to victory and, as Formby asserts, ‘Labour is preparing for government’.
The exodus of party members cannot, however, merely reflect a usual consequence following the appointment of a new Party Secretary. It is feared that the appointment of Formby means that the Parliamentary Labour Party is now the ‘only non-Corbynite pillar’, with the left controlling the leadership, the NEC and Labour HQ. This narrative is, rather predictably, amplified and propagated by the right-wing press. It seems as though her experience and talents as a political operative leaves the right-wing media barons scared; her appointment will play a vital role in leading Labour forward to victory and, as Formby asserts, ‘Labour is preparing for government’. Such a victory would envisage a Labour Government that pledges rises in corporation tax and income tax for the top 5%. It is not surprising, then, that leading media outlets ignore her ‘formidable record’ as a union organiser and portray her as ‘Corbyn’s puppet’, exploited as evidence of his ‘hard-left’ seizure of the Labour Party machine. Indeed, as The Telegraph’s headline proclaimed, Corbyn and McCluskey ‘tighten grip’ on Labour as ‘ally’ Formby is appointed. This portrayal is emulated with The Sun framing the appointment as a ‘hard-left takeover’ where, according to The Times, “moderates are no longer welcome”. Notwithstanding more balanced coverage of Formby, including BBC News which reported her four decades of experience, the overwhelming majority of the news of her appointment is ultimately represented as a sinister seizure of power by Corbyn and McCluskey.
Even so, Formby’s appointment has not been met solely with pejorative opinion. As Len McCluskey, Dawn Butler, and Emily Thornberry attended Formby’s victory party at a popular Westminster local, many have celebrated the news, coining it a ‘big night’ for team Corbyn with the Labour Party more powerful than ever.
Taking to Twitter, Formby expressed her gratitude for her new position as General Secretary: ‘It’s a huge honour to be chosen as Labour’s next General Secretary” she says, claiming to “do everything in my power to repay that honour by working tirelessly with all in our great Party to elect a Labour Government led by #JeremyCorbyn at the earliest opportunity’.
Congratulating Formby on her appointment, Corbyn said:
‘Her talent, experience and commitment to the Labour and Trade Union movement makes me confident she will play a crucial role in building on last year’s inspiring General Election advance and taking our party forward to victory.
‘The Labour Party is on the cusp of power and we are ready for a General Election whenever it comes. We have the team, the passion and the policies to win the support of the British people, form a government and transform our society for the many, not the few.’
Image: Ren via Flickr