Since we reported on Monday that Ed Miliband’s office had overstepped the mark in the structure of Labour’s new executive board, things have gone from bad to worse. Further details of the new structure have emerged, the Guardian has reported that the “Labour party staff react with fury to plans for new executive board” and, as blogger Emma Burnell puts it, “there’s been leaking, complaints about leaking and leaking of the complaints”.
Given what he stood for, Ed Miliband has been done a great disservice by his own staff in what has been done in the his name. However, there are also some unholy alliances and hidden agendas about here that the leakers are not keen to expose.
Firstly, the new detail which emerged: it seems that Sir Charles Allen, Labour supporter, senior adviser to Goldman Sachs, former CEO of Granada and ITV, appointed to help review Labour’s management structure to make it fit for purpose, is himself to chair the new board.
So Labour’s national executive is not going to get the board of six their executive approved, appointed and lead by their chosen general secretary. Instead, a totally different structure has been approved and announced without consulting them. This structure is to be co-lead by Tim Livesay who is accountable to the Leader and not the whole executive, with a chair whose accountability and objectives are as yet unspecified.
So much for governance.
And these details were not in the party press release but have since emerged in a letter from Ed Miliband to NEC members and other key people which revealed that the new board would be “led by Tim and Iain, and chaired by Sir Charles“. We have no grudge against Sir Charles (unlike others) but his experience is not exactly in empowering the footsoldiers and we agree with Emma Burnell who argues forcefully that what is at stake here is whether the party is going to devolve power to its members. She is confident that it will:
Power will be devolved to Labour Party members because we will demand nothing less. We know what we want, we are no longer shy of demanding it and we have more ways of doing so loudly and forcefully every single day.”
And she doesn’t mince her words about those responsible for this public shambles:
The process has exposed rich seams of division between the Leaders office and the Party Headquarters… Like aged, tired and starved coyotes the characters involved circle the picked-clean remains of their last good meal as they miss the point completely. The cadaver they are fighting over may look alive, but the monster of centralised command and control has died. This is merely a fight to the death over its zombie corpse.”
And yet I am concerned when Peter Watt, former general secretary in the age of ‘centralised command and control‘ launches into a defence of the defenders of Labour’s members:
If I was on the NEC I would be worried. I would worry because it looks like the leader’s office has taken over the running of the party. It looks like the general secretary’s role is being watered down. And the danger is that when all of this plays out, the role of the NEC in overseeing the good governance of the party is being watered down.”
Since when have the Blairites been defenders of the role of Labour national executive? What is going on here is a power struggle. In one corner, you have some of those chosen to advise a Leader elected to sweep away command and control who are themselves unwilling to let go. In another corner, you have the corrupt and rotten remnants in the party machine of the old command and control regime, who manipulated and cheated to deliver what they thought their leader wanted, always happy (as Luke Akehurst would have it) “in giving the left a kicking“. In between, you have those who want to clean up the party, empower the members, make the machine fit for purpose.
And though the press may write about the good, loyal, party staff reacting to change “with fury”, the truth is rather different. There are, of course, widely held concerns about change and how that will affect people’s jobs…. legitimate trade union issues, and we sympathise with the staff though change is certainly needed. But the corrupt and rotten remnants amongst them are whipping up the fury, spinning and leaking and casting the blame widely, without concern about the damage to the party.
In fact, destruction is their strategy for survival: damage the Leader, his staff, the NEC, the general secretary, it’s all worthwhile, they’re all on the wrong side. If they don’t win, at least they’ll take a few down with them. The culprits here complain about “the lack of leadership” but what really infuriates them is that the leadership is not the leadership they wanted.
Labour’s national executive needs to get a grip — to ensure that the general secretary they appointed is allowed to do his job. And Ed needs to get a grip on his office — to see that they focus on doing their their jobs not that of the party’s executive or general secretary.