Leader’s office oversteps mark with Labour Party HQ

(see also update here)

When the Labour Party announced the appointments to its new executive board last Friday, it appeared that elements in the leader’s office were trying to take over the running of the party machine. The new board was to have consisted of six new posts plus the general secretary. Two of those plus one other newly created and not advertised will go to existing leader’s office staff who will continue to work there at least some of the time. In addition, Tim Livesay and Lucy Powell, the leader’s chief and deputy chief of staff will also sit on the board in spite of not reporting to the general secretary.

This is an apparent threat to the independence of the party machine from the leader’s office, by-passing the elected national executive. Even under Tony Blair, although in practice general secretaries may have taken their instructions from the Leader rather than the NEC (to whom they were formally accountable), the operational indepenedence of the party machine was at least structurally preserved.

The Leader’s office responded to suggestions of a “division” between Victoria Street and the leader’s office over the apparent power struggle by asserting that “there is no distinction between the Leader’s Office and Labour Party HQ”. As reported on LabourList, a party source said:

The central idea behind these appointments is that there is no distinction between the Leader’s Office and Labour Party HQ. The point is that we are one organisation with the Executive Directors managing staff based in both Victoria St and in the Leader’s Office. To see a division is to miss the central thrust of what is being achieved here.”

Iain McNicol has also made clear his displeasure about aspects of the matter having being been leaked to Guido Fawkes in an email also released to Fawkes:

I was personally very sorry to see that a number of the appointments were publicised on various blogs earlier today before staff had been fully informed.”

A number of senior figures in the party, not necessarily associated with the Left in any way but who have had concerns about the management and direction of the Leader’s office, are known to be extremely  concerned. Lucy Powell, as deputy chief of staff (and until recently acting Chief of Staff as well as a member of the national policy forum elected on the Progress slate) is responsible for party relations. She originally did her best to prevent Iain McNicol getting the job, and it appears that she is responsible for this unnecessary power struggle.

There are many people who spend their weekdays in the environs of Westminster who are looking forward to the possibility of her adoption as Labour’s candidate for Manchester Central in which she is known to be interested. Comrades in Manchester may, of course, not be be quite as keen for this solution to the problem.

The two advertised executive board posts which have gone to people already working in the Leader’s office are as follows:

  • Bob Roberts, Ed Miliband’s head of news and former political editor of the Mirror, will now combine lobby briefing for Ed with running the party’s communications as required in the job description; and
  • Torsten Henricson-Bell, ex-civil servant and Alistair Darling special adviser (SpAd) who is now Ed’s private office director and chief economic advisor, will be director of policy & rebuttal also charged in his job description with integrating party and leader’s office functions.

A post of director of strategy and planning, not advertised, has also been created for:

  • Greg Beales, former management consultant and health & welfare reform adviser to both Blair and Brown, who has been Ed Miliband’s head of policy. No job description is available.

Other appointments are:

  • Olly Buston who has been an advocate for those at the sharp end of global poverty as European director of One/Data and previously with Oxfam, is to be director of members and supporters. His job description outlines a new role overseeing member recruitment and engagement, relations with trade unions and socialist societies, youth and students
  • Emilie Oldknow has risen through the ranks of party organisers to be regional director for the East Midlands and is now to be director of governance and party services, responsible for ensuring compliance with relevant legislation and the rules and constitution of the party as well as its central services.
  • Patrick Heneghan, as well as currently being in charge of targeting and election organisation, he is co-managing Ken Livingstone’s campaign to be Mayor of London, and is now to be director of field operations.
  • The new commercial director responsible for fundraising has not yet been revealed.

No-one in the Labour Party wants anything other than an effective working relationship between party HQ and the leader’s office. We are indeed one party. However, we doubt very much that the board structure as it has been announced, undermining the role of the national executive as it does, will enable the party machine to do its job effectively. And, sadly, we also have rather more confidence in Iain McNicol to deliver on the leader’s promise of re-creating “a living, breathing party” in which party members are given a real voice than we do in the leader’s own office.