Roshan Panesar on what the election of David Evans as General Secretary means for Labour’s future prospects.
Confined to our homes or working in hazardous circumstances, with deaths mounting to numbers which we have not seen for generations, good news is hard to come by.
Which is why the election of a new Labour General Secretary provides welcome news for those who want a strong, united Labour Party ready to return to government in 2024.
It is good news, whatever your persuasion within Labour, for three reasons: the man’s own experience and abilities, the power this gives to the party leadership, and the consequent things that can be accomplished.
While the rest of the candidates up for election had worthy CVs, Evans was the only one to have served in so close a role to his new job (having served as assistant General Secretary) and having served in that role around the time of Labour’s last landslide election victory (1999-2001). Further, his role as regional secretary for the North West in the 1990s, should give him a personal insight into how Labour can win back the voters that abandoned the party in December 2019. He also demonstrated how to win in usually Tory areas, as per Stephen Cowan’s article on Labour List. Having not had a party role for some time, he is also free of any association with the factional battles of the past few years.
Arguably of equal importance, however, is how his election relates to the leadership. He was Keir Starmer’s pick for General Secretary, and this means, within two months of winning the leadership, Starmer has an NEC majority, an allied General Secretary, a strong mandate from the membership, CLPs and the Parliamentary Labour Party. This puts him in an immensely powerful position.
Neither Corbyn nor Miliband had the backing of all such organs of the Party. Corbyn clashed with the PLP and Ian McNicol, and Miliband did not enjoy the confidence of the members or the PLP upon his election in 2010. This each cost them effectiveness, and, among other things, proved deleterious for their standing in the country and their ability to win elections.
Division in Labour also proved to be electoral arsenic 30-40 years ago. The battles that Jim Callaghan and Michael Foot had with increasingly extreme CLPs distracted from their more national concerns and proved electoral fodder for the Conservative Party.
With the General Secretary, PLP, CLPS, NEC, members and unions now on side, Keir will have less such distraction. He can turn his attention to the scandal of antisemitism, which thrived under the Corbyn leadership, and root it out without firmness. He can, too, set his sights on the electoral prizes next year – Mayoralties, Local elections and Scottish Elections – and that most important prize: victory in 2024.
For anyone who wishes for Labour to replace the Conservatives in government, Evans’ victory should be good news.
By Roshan Panesar