Iain McNicol’s departure from the position of Labour General Secretary has been a very long time coming indeed. He wasn’t Ed Miliband’s first choice for the job, and he certainly wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite person at Labour headquarters, either. After the snap election, Corbynites pushed for a ‘purge’ that involved ousting McNicol. They failed, then, but today he announced that he was off to ‘pursue new projects’, which is one of those Westminster formulae for ‘booted out’. Corbynite Jennie Formby is being mooted as his successor.
In a sense, it’s admirable that McNicol managed to stay on for so long, given the constant attempts to get rid of him. Insiders say that Labour HQ had been subtly reorganised around him, and that the power behind the throne in the Southside building was in fact Executive Director Emilie Oldknow. He had adopted a strategy of ‘holding onto positions’, which meant he thought it was important that more moderate figures should stay in party headquarters and holding onto the party structures, rather than getting out and washing their hands of what then took place. Many moderates are grateful that he maintained this policy for so long, as they think it slowed the Corbynite takeover of the party’s structure and policies, though it is debatable whether it really had any long-term impact given where the party structures are now (overwhelmingly Corbynite – and understandably so, given the snap election result). And while he held his position for an impressive amount of time, McNicol did frustrate a number on his side of the party by failing to stand up to the left on a number of internal matters.
His departure naturally shows that the Corbynites are succeeding in getting control of every wing of the Labour Party. Whoever takes over – whether Formby or another Corbynite – will likely declare open season on any opponents of Corbyn left in the building – and in the parliamentary party too. But once again, it is worth remembering that the Corbynites have won the argument in the party with the snap election result and so they deserve to have the power, even though what they propose for the party leaves many of its own MPs rather cold. They too want to hold onto positions as much as they can. But their chances of achieving very much at all are growing slimmer by the day.