Labour’s Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services Emilie Oldknow has announced she is leaving, just weeks after Iain McNicol was ousted as General Secretary. At the time, Corbynite insiders had told me that Oldknow was the ‘power behind the throne’ and had been responsible for the real running of HQ as McNicol was increasingly sidelined by the party leadership. Now, that power behind the throne has left too. In a letter to party staff, she says ‘I will be leaving in the summer to pursue some new and exciting opportunities’.
Oldknow was a moderate, and had also been sidelined: I understand that she only found out about McNicol’s departure by text message on the afternoon when it was announced. Both she and the former General Secretary had believed in a policy of ‘holding onto positions’, that is, trying to keep moderates in the party’s structures for as long as possible. But now that the leadership has won the balance of power within those structures, it seems increasingly pointless for those moderates to stay. Indeed, in McNicol’s case, it was made pointless. I suspect the fact that she had been identified as the ‘power behind the throne’ had not helped Oldknow’s case, as it made her the next obvious target after McNicol.
Labour HQ has long been descending into a mess that extends far beyond the internecine rivalries between moderates and Corbynites. It had a terrible digital strategy in 2015, and then messed up its data projections in 2017. The party’s social media success in the most recent election owed more to Momentum and a collection of websites close to the Leader’s Office than it did to its headquarters. Some departments have totally seized up in recent months.
It’s worth pointing out that the Corbynites are entitled to remake the party in their own image, given they won last year’s argument about whether Labour would be annihilated in the snap election. But though the moderates cannot complain that those leading their party are now winning the internal fights in it too, they do still have to decide whether their own strategy of ‘holding onto positions’ in the parliamentary party still has a point.