Our Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on how Croydon has two prominent candidates for the position of general secretary
Tony Newman, the increasingly beleaguered leader of Croydon Council, has given his backing to his old mate David Evans as he applies to become the Labour Party’s general secretary.
Evans is a former close aide to Tony Blair, though for the past two decades he has stepped away from national Labour Party activities and has been running locally-based consultancy The Campaign Company.
Evans was assistant general secretary of Labour Party between 1999 and 2001 and played a leading election strategy role in the landslide General Election victories of 1997 and 2001. His Blairite past is unlikely to make him a popular choice with many of Labour’s newer members, nor officers of the local parties around the country.
In the past, Evans has made disparaging remarks about Constituency Labour Parties, comparing them to Del Boy’s Trotters Independent Traders.
He has also publicly advocated “hammering” the left of the party.
Indeed, even being associated as “the Leader’s pick” could backfire for Evans: Sir Keir Starmer does not have a strong majority within the NEC, whose members could be minded to thwart the ambitions of someone being imposed upon them.
In an article for the party’s website, Labour List, right-winger Luke Akehurst observed: “Given the political nature of the role, the appointment of general secretary is intrinsically political… it has characteristics of a political election, as the decision-makers are the elected members of the NEC, the candidates have known political views, and the NEC takes the decision by a secret ballot vote…
“Leaders like to try to get the GS of their choice but aren’t always successful. Peter Watt was not Blair’s pick in 2005, and won by 16-11 with support from the left, despite having rather Blairite political views.”
According to newspaper reports this morning, there are two Croydon figures in the running for the job, which has been vacant since Jennie Formby “resigned” earlier this month – it was a badly kept secret that negotiations were taking place since before Christmas for the Jeremy Corbyn ally to stand down once it was plain that Sir Keir was likely to become party leader.
Applications for the job closed last night, and also among the candidates on the long-list is Andrew Fisher, the South Norwood resident who worked as Corbyn’s policy adviser from 2015 to last year. Fisher worked very closely with John McDonnell on the “For The Many Not The Few” Labour manifestos in 2017 and 2019, on a set of policies which proved very popular with the vastly increased Labour membership.
Tony Newman, however, has been telling Town Hall colleagues how much he rates Evans and how he hopes he gets the party job.
Certainly, Newman has had plenty of opportunities to see Evans’ much-lauded “organisational skills” at first-hand. Evans’ The Campaign Company has benefited from regular generous and lucrative contracts awarded by the Labour-run council.
Evans just happens to be a former partner of Alison Butler, with whom he shares a daughter. Butler is Newman’s deputy leader on the council.
Labour’s new general secretary is expected to be elected by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee next Tuesday.
Evans is understood to have the backing of Starmer for the role. And Evans comes with a recommendation from Morgan McSweeney, Starmer’s recently appointed chief of staff, who worked at The Campaign Company from 2007 to 2009.
The deadline for applications for the job was extended, some suggest to enable Evans to make an application.
“David is really hot on understanding voters, working with data, putting together election campaign plans, that’s basically what his firm does,” an unnamed Labour source was quoted by the Daily Mirror today.
“Given that Boris Johnson’s support looks quite volatile suddenly, Labour needs to be absolutely focused on winning back voters. The party’s campaign machine is near collapse and we have a mega set of elections next year – almost every part of the country will get a vote. That is a big moment.”
The longlist process begins today, with shortlisting interviews carried out by NEC officers taking place this Thursday, and final interviews next Tuesday.
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