David Evans, the Croydon-based political consultant, was last night named as the new general secretary of the Labour Party.
The outcome of the vote of the National Executive Committee is seen as another success for party leader Sir Keir Starmer, although handing the job to a former key aide to Tony Blair immediately provoked complaints and dissatisfaction among union leaders and those on the left of the party, who warned that giving the key role to such a divisive figure jeopardises party unity.
Evans, who runs The Campaign Company in central Croydon, was, in fact, one of three candidates with connections to the borough who made it on to the shortlist. Byron Taylor, who finished second in the NEC vote, had previously worked as a borough organiser for the Croydon Labour Party (he actually took over that job from Evans at the turn of the century), while Andrew Fisher was chief policy adviser to Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership.
LabourList last night reported that the voting was close, 16 to 20 in favour of Evans over trades union-backed Taylor.
“It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed general secretary of the Labour Party,” Evans said.
“We face a defining period in the history of our great party, with a global pandemic, an imminent recession and a mountain to climb to win the next election. Through the strength of our movement, I know we can rise to this challenge.
“I look forward to working with our party, trade unions and members to build a team that can win us the next general election and give us the opportunity to once again serve the British people in government.”
Evans, who served as the party’s assistant general secretary during the Blair years, replaces Corbynite trade unionist Jennie Formby.
Evans has strong connections with the Labour-run council in Croydon: he shares a daughter with deputy leader Alison Butler. He was himself a councillor from 1986 to 1990.
Croydon North’s MP, Steve Reed OBE, the former deputy chair of Progress, the Blairite party-within-a-party, greeted the appointment enthusiastically. “Fantastic news! David’s the best choice to help Labour win the next election. Worked with him in Lambeth and Croydon – an outstanding appointment,” said the chair of “Labour Together”.
“I look forward to working with David to build a team that can help us restore trust with the British people and build a team that can win the next election,” said Sir Keir.
But not everyone was quite so sweetness and light over the appointment of someone seen as a divisive figure, distrusted by the left.
Concerns had been raised over Evans’ candidacy over some of the work Evans had done when working for Blair, including a report in 1999 which described Constituency Labour Parties as “dysfunctional”, comparing them to Del Boy’s “Trotters Independent Traders”. Evans’ paper recommended a “radical overhaul” of the party that could “empower modernising forces within the party and marginalise Old Labour”.
LabourList quoted an unnamed member of the NEC as saying last night, “If Evans now takes us back to the toxic culture in HQ, purges of left-wing members and stitch-ups of parliamentary selections exposed in the leaked report, his appointment will be the worst mistake of Keir’s leadership.
“Keir and Angela both stood on election platforms promising to unite the party. Members won’t forgive them if they allow a hard-right general secretary to wage factional warfare against the left.
“They are responsible for making sure Evans fulfils their election promise to bring our party together, not tear it apart.”
And Rachel Garnham, a member of the NEC, tweeted: “Today Keir and Angela had the opportunity to prove their commitment to uniting our party.
“Instead in their choice of [general secretary] so closely aligned to the right of the party they have shown their pledge to end factionalism to be a sham.
“Any remaining illusions must now be shattered.”
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Surprised that the unnamed member of the NEC hasn’t noticed that the “purges of left-wing members” is already well under way, Evans or no Evans, and has been since day one of Sir Keir Rodney Starmer’s tenure.
Which probably means the “stitch-ups of parliamentary selections” won’t be far behind either.