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29 April 2020updated 23 Jul 2021 9:24am

The resignation of the GMB general secretary could be a time-bomb for Labour

The controversy surrounding Tim Roache's abrupt resignation may spell factional trouble ahead for the party.

By Ailbhe Rea

The general secretary of the GMB, the third largest trade union in the UK and third largest affiliate group of the Labour Party, has resigned.

Tim Roache stepped down abruptly last night (28 April), less than six months after his re-election, with an official statement by the union citing “ill health” as the reason. Sources have claimed, however, that Roache resigned following pressure from senior figures in the union after a letter was sent to the GMB president outlining concerns about Roache’s conduct. The New Statesman understands that the concerns have not been raised with the authorities.

The news will have an impact both on the immediate politics at the top of the union and at the very top of the Labour Party. As Stephen has outlined, having the GMB onside is crucial to Keir Starmer’s grip on the party’s ruling body, the NEC; without this, his ability to enact his promised reforms as leader could be limited. 

But the true impact of Roache’s resignation may only be felt a few months down the line. It is the expectation within Labour that, sooner rather than later, a vacancy will open up for the most senior employee in the party: the general secretary – a role currently held by Jennie Formby. 

It has been widely expected that Lisa Johnson, director of external relations and training at the union, would stand and would be the front-runner for the position. 

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Roache’s resignation, however, has provoked concerns among Johnson’s supporters that the alleged controversy around Roache will be used to undermine her bid, amid speculation that those who leaked the story have been briefing against her. Her supporters insist that while Johnson has seen the former GMB general secretary as a friend and mentor down the years, she was among the senior figures pushing for his resignation in recent days. 

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It was also reported by the Sunday Times’ Gabriel Pogrund yesterday that unnamed “senior Labour MPs” have been implicated in the alleged controversy over Roache’s departure. 

Although there is no vacancy for a new Labour general secretary at present and details of the circumstances behind Roache’s resignation have not been made public, this move at the top of union politics could well prove to be a ticking time-bomb for Labour, with the potential to blow up factional divisions in the weeks or months to come.