In Labour party politics, the hand that writes the shortlist rules the world. Seventeen people have applied for the vacant role of Labour party general secretary, including Byron Taylor, Labour’s former trade union liaison officer; Andrew Fisher, Jeremy Corbyn’s policy chief; Karin Christiansen, the former general secretary of the Co-op party; and David Evans, a former assistant general secretary during Tony Blair’s first term.
Keir Starmer has a healthy majority on the ruling national executive committee and, all things being equal, ought to be able to pick his candidate. But, crucially, he does not have a majority among the NEC officers, who will produce the shortlist. It is heavily dominated by Corbynite loyalists, and, Labour being Labour, you would expect that the shortlisting process will heavily curtail Starmer and the NEC’s autonomy.
In 2018, when Jennie Formby was made general secretary, the NEC officers produced a strongly managed shortlist. There was likely to be a comfortable majority for Formby in any case, but offering the full NEC a choice between Formby and Christine Blower, who was unpalatable to the party’s centre and right, all but guaranteed her selection.
There are limits on what you can do with this process, however: the party does have to follow employment law. But the ability to “manage” the final choice at selection stage means that current talk of Starmer’s preferred choice for general secretary is wide of the mark.
If he is sensible, he will have tried to ensure that he has multiple horses in the race – and to make sure that he has options when the vote happens. Indeed, it’s worth noting that for all various candidates have been talked up as Starmer’s preferred candidate, that has exclusively been done in order to attack one candidate or another. The leader’s office itself has not declared a preference in private, let alone in public. One reason that is sensible is that they have no mechanism to secure their favourite candidate — even if they have chosen one.