There is only one name Labour MPs are seriously discussing in connection with the newly vacant post of general secretary this evening, and that name is Anneliese Midgley. Unite’s political director has emerged – appropriately enough – as something of a unity candidate in the Parliamentary Labour Party after the resignation of Jennie Formby.
Why? Few would have expected one Unite alumna in Formby to be replaced by another in Midgley this time last month. The two names more frequently mentioned as likely contenders were Unison’s Emilie Oldknow, part of former general secretary Iain McNicol’s old guard at Southside, and the GMB’s Lisa Johnson.
Yet Oldknow’s name has not been mentioned seriously in the wake of the leaked report into alleged factionalism and the handling of anti-Semitism cases at Labour HQ. Johnson is well-regarded by MPs – though not by all supporters of Starmer, some of whom blame her for his failure to secure the GMB’s endorsement – but the resignation of Tim Roache as the union’s general secretary is seen to have complicated matters.
It’s against this backdrop that Midgley – in the words of one MP on the Labour right – has been “hiding in plain sight”. A former deputy chief of staff to Jeremy Corbyn and head of events for Ken Livingstone, she is more or less unique among survivors of Corbyn’s LOTO in being well-regarded across the factional divide. Unite’s parliamentary group has a membership of more than 140 MPs, many of whom are not of the left at all. “Straight,” is the word MPs otherwise hostile to the left use to describe Midgley. Formby was not such a unifying figure.
There are long-standing links to Starmer’s shadow cabinet too. Midgley ran her namesake Anneliese Dodds’ campaign for selection as an MEP ahead of the 2014 European elections, and Lisa Nandy is vice-chair of the Unite group of MPs. It is, of course, up to Starmer to anoint his preferred successor and up to the NEC to approve: the PLP don’t get a vote. But if unity is to mean more than a slogan Starmer could do worse than propose Midgley.