The appointment of Labour's new General Secretary, Iain McNichol the GMB's political officer, received a predictable response from the Conservatives who called it "a victory for the union barons". In truth, McNichol's appointment represents a victory for the centrists from both the left and the right of the Party who want to see a step-change in the organisational capacity of the Party.
As a former Labour organiser and national officer for Labour Students, McNichol is a Party man at heart. He understands the need for Labour to win back the voters it lost in 2010, and contrary to the Tory spin, is the best man to transform the Party into an organisation which reaches out beyond its core base of supporters. But while he has Labour written through him like a stick of Brighton rock, McNichol has an instinctive antipathy towards the controlling tendencies which were necessary for Labour to win in 1997, but which are antithetical to a grown-up progressive movement in 2011.
Writing for LabourList McNichol pledged to "turn the page on the command and control systems of the past and embrace a dramatic decentralisation of party power". In opposition Labour has a prime opportunity to get its campaigning ship in order. Much has been written about the need to rebuild Labour as a 'movement for change' but too much of it has been warm words. Real organisational change only works if it is led from the top, driven by the grassroots. To date, the Party's response to the development of movement politics has been lacklustre because it has been seen as an add-on, rather than the core purpose of the organisation.
McNichol's appointment, it is hoped, will rebuild trust among members while providing the innovation that is so desperately needed at the heart of Victoria Street. In particular, Labour still hasn't made the transition into the digital age. While much effort and money has been spent on websites, an intranet for members and numerous online campaigns, the Party still has a small digital footprint and has failed to use its presence to build supporters in the same way that 38 Degrees or other NGOs have.
In particular, there is a real need to harness online donations from individuals. Labour has long faced a financial crisis, but large value donations haven't picked up in opposition despite Labour's poll lead and the proportion of money donated by unions is unsustainable for a Party which prides itself on its representativeness. Labour has tried a number of initiatives using the internet to raise money, but it has failed to generate a relationship between donors which is what helps to create regular givers. McNichol understands the need to diversify Labour's fundraising base and aims to use money raised specifically to fund fully trained organisers, which were at the heart of Labour's 1997 win, and will be crucially important in key seats at the next general election.
Naturally everyone looks to Ed Miliband to lead the Party, but if the Party structure doesn't want to be led, and falls back on institutional inertia every time difficult decisions need to be taken, his job is made unnecessarily difficult. With a new General Secretary who is fully behind the Party leader and has a strong vision for changing the way the Party operates, the road to success at the next general election is much improved. There's a lot resting on the new General Secretary, but Labour's NEC have made a brave decision in favour of the change candidate.
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