POLITICS
27/02/2018 16:12 GMT | Updated 27/02/2018 18:08 GMT

Unite’s Jennie Formby Declares Candidacy For Labour General Secretary

Allies say party needs a woman in top job.

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Veteran trade unionist Jennie Formby has formally declared she wants to become Labour’s next General Secretary, highlighting her strong allegiance to Jeremy Corbyn and his bid to bring “socialist change” to Britain.

Amid growing calls for a woman to be appointed to the post, Unite’s former political director also stressed her long record in fighting for “gender equality” in the workplace.

Formby’s swift move to apply for the vacancy left by Iain McNicol now puts pressure on Momentum founder Jon Lansman to reveal his intentions. 

One party source claimed that Lansman was close to deciding not to stand, yet those close to him said he had genuinely not decided.

A Unite source told HuffPost that there were fears that a Lansman candidacy could split the Left’s vote on the ruling NEC and allow a ‘centrist’-backed candidate to get the top job.

Formby has the support of both Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, two separate sources claimed.

The race to succeed McNicol has for the first time exposed a possible split between some in the Leader’s office and Lansman, who has helped mobilise support for Corbyn’s two landslide leadership elections.

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Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Jennie Formby at party confererence

Formby has so far failed to win the backing of key figures in other trade unions such as the GMB, Unison and even the postal workers’ union, the CWU.  

Some NEC members considering backing Lansman believe he can end the ‘union stitch-ups’ and use his popularity among the mass membership to drive reform and transparency.

Applications formally opened on Tuesday and after a fast-tracked process the 33-strong NEC will interview and appoint the contenders on March 20.

However, although Formby had been expected to win the endorsement of the Left caucus on the NEC on Monday night, HuffPost understands that the group avoided making a decision amid uncertainty over Lansman’s possible application.

The Momentum founder is currently consulting allies to test support, but sources claimed he could still announce he would run as early as Wednesday.  Some Left members of the NEC and MPs claim the move is aimed at ‘bouncing’ them into supporting Formby early.

Three other women were also being urged to run as possible ‘unity’ candidates, with the GMB’s Lisa Johnson, Unite’s current political director Anneliese Midgley and Labour HQ’s Emilie Oldknow among the names touted.

However, Midgley tweeted her support for Formby on Tuesday.

Amid a rash of speculation among union and party figures, one source even suggested to HuffPost that the Lansman candidacy was a ruse and part of a conspiracy to pressure other unions into backing Formby, rather than support the Momentum founder.

However, insiders said that there was really worry in the Leader’s office that the Unite official would not get the support they had expected.

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Momentum founder Jon Lansman

In her statement, Formby stressed she would “ensure the whole party machine is working in support of our Leader and our policies…to bring to Britain the socialist change it desperately needs”.

“I would be proud to be the first woman to serve as Labour party general secretary in a generation and only the second ever,” she said.

“I have fought for gender equality – often the hard way – throughout my lifetime in the labour movement.”

One senior Unite source told HuffPost: “It would look terrible if yet another senior Labour post went to a man. It would mean another all-male top team of Jeremy, John [McDonnell] and Jon [Lansman].

“Lansman won’t win but he can split the vote. It seems he’s just the ‘stop Jennie’ candidate. Unite has not signed up to Momentum because we put Labour first, not Momentum.”

On claims that Formby had been ‘divisive’ with other unions and party figures, one ally said: “She is very insistent on things being done properly. She has been solidly behind Jeremy.

“The last thing Jeremy and John want is to be looking over his shoulder at Southside [Labour’s HQ]. They want someone with impeccable loyalty.

“Jennie is a sleeves-rolled-up, grass roots organiser, a problem solver who has fought many a battle for save jobs and improve conditions for workers.”

Soon after she declared her candidacy on Twitter, Formby won support from across the party and union movement, one colleague pointed out.