POLITICS
19/03/2018 12:30 GMT | Updated 19/03/2018 16:49 GMT

Senior Labour HQ Staff Resign On Eve Of Jennie Formby's Expected Appointment As General Secretary

Compliance unit chief John Stolliday and Policy/Research director Simon Jackson quit

David M. Benett via Getty Images

A wave of senior Labour HQ staff are announcing their resignations ahead of the expected appointment of Unite’s Jennie Formby as the party’s new general secretary, HuffPost has learned.

John Stolliday, who as the ‘Director of Governance and Legal’ is in charge of the ‘compliance unit’ that deals with disciplinary issues, is among six long-standing officials who are quitting.

A series of ‘rolling’ resignations is expected through Monday, with many of the experienced staffers appearing to coordinate a strong signal that it was time for wholesale change at Labour HQ.

Simon Jackson, the party’s Director of Policy and Research, is also stepping down after 18 years. 

London regional director Neil Fleming and Parliamentary Labour Party secretary Dan Simpson are also stepping aside.

Tracey Allen and Julie Lawrence, senior staff to outgoing general secretary Iain McNicol, have also informed the party’s ruling National Executive Committee they are leaving.

The departures follow a raft of senior resignations in recent months, including McNicol, Emilie Oldknow - once tipped to be his successor - and Patrick Heneghan, the former elections chief.

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Outgoing general secretary Iain McNicol

Formby, Unite’s former political director, is expected to be installed as the new general secretary when the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) meets on Tuesday.

Her shortlisted opponent is former teachers’ union leader Christine Blower, but with the backing of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell her Unite rival is set to win substantial backing.

Momentum founder Jon Lansman initially announced he would run for the general secretary post, but backed down following a fierce backlash against him after his ally Christine Shawcroft suggested ending the Labour-union link.

The departure of McNicol, who served nearly seven years in post, draws a line under the Ed Miliband era as Corbyn allies work to shape the party’s HQ to better represent the new influx of party members and the leader’s more radical politics.

HuffPost revealed in 2017 that some Corbyn supporters planned a “purge” of the party’s highest ranking officials in a bid to restructure its HQ. 

Party staff were blamed, unfairly they insist, for not targeting more Tory marginals in the last election campaign and for misreading the shift towards Labour that robbed Theresa May of her Commons majority.

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Jeremy Corbyn gets a huge from Office Director Karie Murphy after the 2017 election

Jackson and Heneghan in particular had been singled out by allies of the leader for criticism. Their defenders counter that the local elections in May 2017 were indeed poor for Labour, while few forecasted the scale of the subsequent surge in national polls.

“The loss of John is huge. His institutional memory kept the senior staff operational,” one source said.

One party staffer told HuffPost: “Between them these staff have over 80 years of experience working for the party. This is as big a change for the party as leaving Government in 2010. There’s now virtually no senior member of staff with experience of being in government- and it will show.”

Another senior source said: “In the 18 years Simon Jackson worked for Labour he essentially became the eyes and ears of the party. He could spot mistakes a mile off on policy and knew how they would play out in the media.

“His quiet self assured style, political judgment, policy expertise and advice has made him indispensable. He is one of the hardest workers and without him I worry what will happen to the Labour Party’s output”.

An insider added: “Tracey has run the general secretary’s office for the past seven years.  Julie’s hugely respected by the NEC for her professionalism and took her job of managing those relationships very seriously.

“Her departure will be keenly felt by those on the NEC not privy to briefings from the leaders’ office.”

The staff members have handed their notice in and will be working their three month notice periods to ensure a smooth transition to new members of staff joining.

Sources close to Corbyn played down the departures, pointing out they made up just six out of a total of 420 staff. When McNicol was chosen in 2011, 14 members of staff left out of a total of 300.

Other than Oldknow, none of the five remaining executive directors are leaving, one source said.

“After a general election and with an incoming General Secretary it is entirely normal for there to be some staff turnover,” they said.

“We are building a strong organisation to fight the next election with the aim of securing a Labour government to work for the many, not the few.”

In his email to staff, Stolliday pointed out he had worked for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn.  

His email, obtained by HuffPost, is below:

I wanted to let you know that after 14 years working at Labour head office, I have decided it is time to move on to new challenges and I will be leaving in the summer.

Over those 14 years I have come to know so many wonderful and immensely talented people in this organisation, and I count myself lucky to be able to call so many of you my friends.

I have been honoured to work under four Party leaders - including two Prime Ministers - as well as Ed and Jeremy in opposition, and also Harriet as interim leader who has done so much for our Party and movement across the years.

I have worked with some truly brilliant people across the years in our media monitoring, press and broadcasting teams, but reserve special thanks for the team we have built in the Governance and Legal Unit over the past few years. 

I am so proud of the diverse and talented staff in GLU and the work you do to uphold the values we hold so dear and ensure that the Labour Party is at full strength to fight every election and win as many seats as possible. Our unit collectively deal with some of the most difficult issues in the organisation and you have been a source of strength for me and each other, and that resilience is our greatest asset. 

I shall still be here for the elections this May and to ensure that GDPR is implemented fully, but I want to thank you all for the support, kindness, patience and friendship you have shown to me over so many years and leave knowing that the Labour Party is well set to advance at the next General Election, whenever that happens. ”