Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has thrown his weight behind a senior trade unionist to take Labour’s top party role – despite a challenge from the chair of Jeremy Corbyn-supporting group Momentum.
In a power-struggle at the top of Labour, Momentum’s Jon Lansman has pitched himself against trade unionist Jennie Formby, a senior Unite employee, for the role of party general secretary.
The contest will be viewed as a battle for control between Momentum members, branded “entryists” by critics but who make up a large share of those who have recently joined Labour, and the party’s traditional union backers.
Confirming he will be entering the race to become the Labour Party’s most senior party official, Mr Lansman said he wants to “open up the contest and ensure we have a wide range of candidates”.
He said in a statement: “In 2015, Jeremy campaigned and won backing for a new kind of politics, for sweeping away the old machine politics.
“This means building a broad, pluralist Labour Party that encourages open, transparent and inclusive application processes for positions such as general secretary.
“I am applying to open up the contest, and ensure we have a wide range of candidates.
“In this spirit, I’d like to encourage any one of our 570,000 members who has the talent and experience to apply.”
Mr Lansman added he wants to “encourage more women to apply” for the role as he announced his intention to stand against Ms Formby.
Labour’s general secretary, to be elected by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on 20 March, has responsibility for recruiting party staff, overseeing campaigns, organising annual conferences, and guarding Labour’s legal and constitutional structures.
The vacancy has arisen after current general secretary Iain McNicol announced his resignation last week, having held the role since 2011.
Ms Formby, who along with Mr Lansman already serves on the NEC, would be only the second-ever female general secretary in the party’s history.
She was handed a boost on Thursday when Mr McDonnell offered his backing for her candidacy, indicating who the Labour leadership would prefer to get the role.
I’m delighted @JennieUnite is standing for @UKLabour General Secretary. She’s a fantastic organiser and fighter for justice who we’ve campaigned with for years. She’s the person with the skills to deliver Jeremy’s vision of a members-led mass party to get him into Downing St.
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) March 1, 2018
The shadow chancellor, posting on Twitter after Mr Lansman declared his candidacy, wrote: “I’m delighted @JennieUnite is standing for @UKLabour General Secretary.
“She’s a fantastic organiser and fighter for justice who we’ve campaigned with for years.
“She’s the person with the skills to deliver Jeremy’s vision of a members-led mass party to get him into Downing St.”
Mr McNicol’s departure has been accompanied by reports he was forced out of the position by Mr Corbyn’s allies, with the departing general secretary unpopular with the Labour leader’s supporters.
His resignation prompted suggestions Mr Corbyn’s supporters have now further tightened their grip on Labour’s internal machinery.
Momentum grew out of Mr Corbyn’s successful 2015 leadership campaign, but the left-wing group has since been accused of acting as a party within a party, with its members pitched against Labour “moderates”.