Labour Party members fear a purge of left wing activists after the party’s ruling body appointed a right wing general secretary.
Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) appointed right wing David Evans—party leader Keir Starmer’s preferred candidate—to the position on Tuesday.
One NEC member who opposed the appointment warned that Evans could lead “factional warfare against the left.”
Starmer and his deputy leader Angela Rayner welcomed Evans’ appointment as a chance to unite the Labour Party and make it able to win elections.
Yet Evans was a senior Labour official during the leadership of right wing party leader Tony Blair. He took part in Blair’s effort to marginalise left wing party activists and union leaders.
In 1999 he wrote an internal Labour Party report that wanted to “empower modernising forces”—those who wanted to make Labour more appealing to big business. He said this would help to “marginalise Old Labour”.
He also described local Labour organisations as “dysfunctional” organisations that didn’t fit with Blair’s “branding”. He said Labour needed a “radical overhaul” in keeping with Blair’s scheme to tightly control local party democracy and organisation.
“We have a strong, positive branding at national level,” he wrote.
“But we are badly let down by a very poor high street presence. Indeed, the majority of local Labour parties are more like Trotters Independent Traders than Marks & Spencer. We are a ramshackle confederation of market traders.”
The Labour right reacted with glee at Evans’ appointment. It means he is now in a position to silence and discipline left wing activists and local party organisations.
An internal report leaked in April showed how former right wing general secretary Iain McNicol organised purges of left wing members
Speaking after Evans’ appointment, one left wing NEC member told the LabourList website, “Keir and Angela both stood on election platforms promising to unite the party. Members won’t forgive them if they allow a hard-right general secretary to wage factional warfare against the left.”
And NEC member Rachel Garnham tweeted, “ Keir and Angela had the opportunity to prove their commitment to uniting our party.
“Instead in their choice of gen sec so closely aligned to the right of the party they have shown their pledge to end factionalism to be a sham. Any remaining illusions must now be shattered.”
Yet the vote in favour of Evans shows there is backing at the top of the party for moving right—including among union leaders. The committee voted by 20 to 16 in favour of Evans, with the votes of the GMB union’s two representatives reportedly key to his victory.
Starmer said he would work with Evans “to build a team that can help us restore trust with the British people and build a team that can win the next election.”
But for the Labour Party, appearing respectable and electable means shifting to the right—and waging war on its members.