At 1pm last Thursday, Labour party staff were summoned to the Buckingham Room on the first floor of the party’s Brewer’s Gate head office.
Ed Miliband, flanked by Douglas Alexander, his newly-appointed ‘Chair of General Election Strategy’ introduced Spencer Livermore as the party’s new campaigns director who will now be tasked with day-to-day control of the party’s election campaign.
Livermore, reading from a prepared script, announced that in future, the party’s seven executive directors would report directly to him – bypassing Iain McNicol, the party’s General Secretary.
Uncut can reveal that the announcement came as a total shock to most senior staff who knew nothing about the changes – including, it is said, NcNicol himself.
Appointed to run the party’s organisation by a vote of the governing National Executive Committee, both McNicol and the NEC have been effectively usurped by Miliband’s team in an organisational coup.
“It was a brutal meeting” said one eyewitness.
“It’s been obvious for some time that they were going to do something. Iain is not Ed’s man”.
McNicol, a former political officer for the GMB union, beat the deputy general secretary Chris Lennie (seen as Miliband’s choice) for the top job back in 2011.
Yet only last year Miliband made clear his displeasure at the result by appointing former ITV chief executive Charles Allen to lead a management review and chair a new party management board.
However sources say Allen did not take up a day-to-day role and was made a working peer in August.
So Miliband has tried again, this time appointing Livermore, a former Gordon Brown protégé (until he was blamed for the botched general-election that-never-was in autumn 2007) to wrest control of the party machinery from McNicol.
With opinion polls narrowing and with next spring’s special conference on reform of the party’s links with its trade union affiliates effectively a make-or-break moment for Miliband, a circling of the wagons by the leader’s office is perhaps not unexpected.
Yet sidelining the general secretary might also damage the National Executive Committee too. The danger of that, warned former general secretary Peter Watt in a post last year, is that the party’s governance suffers:
“Decisions to spend now in order to try and get out of a political hole are more likely to be taken – irrespective of the consequences for the party’s overall financial health.”
Given Miliband’s heavy emphasis on standards of corporate behaviour, any damage to Labour’s own corporate governance arrangements would be an ironic side-effect of his push for control.