Charles Allen was the wrong appointment for the wrong reason….
Mark Ferguson has a piece on LabourList welcoming last night’s appointment of Charles Allen, former CEO of ITV and chairman of EMI to ‘assist’ Iain McNicol, the new General Secretary in central Party reform. Leaving aside the question of his dubious qualification for the post, I think Mark is missing the point that Allen has obviously been appointed to stop McNicol making half the changes he wants too. We are obviously in for an interesting time because, if the sudden and rather random appearance of the story in The Times today (suggesting Ed was effectively ‘bullied’ into accepting McNicol) we are now entering a phase where the leader will be covertly briefing against the General Secretary. Maybe this is why the plans for a directly-elected chair were dropped; in anticipation of a result the leadership wouldn’t want.
In terms of the issue at hand Allen is wrong because a political party is neither a private business now a branch of the civil service so when it comes to the issue at hand I doubt his ability to grasp the different dynamics. In many ways, as things stand, the central Party machine is run much worse than a business (which does at least sometimes function as something approaching a meritocracy). Not only is the machine ‘inflexible’; its unaccountable and governed by a cliqueish mentality.
It’s not what you know, but who you know, as the old saying goes. This is true about the Labour Party which is run as a going concern of those in the know and on the inside track. For example, the advertising of jobs is often a more theoretical exercise than a practical one, as the successful candidate has already been selected. Since this creates a culture of dependency on others for your own position, it’s deeply unhealthy and undemocratic.
The solution is the bleeding of power from regional offices; staff should be subject to regular scrutiny and ultimately be democratically accountable to the membership in their region. In theory, much like with regards to Royal Prerogative, too much power is theoretically vested in the NEC but in practice exercised by regional officials. This either has to be exercised directly by the NEC itself or regional off-shoots suitably elected and empowered. Charles Allen was a political appointment designed to stymie change and as such he is the wrong appointment for the wrong reason. Members need not an apparatchik from the private sector but an advocate for their interests at the heart of these reforms, working alongside, not against Iain McNicol.