Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The men behind the men

It is a new year in Westminster, so it must be time for new chiefs of staff.

Labour’s top two, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, have found themselves new men, and their choices for chief consigliere say as much about each man as their policy announcements.

Miliband chose the cerebral, thoughtful ex-diplomat Tim Livesey who has spent the last few years running, respectively, the private offices and public affairs of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dr Rowan Williams.

One parliamentary wag notes that Livesey is perfectly prepared for running the staff of the leader of the opposition, since his religious experience will have taught him a great deal about organisations with no temporal power, constantly on the verge of schism, regularly attacked by the popular press and where everyone is convinced only their doctrine will guarantee the faithful the keys to a famous front door.

Livesey spent the time between his appointment and his arrival in the leader’s suite of offices on the second floor of Norman Shaw North on retreat. This led his new subordinates to feel like offering up a prayer or two themselves, as they faced yet another episode of sibling rivalry turned political soap opera without the guiding hand of their new chief, who had his mind on higher things.

On top of dealing with the squalls of politics, the new chief of staff may have to rapidly absorb the knowledge of his predecessor and current deputy, Lucy Powell, who, as a Manchester resident and activist, is being talked about as a potential candidate for any Manchester Central by-election if Tony Lloyd is successful in his bid to become Manchester’s police commissioner.

By contrast, Gary Follis is pretty much the opposite of the previously non-partisan Livesey. A former Labour Students activist, Lambeth councillor and special adviser to Gordon Brown’s master of parliamentary discipline, Nick Brown, Follis is the very model of a modern Labour adviser, whose sabbaticals from the rarefied and intellectual atmosphere of the whips’ office have been spent in the equally cerebral world of the British financial services industry.

Thanks to his service to the chief whip as he fought to maintain his leader’s grip on the top job, and his subsequent front row seat for Brown’s abrupt expulsion from the shadow cabinet, Follis has seen some of the most bruising battles of the recent Labour past up close and personal.

Don’t be fooled by rightwing blogs though. Follis is rated by many in the leader’s office, certainly by those in the increasingly ascendant fixer tendency, most of whom worked closely with him from their desks in No 10.

Miliband has hired an intellectual diplomat, Balls a skilled political mechanic. Both will likely serve their master in exactly the way that each seeks. Whether that is what each needs, only time will tell.

A new Joe Chamberlain?

As tipped here some months back, an increasing number of Labour MPs and ex-MPs are attracted by the possibility of exercising some real power as mayors and police commissioners. Names like Paddy Tipping, Vera Baird, Alun Michael, and Bob Ainsworth are already a matter of public record, while John Prescott’s ambition to operate Humberside’s Bat-Signal is generating column inches aplenty.

But it is a name that is only being whispered that might create the most political news.

Liam Byrne, Labour’s policy coordinator and welfare reform point man, is apparently tempted by the prospect of being Birmingham’s mayor.

Byrne would face a crowded field, including Edgbaston’s Gisela Stuart, and ex-MP Siôn Simon, but would be the first Westminster politician to abandon a Commons career at its peak to return to local politics. Whatever your thoughts of Byrne, such a shift is surely welcome, as British politics gets less and less Westminster-centric.

Brewers Scoop?

Speaking of Westminster, Labour activists across Britain will soon be rolling their eyes at the very mention of another perfectly blameless London street. After stops at Walworth Road, Millbank, Old Queen Street and Victoria Street, general secretary Iain McNicol looks like he’ll be marching his troops a couple of hundred metres north of their current base to Brewers Green.

Office moves aside, big changes are afoot at Labour HQ. As your insider writes, the interview process for the six new executive directors who will be the key adjutants to McNicol are under way.

As ever with Labour party jobs, rumours of fixes abound, with the departure of long-term Labour campaign chief Alicia Kennedy being handled especially carefully, with the office of Tom Watson or the House of Lords current favourites to provide a graceful way out of line management for the woman many feel has been the de facto general secretary for years. If it is the Lords, the Kennedys will be the second husband and wife team to make it to the red benches.

Still, if you want to know who to suck up to as brilliant for the next three months then curse for incompetence for the next three years, the names your insider is hearing for McNicol’s top team include long-time field operations staffer and current London campaign director Patrick Heneghan,
ex-Mirror man Bob Roberts, and ex-Edgbaston campaign supremo Caroline Badley. Mind you, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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  • This article is clearly pro-Byrne, but wholly misses the point what’s been happening in the Birmingham mayoral campaign for the past 24 months. Siôn Simon stood down from his ministerial post to fight for the mayoral job over two years ago, he isn’t taking an MP’s salary (unlike Gisela and possibly Byrne) to try and get another job. Boundary Commission will declare shortly…this is perhaps the reason Byrne is suddenly so interested in his back door again. Byrne has besmerched local Labour policies nationally- he should not expect a welcoming home parade anytime soon! Yours, a Brummie who cares.

  • An interesting piece – but, please, even if we cannot banish the title ‘chief of staff’, can we at least expunge the term ‘staffer’ from our lexicon? I accept that the English language is not a static thing, but like grey squirrels, these American imports are overdue for a cull.

  • “Byrne.. would be the first Westminster politician to abandon a Commons career at its peak to return to local politics”.

    Err, no he wouldn’t. Sir Peter Soulsby, a shadow environment spokesman, did it last year

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