Iain McNicol stuns Labour by quitting as general secretary
Labour has been thrown into fresh chaos after Iain McNicol dramatically quit as general secretary after more than six years in the role.
The veteran party official said he was stepping down to “pursue new challenges” - but his departure will be seen as a key moment in the bitter struggle between the warring Labour factions.
Mr McNicol was a hate figure for many on the left of the party, being accused of trying to block Jeremy Corbyn from taking part in his second leadership election and of purging left wing members ahead of the vote.
Speculation was mounting, however, that the Labour leader could offer Mr McNicol a peerage.
One senior party source told PoliticsHome: "That's what Iain wants. He didn't even tell anyone in his office that he was going, which suggests it could be timed to coincide with the new list of nominees to the Lords. This is between Jeremy, Karie (Murphy, Mr Corbyn's chief of staff) and Iain himself."
In a statement, Mr McNicol said: “It’s been an absolute honour and a privilege to serve as general secretary of the Labour party. I have now decided to move on to pursue new challenges in the service of the Labour party and wider labour movement."
Mr McNicol praised party staff for their hard work during the years he served as its most powerful official.
And he added:”I will continue to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and will work closely with him and our whole parliamentary team to take Labour to victory at the next general election.”
Mr Corbyn hailed the “long and dedicated service” put in by Mr McNicol and praised him as “a credit to our movement”.
He added: “I am confident Iain will continue to play a major role in politics and our party, and will support our team inside and outside Parliament with his experience and skills.”
Mr McNicol was seen by many as the driving force behind the purge of left-wing party members in the run-up to the leadership election in 2016.
He was also accused of trying to prevent Mr Corbyn from standing in the election amid a row about MP nominations - despite being bound to remain impartial during the contest.
It led to rumours that the Labour leadership and Unite boss Len McCluskey held talks about ousting him.
One Labour source said: "Lots of moderates will think this is the end of the world, but the reality is that Iain relied very heavily on his staff."
Another insider said the next general secretary needs to be a woman.
"The leader, the deputy leader, the Scottish leader and the Welsh leader are all men. Iain's replacement has to be a woman," they explained.
Labour bosses will decide the process for electing a successor with observers expecting a candidate more supportive of Mr Corbyn to clinch the role.
The party said Mr McNicol would work with the ruling National Executive Committee to deliver a “smooth and proper transition” and ensure the party remains election-ready.