Fresh blow for Labour as senior official dubbed 'brains of the party' quits

Posted On: 
13th March 2018

A senior Labour official dubbed "the brains of the party" has dramatically quit her job.

The Labour party has been hit by a string of rows in recent weeks.
Credit: 
PA Images

Emilie Oldknow stunned Labour staff by announcing she will stand down as executive director for governance, membership and party services to "pursue some new and exciting opportunities". 

Her departure comes just weeks after Iain McNicol, Labour's general secretary, unexpectedly announced he was resigning.

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In an email announcing her decision, Ms Oldknow - who is the wife of Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth - heaped praise on the staff at Labour's London HQ, who have come in for criticism from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.

She said: "The political books and newspaper clippings rarely mention the heroic efforts of party staff who each day go to work with one simple objective - to help secure the election of a Labour government.

"I know only too well, starting off as a trainee organiser in the East Midlands to becoming Executive Director, that it's the hard work, dedication and sheer extraordinary professionalism of our staff that can make such a difference to whether we win or lose on the ground.

"This isn’t a nine to five job and we give everything we have to it. I’m proud of each and every one of you.

"And with crucial elections in May, an unstable government that could collapse at any moment and the importance of ensuring a smooth transition to a new General Secretary, I’ll still be around for a little bit longer. But for now I wanted to thank you all for the help, support and friendship you have given me.

"I am looking forward to the future and will leave knowing that as always you will be fighting as hard as you can for the election of a Labour government, led by Jeremy, we can all be proud of."

Senior party sources said Ms Oldknow's decision to quit was a hammer-blow for Labour.

One told PoliticsHome: "This is the brains and muscles of the organisation leaving - that's it for the Labour party."

Another added: "This is clearly a huge loss to the Labour party and much more significant for the organisation than Iain McNicol’s resignation. 

"Emilie is the de facto chief executive of the Labour party. She manages a complex and large team and makes all the significant strategic decisions relating to the party’s long-term future. 

"She has taken the opportunity to re-evaluate her role and life and decided it’s time to move on. Emilie is known and trusted by the whole staff - she has changed this organisation for the better and won the support and respect of staff and others across the Party.

"Iain McNicol was totally reliant on Emilie each day to make decisions and to have all the difficult conversations - and that is a massive loss."

Another party insider said: "Politicians may grab the headlines, but it’s Emilie and her team who have kept the show on the road the last few years. Difficult to see where the party goes next."

A senior insider added: "Emilie ran the Labour party on a day to day basis. Iain was the general secretary in title only. While Iain’s departure got the headlines, this is a major loss for the Labour party. Tough, fierce and able to deliver, Emilie has in effect ran the Labour Party for the past seven years.

"Her departure is bigger news and more significant for the Labour Party than Iain’s, who was seen as a joke and relied on Emilie to clear up his mess and inability to actually do the job."

Ms Oldknow's departure comes just a week before Labour's ruling national executive committee elects Mr McNicol's successor as general secretary.

Unite official Jennie Formby is the clear favourite after her main rival, Momentum boss Jon Lansman, announced he was no longer running.

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Jeremy Corbyn thanks Ms Oldknow for her "remarkable and dedicated service to the Labour party".

"For fifteen years, she has worked tirelessly to ensure our party is run professionally and effectively, navigating multiple challenges along the way with humour and good grace," he said.

"Emilie is a consummate professional, liked and respected across the Labour party, and while I’m sorry to see Emilie leave, I’m pleased she has agreed to stay on for a while to help ensure the smooth running of the party - and I'd like to wish her the very best for the future."