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It's Jon versus Jen to be Labour's next general secretary

And the spotlight shines, but not on the Liberal Democrats

    Jon Lansman could become Labour's second Jewish general secretary (Photo: PA)
    Jon Lansman could become Labour's second Jewish general secretary (Photo: PA)

    Can a rise to prominence which has taken the best part of 35 years be described as meteoric? Probably not. 

    But Jon Lansman’s stock has risen so substantially within the Labour Party in the last couple of months that it is hard not to see this as his moment.

    If he is appointed as the party’s new general secretary later this month, it will be the crowning glory of a career which has seen the former kibbutznik move from the political shadows to centre stage. It could only be eclipsed in his eyes, surely, by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.

    Mr Lansman’s role in the current state of the party is well-documented. He is now, arguably, Labour’s most prominent Jewish figure.

    He would not, however, be its first Jewish general secretary; David, now Lord, Triesman, held the role for two years from 2001. 

    The battle to be general secretary comes after Iain McNicol announced at the end of last week his intention to step down after nearly seven years at the helm.

    His departure was lamented by party moderates who saw him as a bulwark against the all-conquering Corbynistas. Mr McNicol was a popular figure at Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel events and was regarded as being on the right side of efforts to tackle antisemitism. 

    Jennie Formby, the former political director of the Unite union and favourite to succeed Mr McNicol, is a long-standing critic of Israel.

    Two years ago she caused outrage at a Labour NEC meeting by questioning Baroness Royall’s suitability to lead an investigation into claims of antisemitism among Labour-supporting students. Her claim was on the grounds, apparently, that the peer had previously visited Israel. 

    When it was pointed out that her remarks were inappropriate, Ms Formby said she had wanted to ensure Baroness Royall had adequate support for the investigation because a search for her previous experience had only indicated involvement in a LFI delegation.

    She was also said to be behind attempts to get Labour to boycott G4S, the security firm, over its contracts in Israel and the West Bank. She has denied the allegation.

    It is the unions who will, effectively, decide who will be the next general secretary. A source close to Mr Lansman told the Guardian that his candidacy would be an opportunity to broaden the options available. 

    Everyone, Mr Corbyn especially, remembers what happened the last time the hard-left made such an attempt at diversity.

    • Whither the Liberal Democrats? 

    It is nearly four months since I praised Vince Cable’s team of “principal spokespersons”, predicting the small group could prove adept at sniping from the sidelines.
    But when did you last see a Lib Dem on the news holding the government, or the opposition for that matter, to account?

    Sir Vince — practically invisible both in the Commons and the media — has, it seems, actually given up on attending Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday. 

    The Spectator noticed last week that he had only been in the chamber for around half the showpiece sessions so far this year, and he agreed, saying he no longer saw the point of being there. Astonishing.

    Jo Swinson, the deputy leader, is an able media performer and occasionally pops up on a BBC sofa or as a talking head, but the vast majority of the public would struggle to name any other Lib Dem MP.

    It is not just in the Brexit debate where the party has lost ground, although the single most significant political issue of a generation offers the best example of the Lib Dems’ current failures. 

    Across the board, the party’s representatives appear silent. No voice on the charity scandals engulfing Oxfam and others; no voice in the ongoing debate over circumcision or shechita; and certainly no voice on foreign affairs.

    The country is consumed by frustration over public services, foreign policies and the economy is palpable. And amid it all, the Lib Dems continue to wither.

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