Doubts raised about Richard Leonard’s ‘priorities’ as he votes against Corbyn-backed candidate

Alasdair Clark

The Scottish Labour leader faced criticism on Tuesday after voting against Jeremy Corbyn at the party’s ruling executive committee 

SCOTTISH LABOUR leader Richard Leonard faced criticism on Tuesday [22 May] from the activists who helped him to victory after he voted against a candidate for vice-chair of the party backed by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

The veteran trade union official backed Unison representative Wendy Nichols for vice chair of the party, in favour of the UK leadership’s preferred candidate, Andi Fox, who was also supported by Momentum. 

Nichols, who represents Unison on Labour’s ruling national executive committee, beat Fox by 18 votes to 17. Fox represents the Transport Salaried Staff Association [TSSA] on the NEC. 

Insiders pointed out that Leonard had supported the candidate favoured by his own union and previous employer, the GMB, and some suggested that the vote was possibly an attempted show of strength by the GMB and Unison trade unions over Unite, whose general secretary Len McCluskey is thought to have a great deal of influence over the Labour leader’s office. 

Although new to the NEC as Scottish Labour leader, and a relatively new MSP, Leonard is no stranger to internal Labour politics having represented the GMB union on Labour committees for a number of years. 

READ MORE: Leonard shakes up top adviser team

In Scotland, young left-wingers who campaigned for Leonard’s victory reacted negatively to the news that the Scottish Labour leader had voted against Jeremy Corbyn, who called into the meeting to cast his own vote for Nichols’ opponent. 

The vote to replace the vice chair was triggered after Jennie Formby, the previous vice chair was appointed as general secretary, the most senior staff role in the party. 

The change in vice chair alters the political balance on the NEC officers group, which decides the party’s spending priorities and which candidates receive different levels of financial support from party funds. 

Speaking to CommonSpace, a Scottish Labour member who backed Leonard said: “The vote might not seem important, but it will make people worry about Richard’s priorities. 

“His leadership campaign promised he would be a leader who stayed connected to the party’s grassroots, and this performance doesn’t entirely live up to the expectation that most of us had.

“If Richard wants to hold onto his base of support then he needs to stay true to the principles he was elected on.”



Leonard has come under public criticism for his performance as party leader since he defeated opponent Anas Sarwar in October 2017, but most Labour members who CommonSpace spoke to were pleased with his performance so far, mentioning his performance at First Ministers Questions and leadership on policy issues such as housing. 

Most were quick to talk down a report by pro-Corbyn website, The Canary, which characterised Leonard’s vote as a “shock betrayal” which “handed control to the Blairites”, stating that this was overblown. 

Another prominent member who backed Leonard, Leah Franchetti, argued on Twitter that he was “his own man”, suggesting he has no obligation to always vote the same way as Corbyn and his allies. 

Picture courtesy of David Thomson