Keir Starmer defies call for changes to first past the post voting system

<span>Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Keir Starmer has ruled out including any support for a change in the voting system in Labour’s election manifesto, as senior figures from across the party joined calls to back proportional representation (PR).

Labour’s annual conference, under way in Liverpool, is expected to back a motion calling for the party to drop its historical support for the first past the post system amid concerns that it has locked Labour out of power.

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, and John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor and ally of Jeremy Corbyn, are among those joining a growing campaign to replace it.

However, the Labour leader said in an interview with the Observer there would be no deal – before or after the election – that would see him back a change. Asked if Labour’s manifesto would include pledges on electoral reform, he said: “No, it’s not a priority for me.”

He added: “There are a lot of people in the Labour party who are pro-PR but it’s not a priority and we go into the next election under the same system that we’ve got, first past the post, and I’m not doing any deals going into the election or coming out of the election.”

His intervention comes with both Burnham and McDonnell calling for a rethink. “Under our antiquated political system, the Conservative party has been in power for more than two-thirds of the last century without ever winning a majority share of the popular vote,” said Burnham.

“My message to all progressive people is simple: let’s not let the next hundred years be like the last. It is time for like-minded people to reach out across party divides and agree a wide-ranging programme of political reform.”

Related: Keir Starmer: ‘The hope of a Labour victory has turned into a belief’

McDonnell said the current system had “consolidated power in the hands of politicians who have lined the pockets of their rich friends and protected the profiteering of corporations while undermining workers’ rights”.

He added: “The result is that almost all of the Labour-affiliated unions are now in favour of proportional representation and it’s time the party did the same.”

They spoke out as a motion on changing the voting system is expected to be debated at Labour’s conference, while the Best for Britain group is also launching a campaign to gain support for proportional representation. While the conference vote will not be binding, it is the first time that support for changing the voting system has a real chance of passing.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is among those campaigning for changes to the proportional representation election system. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Britain’s biggest union, Unison, is among those to have shifted its position in recent months. The union passed a change in its stance at a conference over the summer.

A Unison spokesperson said: “If the motion makes the floor and it’s in line with union policy, we’d vote for it.”

Some in the party see the vote over proportional representation as creating a political attack line for the Conservatives. The change would lead to more coalitions. The Tories have previously found success in warning that Labour will lead a “coalition of chaos” involving the Scottish National party, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

It comes as senior figures in Starmer’s team use the autumn conference to make a series of pledges set to form part of its election pitch.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, will pledge on Sunday that Labour will put 13,000 more neighbourhood police back on the streets.

The party said the plans were the equivalent of giving every constituency in England and Wales 15 to 20 extra neighbourhood police, including officers, community support officers and special constables. It claimed that the pledge could be funded through back-office efficiency savings.

Cooper said: “Over the last 12 years, the Conservatives have decimated neighbourhood policing. In towns and cities across the country, people just don’t see police on the streets any more, while fewer criminals are being caught and nothing is being done about antisocial behaviour.” She added: “This can’t go on.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has pledged to tackle the involvement of private equity firms in profiting from poor care homes.

“Too many private equity firms are failing to provide basic levels of care to residents, while gambling with care homes’ futures and leeching millions out of the British taxpayer and the pockets of residents,” he said. “The next Labour government will enforce high standards from all providers and kick out those leeching millions out of care. We will recruit the care workers needed to look after residents well by guaranteeing fair pay, full rights at work, and proper training.”