Starmer: Watered-down Labour reforms will put party in better position

·5 min read

Sir Keir Starmer’s watered-down set of Labour reforms will be put to the party’s conference after he was forced to ditch a major shake-up of the leadership election process.

The Labour leader arrived in Brighton insisting the conference would be a chance to “set out our vision for the future”.

However, behind the scenes, opposition from the unions and Labour’s left to proposals which would have dramatically increased MPs’ influence in the election of a new leader have been a blow to Sir Keir.

A revised set of plans has now been agreed by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee and will be put to the conference.

Sir Keir said: ” I’m very pleased these party reforms have got the backing of our NEC.

“These proposals put us in a better position to win the next general election and I hope constituency and trade union delegates will support them when they come to conference floor.”

Under the original proposal, the one member, one vote (OMOV) system would have been replaced with a return to the electoral college made up of the unions and affiliate organisations, MPs and party members – each with an equal share.

Those plans were abandoned, although the revised proposals still amount to a significant shake-up and will face opposition from the left.

The package includes requiring candidates for leadership elections to have the support of 20% of MPs, up from the current 10% – Sir Keir had been understood to be pushing for 25%.

Sir Keir also wants members to have been signed up for six months to be allowed to vote in a future leadership contest and the “registered supporters” scheme which allowed people to pay £25 to vote in the 2020 contest would be dropped.

He also wants to make it more difficult to deselect MPs by raising the threshold for triggering a selection contest, with 50% of local branches in the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and affiliated union and socialist groups needing to back such a move.

The amount of policy motions considered at the party’s conference would also be reduced.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said she understood the NEC would not discuss a return of the electoral college (Ian Forsyth/PA)

Sir Keir sought to put the row behind him as he arrived in Brighton for his first chance to address an in-person party conference as leader.

“We’re all really, really looking forward to this, our first chance to speak to the party in person and set out our vision for the future,” he said,

“We’re obviously in a crucial time for the country and this Government is letting people down so badly, whether it is hammering working people on tax and Universal Credit, whether it is shortages of food and fuel.”

In a statement, left-wing campaign group Momentum vowed to fight against the fresh proposals.

Mish Rahman, a senior Momentum figure on Labour’s NEC said: “Changing the threshold like this will destroy the right of ordinary people to shape the future of the party.

“If this rule change passes, Labour will be well on its way to becoming the party of the Westminster elite.

“If the 20% threshold applied to the 2020 leadership election it would have been a contest between Sir Keir Starmer QC and Sir Keir Starmer QC.”

In a further sign of the leadership being prepared to take on the Labour left, general secretary David Evans challenged his critics by calling a vote on his own position, which he subsequently won by 59.05% to 40.95%.

But in a sign of the underlying tension within the party, he faced heckles of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn!” as he asked members why they joined the party.

The reforms are unlikely to be the only controversial issue debated by delegates on the south coast.

Other conference flashpoints for the leader could include rows over Labour’s position on trans rights, commitments on tackling climate change and changes mandated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission after its investigation into anti-Semitism.

Of the various motions covering 50 different areas up for discussion, one is on the decriminalisation of drugs, referencing the Portuguese model of seeing addiction as a health issue.

On Thursday, Sir Keir expressed support for a decision to relax drug laws for those found in possession of class A substances in Scotland.

Some 139 local party groups also submitted motions pushing for Labour to support a change to a proportional representation electoral system.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer (left) during a visit to engineering firm Ricardo in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, ahead of the Labour Party conference
Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to engineering firm Ricardo in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, ahead of the Labour Party conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

This was backed by pressure group Compass in a report released ahead of the conference.

The conference is a significant moment for Sir Keir’s leadership, with pressure certain to mount if he fails to make a major impression on the public.

Ms Rayner used a Times interview to say that she would be prepared for a run at the party leadership in future: “If I felt that it was the right thing to do for the party and the right thing for the country, then I would step up and do it.”

The row over internal reforms has overshadowed Ms Rayner’s appearance on the main conference stage, angering her allies.

She is promising that within the first 100 days of a Labour government, the party will legislate to launch sector-wide Fair Pay Agreements, starting in social care as part of a “fundamental change” to the economy.

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