Keir Starmer waters down Labour rulebook overhaul as he abandons electoral college proposal

Major climbdown comes as Labour’s annual conference kicks off

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 25 September 2021 13:08
Angela Rayner says Keir Starmer looks 'strong' heading into Labour party conference

Sir Keir Starmer has abandoned plans to overhaul Labour’s rulebook by changing the way future leaders are elected in a major retreat just as the party’s annual conference kicks off.

The U-turn comes after the Labour leader endured a “car crash” meeting with union chiefs on Friday afternoon during which he failed to drum up support for the reintroduction of the electoral college system.

The opposition leader had wanted to rewrite the regulations for his party’s internal elections – a measure critics said was an attempt to “gerrymander” future leadership elections to the disadvantage of the left.

A senior source told The Independent, however, that the proposal to return to the electoral college system — giving MPs a greater say in leadership contests — had been dropped.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, who was reported to have voiced opposition to the changes put forward by Sir Keir, also said: “My understanding is the electoral college is not coming to the NEC so therefore that wouldn’t be [voted on]”.

Despite dropping his key change to Labour’s rule book amid a severe backlash, Sir Keir, however, put forward revised changes to the party’s governing body – the National Executive Committee (NEC) – which agreed them at a meeting on Saturday.

“I’m very pleased these party reforms have got the backing of our NEC,” Sir Keir said in Brighton on Saturday afternoon.

“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.”

The revised rule changes include raising the threshold of MPs’ nominations to 20 per cent for leadership elections (from 10 per cent), abandoning registered supporter involvement, and introducing a freeze date on membership before a contest begins.

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

Under the current rules, an MP selection race can be ignited if only one-third of CLP branches or affiliated groups is in favour.

“Keir said on Tuesday it wasn’t a take it or leave it deal,” a party source added. “That’s how we’ve approached it and we’re pleased with where we’ve ended up.”

Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s NEC and who also sits on Momentum’s national coordinating group, said: “The central measure of Keir Starmer’s attack on democracy has comprehensively failed. The electoral college is dead.”

Reacting to the revised changes, Mr Rahman later added: “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 per cent threshold applied to the 2020 leadership election it would have been a contest between Sir Keir Starmer QC and Sir Keir Starmer QC”.

Before Friday’s meeting, Unison, the country’s biggest union, appeared to set itself against the plan after a majority of members on its Labour Link committee, which governs its relationship with the party, released a statement saying they opposed the change.

Sir Keir ordinarily has a majority on the party’s NEC as long as he has support from moderate-led trade unions, but he failed to win their support for the proposals on this occasion.

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