Starmer seeks changes to leadership elections, MP reselections, policy-making

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has confirmed to his shadow cabinet that he will bring rule changes to Labour conference for a return to an electoral college system in leadership elections, a new reselection process for MPs and reforms to the policy-making process.

The Labour leader will meet with the leaders of affiliated trade unions on Wednesday, when he is set to present his preferred proposals for conference, which would change how Labour creates policy, elects leaders and deputy leaders, and reselects sitting MPs.

Starmer said: “Our rules as they are right now focus us inwards to spend too much time talking to and about ourselves and they weaken the link with our unions. These are two things that have got to change if we are serious about winning the next election.”

Unite the Union has already publicly opposed switching back to the electoral college system for leadership contests, which – unlike the current one-member-one-vote system – sees MPs, affiliates and members each given a third of the vote.

Sharon Graham told Labour MPs in an email last night that the electoral college plan was “unfair, undemocratic and a backwards step for our party”. The newly elected general secretary urged them to “publicly make clear that they do not support this proposal”.

Commenting today, Starmer added: “These rules won’t be presented on a take it or leave it basis. I am prepared to take suggestions and ideas and have a conversation and to try and build consensus. But the principles are important to me.

“I hope TULO will support me, I believe these changes are good for their members and they strengthen our link. I know that this is difficult – change always is – but I think these changes are vital for our party’s future.

“I have said I will make the Labour Party the party of working people, I am determined that the Labour Party I lead focuses on the country, on the concerns of voters, so we need party reforms that better connect us with working people re-orient us toward the voters who can take us to power.”

It is understood that the leader would like to see a policy-making process that can “bring our movement around a table to thrash out our positions on the challenges facing the country”, as opposed to “an endless series of motions at party conference”.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour increased the number of motions to be debated at conference to 20. LabourList understands that Starmer wants this number reduced – though discussions are ongoing about how big of a reduction is being sought.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has written to Starmer and general secretary David Evans expressing his opposition to the electoral college and saying that his union “will have no hesitation in voting against this gerrymandering”.

Reacting to the news of Starmer’s rule changes, Momentum vice-chair Callum Bell said the Labour leader’s “only goal is to increase the power of 200 Westminster politicians at the expense of hundreds of thousands of working-class members”.

The Momentum vice-chair added that taking the proposals to conference “would mark the start of a civil war in the party” and would “get very messy, very fast”, adding: “This marks a new low in Starmer’s leadership… Starmer holds the membership in contempt.”

Labour MPs on the party’s left have publicly protested bringing back the electoral college and frontbencher Rachael Maskell has also spoken out against the measure. Soft left group Open Labour has urged conference delegates to vote against it.

In a piece for LabourList today, Labour to Win co-founder, Labour First secretary and Labour NEC member Luke Akehurst wrote that “not all internal democratic conflict is electoral bad news”.

He added: “If it shows the leadership as confronting unpopular aspects of the party’s past, as with Hugh Gaitskell in 1960 and Neil Kinnock in 1985 and John Smith in 1993, an internal fight can strengthen a leader. If they lose but show the will to fight, their courage can inspire both the party and the electorate.”

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