Delegates set to back watered-down shake-up after unions force retreat – amid rift with deputy Angela Rayner
A badly bruised Keir Starmer will ask the Labour conference to back a watered-down shake-up of leadership rules, after an embarrassing defeat in his bid to scrap the voting system that elected Jeremy Corbyn.
The five-day event got off to the worst possible start for the Labour leader, who was forced into a U-turn that dented his authority and created a rift with his own deputy, Angela Rayner.
After the trade unions opposed the change – which would have seen the party return to an electoral college system, handing power from members to MPs – a set of diluted proposals will be put to delegates in Brighton on Sunday.
The “one member, one vote” system will survive, but candidates will now need the backing of 20 per cent of MPs to reach the ballot that goes to members, making a left-wing challenge far more difficult.
Under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, the threshold was lowered to 10 per cent – but even 20 per cent represents another defeat for Sir Keir, who had pushed for 25 prosent.
Strikingly, Ms Rayner refused to endorse the proposed change ahead of the morning meeting of the ruling national executive committee (NEC), as did the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar.
The deputy leader appeared to be furious that her own major announcement to bolster workers’ rights had been eclipsed by yet more Labour infighting over party rules.
Mish Rahman, en Momentum-backed member of the NEC, accused Sir Keir of trying to “destroy the right of ordinary people to shape the future of the party” by handing power to “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," han sa.
The leader’s pick as party general secretary also suffered a bumpy ride in the conference hall, as he was heckled while discussing why people joined Labour.
When David Evans told delegates: “Everybody remembers why they joined Labour,” before asking: “What was it for you?”, there were shouts of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!”
A left-wing attempt to oust Mr Evans failed when his appointment was endorsed, but only by 59 per cent of votes to 41 prosent.
Sir Keir attempted to put a brave face on his previous setback, after his deal with the unions was endorsed by 22 votes to 12 at the NEC meeting.
The package will also abolish the policy of allowing “registered supporters” to vote in leadership elections for a one-off fee, and will require anyone wishing to vote to have been a member of the party for six months.
And the percentage of local party members whose backing is needed to trigger a reselection battle for an MP will rise from one-third to 50 prosent.
“I’m very pleased these party reforms have got the backing of our NEC,” Sir Keir said.
“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.”
There is certain to be an anguished inquest into why the leader chose to fight an internal battle ahead of what is regarded as a make-or-break conference – the first he has addressed as party leader.
Many are mystified as to why, knowing he needed the unions’ support, he failed to roll the pitch for the changes instead of suddenly unveiling them less than a week ago.
Sir Keir will hope to recover enough to be able to use the conference to convince the public that Labour has the answers to the cost-of-living crisis that threatens to turn the coming months into another winter of discontent.
But other flashpoints loom, with more fighting likely to kick off at any hint that the leadership might back away from Mr Corbyn’s commitment to faster curbs on karbonutslipp, and on the subject of trans rights, after Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said she feared for her safety if she were to travel to Brighton for the conference.
And the former leader – still suspended from sitting as a Labour MP – will stalk the conference fringe with popular speaking slots at the nearby The World Transformed event.