The former Shadow Chancellor blasted Labour leader Keir Starmer for ‘bouncing’ the party into changes that could bing back the electoral college for choosing a new leader
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Pressure has mounted on Keir Starmer over highly controversial Labour rule changes after John McDonnell said the leader faces “charges of dishonesty”.
The former Shadow Chancellor, a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, blasted a plan to “bounce” the party into axing the one-member-one-vote system as a “grubby stitch-up”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think he’s opening himself up to charges of dishonesty on this.
“And if it comes to the point where our own members can’t trust him, you know what the Tories are going to say – ‘if your members can’t trust you, how can the electorate?’”.
Mr McDonnell said Sir Keir, who was elected using the OMOV system 18 months ago, should go back to that electorate before making changes.
Currently every Labour member and affiliate receives an equal vote on choosing a party leader, after Ed Miliband abolished the ‘electoral college’ which split the vote into blocks of unions, MPs and members.
The system was widely credited with allowing the election of left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who scraped through on MPs’ nominations but then won support from a newly-enlarged Labour membership.
Proposed reforms unveiled by Keir Starmer ’s office this week would bring back the electoral college.
It would mean any election for a new leader would see the vote split three ways between MPs, trade unions and grassroots members of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).
Separately, the Labour leader is also proposing to significantly raise the threshold for which MPs can face a deselection threat.
As it stands, if either a third of members or a third of affiliates want to block their MPs’ candidacy at the next general election, a race can be triggered.
A Labour source said: “The trigger system just isn’t working. It is forcing MPs to spend their time talking to the party rather than voters.
“Keir is serious about making this an outward facing party – not just talking about it.”
A Labour spokesman said: “You saw Keir’s words to the shadow cabinet yesterday. He set out why he thinks this is the right thing to do in terms of ensuring that the party focuses more on the country.
“We are putting ourselves in a position to win a general election and he sees these reforms as an important part of that.”
Asked if Labour was facing inwards ahead of its annual conference, the spokesman said: “I don’t see that as being an issue.”
Asked if it would overshadow conference, the spokesman said: “No.”
But the plans – which emerged in a surprise move days before the party conference – enraged the Labour left and prompted a backlash among unions.
New Unite general secretary Sharon Graham told the Mirror she was “bemused” and “disappointed” by the eleventh-hour plan to switch rules, saying: “I wasn’t even angry, I was bemused. It’s sort of felt like they’ve lost touch with reality. Who thinks this is a good idea? It’s just strange.”
She said: “Why are we discussing this trivia at this present moment in time? Put in a box and talk about this later. We’re in crisis.”
Mr Starmer told his shadow cabinet on Tuesday: “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.”
He 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.”
But Labour MPs spoke out against the plan on social media.
One, Alex Sobel, tweeted: “MPs already have the privilege of casting the qualifying nominations for Labour Leader to ensure the confidence of the PLP.
“We must then trust our members and union affiliated supporters to vote for the best candidate by OMOV.
“The Electoral College just looks like a fix for MPs”
Zarah Sultana said: “The Labour leadership wants to abolish ‘One Member, One Vote’ and instead hoard power in the hands of a Westminster elite.
“This power grab must be resisted by everyone who believes in a progressive, democratic Labour Party.”