The Opposition leader is aiming to cement his authority in the party – but he faces a backlash from the Left
Keir Starmer is aiming to tighten his grip on Labour with sweeping changes to party rules governing leadership elections, policy-making and the power base of MPs.
Under plans being put to trade union chiefs this week – ahead of the Labour Party conference in Brighton – the leadership proposes switching back to the electoral college system for electing leaders.
It would mean that 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).
This would be a big shift away from the ‘one member one vote’ system which saw Jeremy Corbyn storm to power.There has been a backlash from the left, including from the powerful Unite union.
The TSSA union calling it “the sort of thing associated with Victorian Tories”.
Union leaders may instead push for a compromise that sees one third of the college made up of MPs, MSPs and councillors, rather than just MPs.
Separately, the Labour leader is 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.
Instead, Mr Starmer wants to raise the bar for a selection challenge to half of both members and trade unions/affiliates.
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. Again, Keir is serious about making this an outward facing party – not just talking about it.”
Thirdly, the Labour leader will ask trade union leaders to back a plan which would see the number of motions heard on the conference floor significantly cut back.
This has been slammed as “anti-democratic” and will be highly controversial with grassroots members as it curtails campaigners’ ability to influence policy.
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.”
On the leadership rule changes, Labour source added: “Keir is the first Labour leader in a generation to attempt to reinvigorate the relationship between the unions, working people and the party. He is deadly serious about taking the party back to its working class roots.”
TSSA leader Manuel Cortes is among the trade union leaders unhappy about the move, writing to Mr Starmer and general secretary David Evans.
He said: “Our union will have no hesitation in voting against this gerrymandering if this proposal makes it anywhere near conference floor.”
Unite’s new leader Sharon Graham has also called on MPs to reject any changes to the one-member-one-vote system.
Those close to Mr Starmer are also thought to want to tighten up leadership challenge rules. They believe no challenge should be possible against a leader unless he has lost the confidence of over half of MPs.
The current bar to trigger a challenge is around 20% of MPs (around 40).