Union leaders have demanded more time to mull controversial plan to end one-member-one-vote electoral system
Keir Starmer’s plans to dramatically reform Labour’s rulebook have been thrown into doubt after trade union leaders demanded they be delayed.
Sources have told the Mirror that the Labour leader’s last-minute proposals to shake-up rules governing MPs and leadership elections met with scepticism from trade union leaders at a meeting on Wednesday.
The TULO (the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation) meeting ended without major unions throwing their weight behind the move – something which could put a spanner in the works for Mr Starmer.
The most eyebrow-raising move from the leadership proposes switching back to the electoral college system for leadership elections.
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 Ed Miliband brought in to dilute union influence and gave all votes equal weight.
Mr Starmer also wants to cut the number of motions put to Labour Party conference delegates.
Thirdly, he wants to raise the threshold by which MPs can face a deselection threat. As it stands, if a third of members or a third of affiliates want to block their candidacy at the next general election, they can trigger a contest.
Trade unions asked for more time after the TULO meeting, with Unite calling for the plans to be delayed and put to a special conference organised at a later date.
Mr Starmer needs backing from at least some of the party’s major affiliated unions – GMB, Unison, Usdaw and Unite being the largest – to get delegates at Labour’s conference in Brighton next week to vote the plan through.
A source said Mr Starmer left the meeting saying he needed “time to reflect” on his next move.
If he refuses to back down and ditch or dilute the plans, it sets the stage for a showdown at a meeting of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) – a group made up of MPs, union and other senior figures – who, on Friday, could be asked to vote to press ahead and put the plan to delegates regardless.
Without backing from a number of unions, and amid reports Deputy Leader Angela Rayner is sceptical of the plans, it is not guaranteed the NEC will agree.
The leadership’s plan would raise the bar for a selection challenge to half of both members and affiliates.
The TSSA union has called the shift back to the electoral college “the sort of thing associated with Victorian Tories”, while Unite boss Sharon Graham has strongly made the case for Labour to ditch “old wars” between Left and Right amid Covid.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, meanwhile, called it an attempt to “bounce through” new rules which disenfranchise members with a “grubby stitch-up deal” with unions.
While GMB figures were not thought to have been at the TULO meeting, Unison, a strong supporter of Mr Starmer’s, was said to be among those calling for more time.
While some of the movement’s more Left wing unions, including CWU, TSSA and the FBU were unlikely to back the leadership, those close to Mr Starmer will be anxiously awaiting news from the GMB, Unison and Usdaw.
More broadly, the row will be seen as a key test of whether Jeremy Corbyn’s successor has control over his party.
When Mr Starmer chaired a meeting of his shadow cabinet on Tuesday, he said the plans would not be presented “on a take it or leave it basis”.
He said: “I’m prepared to take suggestions and ideas and to have a conversation and try to 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.”
Mick Whelan, Chair of TULO, said: “Keir Starmer and Labour’s affiliated Trade Union Leaders had a positive meeting this afternoon to discuss the rule changes that the Labour leader would like to bring to conference in Brighton.
“There was broad consensus on the need to refocus the Labour party on the country and concerns of working people.
“Discussions will continue.”