The Leader’s controversial shake-up of the party’s rulebook faced a backlash from the Left but a majority of delegates threw their weight behind the move
Image: Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
Keir Starmer has emerged victorious in his battle to reform the Labour Party’s rulebook.
In a significant boost to the Leader’s authority with his party, Labour delegates voted to back his controversial rules shake-up, despite anger from unions and some Left-wing members.
It means major changes to how the party holds leadership contests will go ahead and new measures which strengthen MPs’ position with their local parties.
Candidates will now need the backing of 20% of MPs, or 40 on current numbers, to become a leadership candidate.
The registered supporters scheme, which allowed people who paid a small fee and signed a declaration of support to vote, will also be ditched.
Conference also backed proposals to raise the bar for which MPs can face a deselection threat, from a third of members or trade unions/affiliates to half of both groups.
Starmer was forced to water down his original plan – which would have seen the party move back to an electoral college system of splitting leadership election votes between members, unions and MPs – on the eve of the Labour Party’s conference in Brighton, after unions blocked it.
He said after the result: “I’m delighted that these vital reforms have passed. They represent a major step forward in our efforts to face the public and win the next general election.
“This is a decisive and important day in the history of the Labour Party. I promised to tackle antisemitism in our party. We’ve now closed the door on a shameful chapter in our history. I want to acknowledge the courage of all the people who spoke up against it.
“As I promised when elected as Leader, the Labour party is now relentlessly focused on the concerns of the British people and offering them a credible, ambitious alternative to this Government.
“This is a crucial step forward for party I lead and am determined to see in government. And in the coming days you’ll hear us set out ideas on how we win the next election.”
Luke Akehurst, a member of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, added: “This extraordinary win shows Labour is rapidly putting the Corbyn years behind it.
“The party will not be saddled with leaders with no parliamentary support, with a trigger system that forced MPs to look over their shoulder for fear of being deselected, and with the danger of committed Labour members being out voted in a leadership election by £3 easy come easy go registered supporters.”
Speaking for the changes in the conference hall, shadow frontbencher Jonathan Reynolds said the current rule had left Labour with “one hand tied behind our backs”.
He said: “These proposed rule changes would free Labour MPs to take the fight to the Tories whilst making sure there is the proper accountability to local members and affiliates. And conference, we have to take this decision now.”
But the debate on the rule changes was not without controversy, as several delegates warned the leadership the plan was “undemocratic”.
General secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack hit out at Starmer. and Dave Ward, boss of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), claimed delegates had been “misled” about unions being consulted.
“I want to make a point about the way this is being presented because it has been said, and I believe that conference has been misled on this, that these rules changes relating to future leadership elections have been done after consultations with trade unions,” said Ward. “I am here to say to you that from the CWU’s point of view, we have not been consulted and I don’t want it implied that we have been, which is what I believe has been briefed and was stated in the NEC document.
“Had we been consulted, we would have made the point that we feel that we are being bounced and even at this late stage, Keir, I think you should reflect on whether or not this needs to come to this particular conference. I’d ask you to think about creating unity in the party, looking outwards and deferring the leadership election changes that will bring you forward.”
Unite member Agnes Tolmie also made a speech opposing the rule changes to leadership elections, saying: “Despite the blundering, the catastrophes and the utter shambles, they (the Conservatives) are still beating us in the polls, how is that? Because guess what we’re doing? We’re standing here coming up with wonderful policies… how to win back Labour voters.
“No, no, us, we are getting drawn in here, bounced into a situation where we are arguing, quite frankly, about rule changes. And most people out there don’t understand them. They don’t care about them, they are not interested in them. They want to know what we are doing for them.”