Keir Starmer accused of attempting a 'grubby stitch-up' of next Labour leadership election

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John McDonnell is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn - PA
John McDonnell is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn - PA

Sir Keir Starmer has been accused of attempting a “grubby stitch-up” of the next Labour leadership election over his plans to reform the voting system to make it harder for a Left-wing candidate to win.

John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor and a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, said the plan to abandon the “one member, one vote” system introduced under Ed Miliband was a “huge mistake”.

Sir Keir is facing a frontbench rebellion against the reforms, after a close ally of his deputy, Angela Rayner, called them "regressive".

The Labour leader was scheduled to meet trade unions on Wednesday to discuss whether they will support him at this year’s party conference, which begins on Saturday. Unite, Labour’s largest financial backer, is expected to vote against him.

Mr McDonnell told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday: “Our constituents are facing a Universal Credit cut in a few weeks’ time … many of them a public-sector pay freeze, energy prices going up, inflation going up and in the real world that’s what we should be addressing.

“Then to go into a Labour conference … and this is the first conference coming together physically as a result of Covid … to then concentrate on internal, factional disputes, it’s just not what people expected from Keir.

“Look at the contrast in the media. You have Boris Johnson strutting the world stage, doing deals with [Joe] Biden and other world leaders. What do we have? The Labour leader in grubby stitch-up deals. It’s unacceptable.”

The Labour leader's office believes returning to an "electoral college" system will help maintain the moderates' control of the party, after thousands of Corbynites joined and swung the party to the Left.

But MPs and shadow ministers in Sir Keir's own team oppose the move, believing it represents an undemocratic power grab.

Sam Tarry, a shadow transport minister and close ally of Ms Rayner, said: "As a committed trade unionist and having campaigned for electoral reform for many years, I cannot support a regressive plan to dilute Labour members' votes and divide our movement.

"We are one party and should all have an equal say in choosing who leads any Labour government."

Ms Rayner has not commented publicly on the plans, but could open a rift at the top of the party if she opposes them.

Rachael Maskel, the shadow charities minister, has also said she is against the rule change.

Sir Keir sought to head off criticism that he was attempting to expunge the Labour Left.

“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 said.

“These are two things that have got to change if we are serious about winning the next election.”

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