Sir Keir Starmer to push for new Labour leadership election rules to stop another Jeremy Corbyn

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Sir Keir Starmer - Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Sir Keir Starmer - Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to overhaul the Labour election rules that swept Jeremy Corbyn to power, prompting warnings from the Left that he risks "signing his own death warrant".

In a move described by allies as a "transformative moment", Sir Keir on Tuesday confirmed that he would reverse reforms introduced by Ed Miliband and designed to give Labour members more say over their next leader.

Under the changes, which he will seek to force through at Labour's annual conference next week, party members would in future wield just one third of the votes, with MPs and trade unions having the other two thirds.

It would ditch the "one member, one vote" system introduced by Mr Miliband in 2014, which sought to break the stranglehold of the trade union movement over the party.

Labour moderates have long argued for a return to the old electoral college system, as it would diminish the prospect of another hard-Left candidate being swept to power by grassroots members – as happened with Mr Corbyn in 2015.

Sir Keir will also seek to undo changes introduced by Mr Corbyn which made it easier for local Labour parties to deselect their MPs, as well as giving party conference delegates less sway over policy making.

Briefing shadow cabinet ministers on the plans on Tuesday, Sir Keir said: "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. These are two things that have got to change if we are serious about winning the next election."

He will present the plans to trade unions on Wednesday, to the party's ruling national executive committee on Friday, and later to party delegates in Brighton for approval.

However, the overhaul has prompted warnings of a new "civil war", with former Corbynite frontbenchers John McDonnell, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon denouncing it as an attack on party democracy.

Mr Corbyn, who remains suspended from the parliamentary party, called the move "deeply undemocratic", adding: "It's time to stop attacking Labour members' democratic rights and take the fight to the Tories."

Jeremy Corbyn - Tolga Akmen/AFP
Jeremy Corbyn - Tolga Akmen/AFP

On Tuesday, one insider warned that Sir Keir would be signing his "death warrant" if he pushed ahead with the plans. The move also risks splitting Sir Keir's front bench, with Rachael Maskell, a shadow culture minister, publicly declaring her opposition and one frontbencher telling The Telegraph it was "highly contentious".

Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, has so far refused to publicly back the plan, with speculation mounting that she could intervene to thwart it.

While it was claimed on Tuesday that she would fall in behind the leader, it is understood that she was blindsided by the plans, with a number of her allies furious that the move risks overshadowing the conference.

Sharon Graham, the new leader of Unite – Labour's biggest financial backer – has emailed MPs to condemn the proposal as "unfair, undemocratic and a backwards step", while the TSSA transport union described the move as "gerrymandering".

It was confirmed last night that Ms Graham would not be attending the five-day conference in Brighton as she had chosen to be “on the picket lines” instead. Her non-attendance comes on the back of increasingly bitter relations between Unite and Labour following Jeremy Corbyn’s departure, with the union recently cutting affiliation funding to the party.

While Ms Graham has made no secret of her desire to distance the union from internal party politics, the move suggests relations are unlikely to improve under her leadership.

However, in a statement released last night, Ms Graham insisted “emphatically that this is not a snub to Keir Starmer”, adding that it was “simply a question of deciding on priorities”.

“I am literally only four weeks into my leadership and my job has to be focused on defending workers,” she said. “I had a useful meeting with Keir earlier this week and told him it was unlikely I would be at Conference. I said I would be doing the day job to try to make sure workers don’t pay the price of the pandemic”.

Unite and TSSA will join the Communication Workers Union to try and kill off the plan on Wednesday, although insiders believe Unison, GMB and Usdaw, the shopkeepers' union, may provide Sir Keir with the votes he needs to push the plan through.

Allies of the Labour leader insisted he would not back down, with several comparing his position to Neil Kinnock's stand against the Left during the 1980s as he sought to make Labour electable again.

"It is showing a huge amount of courage and asking for a big change without knowing whether it will be delivered," one said. "Keir isn't going into this thinking it's a walkover. That shows some admirable courage and leadership that the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and the public will welcome."

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