Published: 09:25, 25 September 2021
| Updated: 11:02, 25 September 2021
Sir Keir Starmer’s bid to reform Labour’s leadership election rules appeared “dead” on Saturday as his deputy confirmed his electoral college proposal will not be put to the party’s autumn conference.
In a proposal that had divided the party and sparked talk of a “civil war” with the left in the build-up to its Brighton conference, the Labour leader was understood to be pushing to scrap the system which was used to elect both him and Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
With trade unions failing to back the move during crunch talks this week, the Opposition leader seems to have heavily watered down his reforms, which are due to be discussed by the party’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), on Saturday.
My understanding is that the electoral college is not coming to the NEC, so therefore that wouldn’t (be voted on at conference)
Deputy leader Angela Rayner said it was her understanding that the electoral college idea would not be discussed at the NEC meeting, so would not be voted on by delegates at the party conference this weekend.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether leader Sir Keir’s proposals were likely to be voted on at conference, Ms Rayner added: “Some will, some won’t because that’s the natural rhythm of how conference works.”
Pressed on whether the reforms for how a future leader is elected will be voted on, she replied: “My understanding is that the electoral college is not coming to the NEC, so therefore that wouldn’t.”
Under the original proposal, the one member, one vote (OMOV) system would have been replaced with a return to the electoral college made up of the unions and affiliate organisations, MPs and party members.
Sir Keir was understood to favour the three parts of the electoral college having an equal share of the vote, meaning Labour’s 400,000 members would have the same weighting of the vote as the party’s 199 MPs.
Instead, the PA news agency understands those plans have been diluted, although party sources insisted there would still be “significant changes” put forward.
A Labour spokesman said: “Keir said on Tuesday it wasn’t a take it or leave it deal.
“That’s how we’ve approached it and we’re pleased with where we’ve ended up.”
PA news agency understands the leadership rule changes which will be discussed by the NEC will include raising the amount of Labour MP support a candidate requires to get onto the leadership ballot from 10% to 25%, and abandoning registered supporter involvement.
Under the proposals, members will also need to have been signed up for six months to be allowed to vote in a future leadership contest.
Sir Keir also wants to make it more difficult to deselect MPs by raising the threshold for triggering a selection contest, with 50% of local branches in the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and affiliated union and socialist groups needing to back such a move.
Under the current rules, an MP selection race can be ignited if only one third of CLP branches or affiliated groups is in favour.
In a statement, left-wing campaign group Momentum vowed to fight against the fresh proposals.
Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and Momentum’s national co-ordinating group, said: “The central measure of Keir Starmer’s attack on democracy has comprehensively failed. The electoral college is dead.
“Now to make sure all the other regressive rule changes concocted by the leadership share the same fate.
“From trigger ballot changes to increases in the MP nomination threshold ahead, they all need to go in the bin.”
The reforms are unlikely to be the only controversial issue debated by delegates on the south coast.
Other conference flashpoints for the leader could include rows over Labour’s position on trans rights, commitments on tackling climate change and changes mandated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission after its investigation into antisemitism.
Of the various motions covering 50 different areas up for discussion, one is on the decriminalisation of drugs, referencing the Portuguese model of seeing addiction as a health issue.
On Thursday, Sir Keir expressed support for a decision to relax drug laws for those found in possession of class A substances in Scotland.
Some 139 local party groups also submitted motions pushing for Labour to support a change to a proportional representation electoral system.
This was backed by pressure group Compass in a report released ahead of the conference.
Ms Rayner will open the conference on Saturday by launching a Green Paper on Employment Rights.
Improving wages, job security and rights at work will improve productivity as well as the health of workers, she will say.
Sir Keir will make a speech on Wednesday, having released a document running to more than 11,500 words where he said the party cannot “wait around for the public to decide we are right” and must instead grasp the opportunities the current political atmosphere provides.