Labour: Keir Starmer forced to back down on major shake-up of leadership election process

Making headway at the Labour Party conference should have been easy amid food shortages and rising bills, reports ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks

Sir Keir Starmer had a tricky start to the Labour conference, after he was forced to water down proposals to amend the party’s leadership rules.

The Labour leader arrived in Brighton insisting the conference would be a chance to “set out our vision for the future” but had to back pedal.

Opposition from the unions and Labour’s left to proposals which would have dramatically increased MPs’ influence in the election of a new leader dealt a blow to Sir Keir.

A revised set of plans, which still amount to a significant shake-up and will face opposition from the left, has now been agreed by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee and will be put to the conference.

Sir Keir said: "I’m very pleased these party reforms have got the backing of our NEC.

"These proposals put us in a better position to win the next general election and I hope constituency and trade union delegates will support them when they come to conference floor."

Some of the Labour leader's proposals were not backed by unions Credit: PA

What had Sir Keir planned to change - and what could still change?

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 – each with an equal share.

Those plans were abandoned, although the revised proposals still amount to a significant shake-up and will face opposition from the left.

The package includes requiring candidates for leadership elections to have the support of 20% of MPs, up from the current 10% – Sir Keir had been understood to be pushing for 25%.

Sir Keir also wants members to have been signed up for six months to be allowed to vote in a future leadership contest and the “registered supporters” scheme which allowed people to pay £25 to vote in the 2020 contest would be dropped.

Who came out on top in the battle over leadership rule changes?

He 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.

The amount of policy motions considered at the party’s conference would also be reduced.

Sir Keir sought to put the row behind him as he arrived in Brighton for his first chance to address an in-person party conference as leader.

“We’re all really, really looking forward to this, our first chance to speak to the party in person and set out our vision for the future,” he said,

“We’re obviously in a crucial time for the country and this Government is letting people down so badly, whether it is hammering working people on tax and Universal Credit, whether it is shortages of food and fuel.”

In a statement, left-wing campaign group Momentum vowed to fight against the fresh proposals.

Keir Starmer joins Love Island star Amy Hart for a question and answer session with an audience of young people in Brighton. Credit: PA

Mish Rahman, a senior Momentum figure on Labour’s NEC said: “Changing the threshold like this will destroy the right of ordinary people to shape the future of the party.

“If this rule change passes, Labour will be well on its way to becoming the party of the Westminster elite.

“If the 20% threshold applied to the 2020 leadership election it would have been a contest between Sir Keir Starmer QC and Sir Keir Starmer QC.”

The reforms are unlikely to be the only controversial issue debated by delegates on the south coast.

The conference is a significant moment for Sir Keir’s leadership, with pressure certain to mount if he fails to make a major impression on the public.

Hoping to do just that, Sir Keir promised during the conference that a Labour government would reform the education system to ensure children are “well rounded” and “equipped for life”.

Labour would overhaul the curriculum in England, with a focus on digital skills, practical work and life skills, and sport and the arts. Over the long term – combined with professional careers advice – this would mean no young person would leave compulsory education without the qualifications needed, the party said. Sir Keir said: “Every child should leave education ready for work and ready for life.

In the latest policy promise, the party said it would reform the citizenship programme within the curriculum to include pension planning, understanding credit scores, and applying for a mortgage. Every child would have access to a device at home through a fund available to local authorities to replace laptops and tablets given out during the pandemic. There would also be £250 million available for councils to help the 65,000 16 to 17-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. A fortnight of work experience would also be made compulsory and young people would have access to a professional careers adviser.