Politics

Keir Starmer faces defeat over Labour rule changes after frosty reception from unions

Keir Starmer is facing the prospect of defeat over his plans to change Labour leadership election rules after he failed to secure the backing of trade unions at crucial meeting.

The Labour leader met with union chiefs at the party’s trade union liaison committee on Wednesday and was hoping to secure their votes on Labour’s national executive committee and at conference next week.

But The Independent understands that all unions in the room were either hesitant or outright opposed to the rule change, leaving Sir Keir with the option of either shelving the changes or losing the vote.

Under the proposals Labour would ditch the system of one-member-one-vote introduced by Ed Miliband in 2014 – under which Sir Keir himself and his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn was elected.

Instead, the party would move back to an electoral college system in which Labour MPs’ 199 votes held as much weight as its entire 430,000-strong membership.

Critics say the move is “gerrymandering” and a factional ploy to lock the party’s left out of power by concentrating power in the hands of MPs, but Sir Keir’s allies says MPs’ votes should count for more than ordinary members.

Yet sources familiar with the meeting say Sir Keir failed to even secure the support of moderate-led unions such as USDAW and Community, traditional allies of the Labour right who he would need to pass the changes.

One key union, GMB did not even attend the gathering. It is understood that general secretary Gary Smith could not attend as he already had plans to meet with members in Yorkshire. One GMB source said: “He is very members-first.”

Some union chiefs are said to be particularly nonplussed at having the rule change sprung on them at the last minute, while one source on the Labour left described the electoral college plan as “dead”.

In a joint statement the Labour Party and Aslef’s Mick Whelan, the chair of committee said: “Keir Starmer and Labour’s affiliated Trade Union Leaders had a positive meeting this afternoon to discuss the rule changes that the Labour leader would like to bring to conference in Brighton.

“There was broad consensus on the need to refocus the Labour party on the country and concerns of working people. Discussions will continue.”

Sir Keir’s plans have been fiercely opposed by MPs on the party’s left wing, with veteran MP Jon Trickett saying on Tuesday that any such move was “a wrong-headed backwards step which ought to be rejected”.

To pass the proposals they would need to be approved by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee at a scheduled meeting on Friday. Sir Keir ordinarily has a majority on the committee for most business but relies on the support of moderate-led unions, who are not convinced of the plan.

If the plan makes it to conference the outcome is more uncertain as much would depend on the balance of forces among delegates, whose allegiances are not always obvious.

Issuing his own statement after the meeting Keir Starmer said: “Today’s TULO meeting was a welcome opportunity to set out some of the rule changes I believe will strengthen our party, our link with the unions and our ability to win the next election.

“We had a positive conversation and I look forward to continuing those conversations through the coming days because the principles are important and we have to look at how we need to change to win again.

“I said yesterday this was never a take it or leave it conversation. I am continuing to take suggestions and have discussions about how we do everything we need to in order to make the Labour Party the party of working people again.”

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