The Labour Party is facing a “civil war” over Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to reform the way the Labour leader is elected.
He is proposing the one member, one vote (OMOV) system is replaced with a return to the electoral college made up of the unions and affiliate organisations, MPs and party members.
The system was how Labour leaders were voted in before 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader following a groundswell of support from members from the left of the party, and Sir Keir’s allies blame OMOV for the party’s dysfunction under his predecessor.
Sir Keir has briefed the shadow cabinet and will put the plans to trade union leaders on Wednesday ahead of the Labour conference, which starts on Sunday.
“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,” Sir Keir said.
“These are two things that have got to change if we are serious about winning the next election.”
He is understood to favour all three parts of the electoral college having an equal vote share – which will reduce the weight of members’ votes.
This has caused anger on the left of the party, with warnings of a “civil war” erupting.
Former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is still an MP, said: “Removing the current system of electing Labour’s leader – again reducing the members’ vote to one third while increasing the vote of MPs to one third – would be deeply undemocratic.
“It’s time to stop attacking Labour members’ democratic rights – and take the fight to the Tories.”
Callum Bell, vice-chair of Momentum, the campaign group borne out of support for Mr Corbyn, said: “Any attempt to take these rule changes to conference would mark the start of a civil war in the party.”
Richard Burgon, secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said the electoral college system would “treat members with contempt and must be rejected as anti-democratic”.
Shadow cabinet member Rachael Maskell said as an MP she should have “no greater say” than other party members.
“The members are ultimately the party and they should equally elect their leader,” she said.
“OMOV is the most democratic system. Let’s respect our members, let’s respect party democracy.”
Sir Keir is also proposing reforming the reselection of parliamentary candidates and policy making processes.
“These rules won’t be presented on a take it or leave it basis. I am prepared to take suggestions and ideas, and have a conversation and to try and build consensus. But the principles are important to me,” Sir Keir said.
“I know that this is difficult – change always is – but I think these changes are vital for our party’s future.
“I have said I will make the Labour Party the party of working people, I am determined that the Labour Party I lead focuses on the country, on the concerns of voters, so we need party reforms that better connect us with working people and re-orient us toward the voters who can take us to power.”
Unite, Labour’s biggest donor, is opposed to the move, with general secretary Sharon Graham saying ditching the OMOV system would be “deeply disappointing”.
The TSSA transport union is also opposed, calling it the kind of policy “associated with Victorian Tories” and said they will vote against “this gerrymandering”.
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