Keir Starmer seals narrow victory to implement Labour leadership reforms

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Sir Keir had been forced to water down his package of proposals after a bruising encounter with trade unions last week - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph
Sir Keir had been forced to water down his package of proposals after a bruising encounter with trade unions last week - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

Sir Keir Starmer’s changes to the party rules were narrowly voted through by activists on Sunday following a bitter row that threatened to overshadow the Labour party conference.

The Labour leader made a major gamble to overhaul key parts of the rulebook in order to curb the influence of the Left, which ended in partial success.

Reforms to increase the threshold of support leadership candidates need from Labour MPs and which also make it harder for local parties to deselect sitting MPs were backed 53.7 per cent to 46.3 per cent.

The motions were passed following a tense debate, during which heckling and booing took place in the hall during speeches.

Megan Clarke, of the Warwick and Leamington Labour Party, criticised the changes that mean leadership candidates need to gain the backing of 20 per cent of MPs, up from 10 per cent, saying it would “limit the ability of the Left of the party to lead us in the future”.

She said the move “disrespected” the rights of the party membership.

Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, at the party conference - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph
Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, at the party conference - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

Sir Keir had been forced to water down his package of proposals after a bruising encounter with trade unions last week.

He abandoned a bid to replace the “one member, one vote” system to elect party leaders with a return to the old electoral college, which awarded an equal share of votes to the unions, the parliamentary party and the membership.

A separate move to introduce a new independent disciplinary process to deal with anti-Semitism cases passed 73.6 per cent to 26.4 per cent on Sunday night.

Ruth Smeeth, a former Labour MP and a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, told the conference that racists who had joined the party and tried to “break” Jewish members had “failed”.

However, an altercation on the fringes of the conference at an event on Jewish matters threatened to provoke a row.

Tony Greenstein, a former Labour member who was previously expelled from the party in the wake of anti-Semitism allegations, was accused of “assaulting” Theo Usherwood, the political editor of LBC radio.

Mr Usherwood said he was “forcibly expelled” after attempting to film an event hosted by the Left-wing Jewish Voice for Labour group, which is a rival to the Jewish Labour Movement. After tweeting about being removed, he was allowed back in.

On Sunday night, Sir Keir welcomed the party’s decision to endorse the rule changes put to the floor, remarking: “I’m delighted that these vital reforms have passed. They represent a major step forward in our efforts to face the public and win the next general election.

“This is a decisive and important day in the history of the Labour Party. I promised to tackle anti-Semitism in our party. We’ve now closed the door on a shameful chapter in our history. I want to acknowledge the courage of all the people who spoke up against it.”

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Manchester who has a rival powerbase within the party, appeared to criticise the timing of the row over the party rule changes.

He told the BBC: “People are not interested in the minutiae of rule changes within political parties. I don’t think they ever have been, but they’re particularly not interested in that. Now, I think this conference should be all about turning outwards, and putting on the table a big alternative.”

An official on Labour’s ruling national executive committee on Sunday disclosed that the party’s legal bills had rocketed from £200,000 a year before Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership to £2 million a year today.

The party has fought, and is engaged in, a number of high-profile legal disputes in recent years.

Johanna Baxter, a national executive committee representative, blamed “mismanagement” for the situation and said the high legal fees were the reason the party was being forced to undergo staffing cuts.

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