Keir Starmer ‘games with democracy’ prompt walkout

Labour NEC members claim party leader bending rules for ally Margaret Beckett

Left-wingers on Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) staged a virtual walkout on Tuesday, accusing Keir Starmer of promoting factional division within the party. They claimed the Labour leader had bent the rules to ensure his ally Margaret Beckett would become chair of the NEC, passing over outgoing vice-chair Ian Murray from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

The walkout meant that Dame Margaret, who was first elected to the committee since 1980, was elected unanimously. The members who walked out said her election breached a protocol under which the role should pass to the vice-chair. But Sir Keir’s allies said that, until 2017, the longest-serving NEC member automatically assumed the chair.

Mish Rahman, a member of Momentum newly elected to the NEC, linked the Labour leader's actions to his decision to withhold the party whip from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn over remarks about anti-Semitism in the party.

“Yet again Starmer is trying to play games with democracy and undermine the role of trade unions within our party. This latest factional attack fits a worrying pattern of control-freakery reminiscent of the New Labour years,” he said.


‘Party unity’

“There can be no party unity until Starmer fully understands the need to work with the labour movement and the many tens of thousands of grassroots members who can help deliver a Labour government. Our walkout today was to remind him of this, and to send a message that we will not put up with petty and repeated attacks on trade unions and members.”

First elected to parliament in 1974, Dame Margaret started out on the left of the party, backing Tony Benn for the deputy leadership in 1981. But she later backed Neil Kinnock's leadership and was Labour's deputy leader under John Smith's leadership. She held a number of cabinet positions under Tony Blair, including foreign secretary.

Whip to Corbyn

Many of those who walked out of the NEC meeting were signatories to a letter calling on Sir Keir to restore the whip to Mr Corbyn following his readmittance to Labour membership earlier this month. But Labour chief whip Nick Brown has told Mr Corbyn that he must first apologise for suggesting that political opponents had overstated the scale of anti-Semitism in the party and remove a Facebook post in which he made the statement.

Former shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said she understood "where Keir is coming from" on the issue but would like to see the whip restored to Mr Corbyn.

“We do need to recognise how much we failed and how we did not stand up for the Jewish community sufficiently strongly . . . I thought deeply about whether I had done enough and whether I could have done more. And I think that Keir was the same. I think that Jeremy should have also approached it in that spirit,” she told Times Radio.

“I’d love to get him back into the Labour Party but I do think we need to get round this problem and hopefully it will get sorted out.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times