Starmer moves to change Labour system for selecting leader

Proposal to abolish one-member, one-vote arrangement draws angry response from left

Keir Starmer is pushing for the abolition of the Labour Party's one-member, one-vote system for choosing the party leader and to replace it with an electoral college dominated by MPs and trade unions.

The proposal, which the party leader hopes to put to Labour’s annual conference in Brighton next week, has drawn an angry response from the left.

The current system, which allows the entire party membership to choose from candidates nominated by MPs, was introduced in 2014 and saw the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader the following year. Sir Keir, who was elected under the same system in 2020, wants to bring back an electoral college that would give MPs, unions and party members one-third of the votes each.

“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,” he told the shadow cabinet on Tuesday.


“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.”

MPs on the left of the party condemned the proposal as an assault on internal democracy, calling for it to be rejected. Rachel Maskell, a shadow culture minister, was among those to criticise it.

“As a Labour MP, I should have no greater say in leadership elections than other Labour members. The members are ultimately the party and they should equally elect their leader. OMOV [one member, one vote] is the most democratic system. Let’s respect our members, let’s respect party democracy,” she said.

Some union leaders joined in the criticism, with Unite's general secretary Sharon Graham calling it unfair and undemocratic and the TSSA's [Transport Salaried Staffs' Association] general secretary Manuel Cortes describing it as gerrymandering.

Pledge to unite party

Sir Keir was elected on a platform that promised to unite Labour and to retain the policy positions the party campaigned on under Mr Corbyn in 2017 and 2019. But he has been in conflict with the left over a number of issues, including Mr Corbyn’s loss of the party whip for refusing to apologise for suggesting that some accusations of anti-Semitism against his leadership were politically motivated.

Momentum, the grassroots group established to support Mr Corbyn's leadership, said the proposal showed Sir Keir's promises about party unity were "barefaced lies" and warned of "civil war" if he proceeded.

"Any attempt to take these rule changes to conference would mark the start of a civil war in the party. Grassroots members will have no choice but to mobilise all our strength to fight back against this bureaucratic attack. Conference will get very messy, very fast – and there is no saying who will come out on top," said Momentum's vice-chairman Callum Bell.

“This marks a new low in Starmer’s leadership. Clearly, all his pledges of unity and left-wing policy made during the leadership campaign were barefaced lies. Starmer holds the membership in contempt. And still, we’re six points behind the Tories.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times