Keir Starmer is a keen amateur footballer. It’s one of the few facts anyone knows about the Labour leader. He enjoys a game on his spare time, and on the campaign trail too. One person who played with him recently told me: ‘You can tell he plays a lot and takes it very seriously.’ What they couldn’t say was that he was very good at it.
Starmer is currently trying to play a political game by changing the rules for Labour’s leadership elections. It’s a big and serious move as it would make it harder for the party to go left when it picks his successor. It is therefore a confrontation with the left that some in his camp see as Starmer’s Kinnock moment (more on this from Katy in this week’s magazine).
When you play a game this risky in politics, you generally want to be sure that you are going to win. And it’s not clear that Starmer is going to. He could have at least started by checking the rules.
On Friday night his plan suffered a setback when he decided not to push his plans for party voting reform to a vote at Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee. Sources close to the leader say that discussions are ongoing – he could still put the reform to a vote on Saturday morning.
What’s caused this setback? There has been a great deal of resentment among all the trade unions that Starmer bounced them by announcing these plans at shadow cabinet on Tuesday without doing any preparatory work. But the talks today and earlier in the week have also struggled with what Starmer is actually trying to negotiate. This is another rather clumsy way of playing with trade unions, who spend their lives negotiating.
Starmer’s supporters say that this rule change is necessary on a policy level, but also politically as it sends a signal that he is moving the party away from the Corbyn era for good. But others in the party are furious that he’s started conference season with an internal row on voting reform. One fumes: ‘They and their stupid ideas have torpedoed Labour conference… Keir doesnt need to fuck around with the internal party. He won a landslide and he doesnt have any hostility in anywhere near the same way [as Corbyn].’ To make this kind of criticism and angst worth it, it’s generally a good idea to be as sure as possible that you’re going to win first.