Keir Starmer this evening managed to scrape through his reforms to how Labour elects its leader. The victory follows a very passionate debate at the party's conference over the policy, which will raise the qualifying threshold of support from MPs in leadership elections from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. It also drops registered supporters, who could join by paying just £3, from being able to vote in leadership elections and introduces a cut-off date for membership when a contest begins. The idea is that when there is a new leadership contest after Starmer, Labour won’t end up electing a fringe candidate. In other words, it is designed to stop another Jeremy Corbyn.
The conference held a card vote – meaning delegates' votes were counted individually rather than the conference chair taking a show of hands – and the result was 53.67 per cent in favour to 46.33 per cent against.
Starmer’s allies are saying that he pursued something that others had been telling him to abandon, and that he won the day. But these were not the reforms the Labour leader had originally proposed: Starmer wanted to scrap one member, one vote and move back to the electoral college system for leadership elections. It was a narrow win too. The debate in the run-up to the vote did not sound positive for Starmer. The number of speeches against the rule change vastly outweighed those in favour. There were standing ovations in favour of a number of those speakers who opposed the rule change. The trade unions complained that they had been 'bounced' into it, with representatives from Unite, the CWU and FBU all saying the leadership had not sought consensus for the reforms, nor had it consulted properly.
So if Starmer set out to define himself through a fight with the left of the party and the trade unions, he has hardly marked his authority, even in victory. He stirred up a big noisy fight, had to concede massively, and only just managed to scrape it through. That's probably not the outcome a leader seeking to win would want.