Michael Settle: Disunity is deeply rooted in Labor DNA


There is often a fine line in politics between being brave and being stupid. The results determine whether a risky strategy ultimately falls into the first category or the second.

This weekend, as the comrades gather on the Sussex coast for their first annual conference in two eventful years, Keir Starmer decided to make a big bet and lost.

The Labor knight chose to make a Blair and fight with his own party to show who’s boss.

Ahead of the conference, he caught his colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet by surprise by revealing his desire to change the rules on how the party elects its leader; return to an electoral college to give more votes to MPs and unions and prevent a radical left like Jeremy Corbyn from regaining control of the party.

A senior Starmer supporter explained: “It is true that we are ‘decorating’ the party. We have to do this if we are to survive and this is just another step on this path to be seen as a credible governing party again.

There is something of historical irony in Sir Keir’s strategy. In 1981, it was left winger Tony Benn who pleaded for an electoral college on One Member One Vote[OMOV] give more voice to unions and less to deputies.

Labor leader at the time, Michael Foot, wanted MPs to have 50% of the vote but, after much wrangling, it was decided that unions would get the lion’s share at 40%, MPs and party members each having 30%.

In 2014, under the leadership of Ed Miliband, OMOV was massively adopted to strengthen democracy within the party; Labor supporters could register to vote for the price of a cappuccino. Unintended consequences led to Corbyn’s election a year later.

Five years later, Labor’s swerve to the left ended in dismal failure; his biggest electoral defeat since 1935.

But in his drive to make the party less radical, Starmer chose the wrong fight because his strategy not only alienated his left-wing detractors, as expected, but also his right-wing supporters.

The ever-helpful former shadow chancellor John McDonnell pointed out that Keir had not mentioned the change in Labor voting rules during his own leadership campaign and warned that he ‘s’ exposed to accusations of dishonesty ”and looked“ dirty ”.

Sharon Graham, the new leader of Unite – Labor’s biggest donor – called the decision to end OMOV “unjust, undemocratic and a step backwards”.

Even allies like Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, have made their opposition clear, while Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar euphemistically said he “doesn’t think this should be our goal”.

Starmer hedged his bets after a negative meeting with union leaders, insisting, “It was never a take it or leave it conversation. I continue to accept suggestions.

Getting the support of Unison, GMB and Usdaw was seen as essential, but it never materialized. At another meeting on Friday, an insider claimed the party leader had received a “dismemberment”.

To make matters worse, her deputy Angela Rayner was not in favor, believing – understandably – that, given the ongoing energy crisis, looming Conservative tax hikes and the removal of the increase of universal credit, Keir should not fight with his comrades but with the enemy: the conservative government.

A theme eagerly echoed by the ghost of Christmas Past, Corbyn, who remains an independent MP after losing the whip on anti-Semitism but who is still a member of the Labor Party.

The ex-leader, who is expected to speak on the sidelines of the conference, said under his successor “the Labor Party supports rather than challenge our broken political and economic system”.

Yesterday morning it was clear; without friends, Starmer’s constituency plan was, as the Corbynite Momentum campaign cheerfully put it, “dead.”

During a media tour, Rayner did his best to focus on Labor’s offer on a ‘new deal’ for workers, including improvements to pay, job security and employment. equality. But his leader’s lack of judgment could not be avoided.

A party source tried to limit the damage, explaining how Starmer would still implement reforms of the ruling National Executive Committee to “better connect us with workers and redirect us to voters who can bring us to power.”

These include: increasing the threshold for future leadership candidates to be elected with the need for 25% instead of 10% of deputy nominations; making it more difficult to deselect sitting MPs and abolish the policy of registered supporters.

“We are satisfied with where we have come from,” said the spokesperson for the leader.

But an exasperated MP moaned, “This is a total disaster. When we are supposed to reconnect with people who work, we have a punch with ourselves. ”

In his 12,000-word opus, The Road Ahead, Starmer sets out his vision for Britain, promoting Labor as an agent of change and focusing on the reassuring slogan of ‘security and opportunity’.

As the Labor leader focuses on winning over lost voters, he rushes to the center of the pitch, abandoning any notion of Corbynite nationalization while being very friendly with the business world.

Starmerism is starting to sound a bit like New Labor 2.0, which is why the Socialist campaign group of Labor MPs is pushing their leader to show more substance and less sound phrases.

His inverted ferret on the constituency means Starmer – also facing flash points over Labor’s stance on trans rights, climate change and tackling anti-Semitism – needs a powerful speech on Wednesday, focusing on the needs of voters as a harsh winter approaches.

Pushing his constituency plan, the leader complained that the current party rules “focus on ourselves to spend too much time talking with and about ourselves.” A little self-awareness wouldn’t hurt.

As Starmer arrived at the conference yesterday, posing for photos, reporters barked why he had “backed down” and if he was having an “embarrassing start”. The party leader smirked, responding: “It’s absolutely fantastic to be here in Brighton.”

I’m afraid all the conferences will prove once again this week that disunity is written in Labor’s DNA.

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