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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Keir Starmer Accused Of “Mistaking Control For Unity” As Party Rows Continue To Bedevil Leadership

Labour appear on course to win the next election but face an internal row over selection of candidates to become an MP (Alamy)

4 min read

Tensions remain within the Labour party over the alleged “purging” of the left, despite a number of recent polls putting Labour on course to win the next general election.

At their annual party conference in Liverpool this week, the party have presented themselves as a confident government in waiting, with tensions between the leadership and further left factions of the party appearing to remain under wraps. 

But a senior source on Labour’s left said Keir Starmer and those around him in the leader’s office, known as LOTO, have “mistaken control for unity” amid rows over changes to the rules on how candidates to become an MP are selected that have led to accusations of a "stitch-up" by LOTO to prevent people from the party's left running to be MPs.

The source also accused Labour of being “the only party that celebrates its membership going down”, after figures earlier this year showed a fall of around 200,000 from its peak under Jeremy Corbyn.

A party insider familiar with Starmer's thinking said the measures are necessary to prepare for power and show the public they have moved on from the period under their former leader, which saw them slip to a historically bad defeat in 2019.

Since Starmer won the race to succeed Corbyn in 2020, the centre and right of the party have sought to seize back control and the levers of power within Labour, much to the anger of Momentum, the left-wing grassroots group which grew out of Corbyn’s first leadership campaign and came to dominate its internal politics.

This year’s conference in Liverpool has shown the grip Starmer’s supporters now have over the party. Whereas the leader was repeatedly heckled during his keynote address in Brighton last year, yesterday’s potentially controversial decision to sing the new national them to mark the start of King Charles’ reign passed without incident.

The change in the make-up of local constituency groups is also evident, with fewer left-wing delegates being sent to conference, and consequently many of their proposals being voted down before they even had a chance to make it onto the floor to be debated by members.

The source on Labour’s left said they feel people in LOTO are “driven by a fundamental hatred of the left”, and want to shut down any dissent.

“They are creating a hostile climate for people on the left, so no wonder so many have left,” they added.

Parliamentary selection has become the crunch issue, with Momentum crying foul that left-wing candidates are being squeezed out of shortlists in favour of those approved by LOTO, thanks to rule changes allowing a member of the ruling National Executive Committee, which has a pro-Starmer majority, to sit on local selection panels.

As well as selections there are also attempted deselections going on, with trigger ballots being held to try and remove left-wing MPs like Sam Tarry, Apsana Begum and Ian Byrne from their existing seats.

One Labour left source said it was a “handing over of the party to the political class”, and that anyone “who’s even soft left is getting purged”.

“Under Corbyn it was about putting left wingers onto MP shortlists, now it is about getting them off them”, they said.

The source added that they believed it is “also a problem for parliamentary democracy” if every MP is from the same section of the party, which they found to be “deeply worrying”.

In an interview with The House on the eve of Conference, deputy leader Angela Rayner said she didn't want to see Labour MPs being deselected, no matter which faction they belong to.

A senior figure within the party said there is an “understandable worry about making the party too homogenous” and only have MPs who nod through the leadership's policies.

But they told PoliticsHome the tighter control over Parliamentary selection "does need to happen” if Labour is going to all pull in one direction and win back the trust of voters.

“Getting rid of those 200,000 members was completely necessary, we had people who were racists who felt that they were comfortable being in the party, we needed to get rid of them and ensure that we were different,” they said.

“The fact is that in 2021 we lost the Hartlepool by election, and that shows the voters had not returned that trust yet, so this is about showing that we are different from the party under Jeremy Corbyn, and that's why it's necessary.”

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