Mon, 20 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Shadow Ministers Say Keir Starmer's Leadership Rule Change Is Vital For Getting Back Into Power

Starmer Rayner

4 min read

Members of Keir Starmer's shadow cabinet have defended the Labour leader's controversial move to change how the party's leadership contests work, with one telling PoliticsHome the current proposal don't go far enough.

This evening party members who are gathered for Labour Party Conference in Brighton will vote on measures drawn up by Starmer after negotiations with unions that will raise the threshold for how many Labour MP nominations a prospective leadership candidate must receive in order to stand in a contest.

Critics of the move, which include MPs and figures on the left of the party, argue it is designed to stop a populist Jeremy Corbyn-style candidate from competing in a future contest.

However, Starmer and his allies argue it is a key part of his plan to put Labour more in touch with the public and give the party a better chance of winning the next general election. 

Bridget Philipson, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told PoliticsHome Sunday Lunch Live conference fringe event that the proposals, which will be voted on early this evening, would mean she could spend less time dealing with internal party members and more time talking to voters.

"I recall back in 2019 spending a very long time talking to my members in the run-up to what was likely to be an early general election," the MP for Houghton and Sunderland South said.

"I love talking to them, they're a great bunch of people.

"But that was the point at which I should have spent a lot more time talking to my voters.

"We have to have a very real focus as a party on winning back those people who have lost faith in the Labour Party and forming the next government. Those changes will allow that to happen."

Her colleague Stephen Kinnock, the shadow foreign minister, said he wished Starmer's divisive original proposal, which would have seen the one member one vote system abolished and replaced by an Electoral College, was being voted on, but described the plan being voted on today as an "improvement."

"If you have a set of rules which don't connect you as closely as possible to the electorate then you're not saying we are serious about being a party of government," the MP for Aberavon said.

"You're saying we are more serious about having a very internalised way of making some of these very big decisions.

"It's the right thing to do and the package we will be voting on later is an improvement on where we are but the electoral college would be better."

In the same event, Kinnock said the Conservatives were outperforming Labour when it comes communicating to the public and that Labour MPs needed to get better at putting across clear messages.

"Their [the Tories] message discipline is extraordinary," he said.

"The Conservatives have a way of boiling things down to three words and they'll repeat them.

"We have all stood in the chamber and you know that each one of their MPs has got a brief — and not only do they have it, they use it."

He added: "We love our colleagues in the parliamentary Labour Party dearly but they're more into poetry than prose. They like to get up and riff off different things, whereas the Tories are absolutely on message all the time.

"We have to learn that message discipline because there is a lot of noise out there and in order to cut through we need to stay on a small number of compelling messages."

The event got underway a few hours after the Mail on Sunday reported that Conservative MP James Gray upset female Tory MPs by joking that a bomb should be planted in the office of Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chair.

Gray said the remark made in a Whatsapp group of Conservative MPs was "foolish" and that "I meant no offence and hope none was taken."

Philipson told PoliticsHome that Gray should make a full apology but stopped short of calling for the Conservative party to remove the whip from the MP for North Wiltshire. 

"In the first instance I hope he would reflect on what he said and recognise it’s not an appropriate comment offer a full apology, and then we [Labour] can look at it," she said.

"Clearly thinks it’s something that’s funny," Philipson added.

"It very much is not funny. MPs right across the house have faced abuse and intimidation. Security steps have been necessary because of the very example he offered.

"He should absolutely apologise. It’s not acceptable.”

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