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Electoral reform set to dominate Labour Conference policy moves

Labour Party annual Conference (Credit: Alan Beastall/Alamy Live News)

5 min read

In the latest issue of our magazine, a bumper edition for Labour Conference 2022, we offer key opposition party news from the policy motions drawing the attentions of delegates to the latest trigger ballot developments...

Activists have predicted that electoral reform will dominate as a policy issue in Liverpool, after more motions relating to proportional representation (PR) were submitted than any other kind ahead of Labour Conference.

Campaigners in favour of a move away from the current first past the post system for general elections point out that pro-PR motions have been the most popular topic among local parties for two years running.

Almost 80 per cent of local party delegates voted in favour of PR at the 2021 Conference in Brighton, but virtually all delegates representing affiliates voted against, which led to the motion being rejected.

As affiliated trade unions including Unison have changed their stances on electoral reform since last September, PR campaigners believe their motion will be passed by Conference this time around.

A spokesperson for the Labour for a New Democracy campaign group told The House: “There is clearly huge membership demand for Labour to back PR for Westminster elections – it’s unprecedented for so many policy motions to be sent two years in a row, and 60 per cent of all CLPs [Constituency Labour Parties] now have policy backing PR.”

The Liberal Democrats are thought likely to demand the introduction of PR without a referendum as the price of any deal to form a coalition government with Labour.

Conference is also likely to host debates on proposals including raising the minimum wage to £15 an hour and nationalising energy, mail and water – none of which are currently backed by the Labour leadership.

Starmer backs limits on local party delegations

Keir Starmer has supported moves to introduce a new limit on the size of local party delegations to Conference, via a rule change that would see no more than six members sent from each Constituency Labour Party.

Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), voted to put forward the constitutional amendment for approval at this year’s Conference. The vote saw 16 NEC members support the reform and 11 oppose it.

Another proposal being sent to Liverpool by the NEC will – if passed – force local parties to put in constitutional amendments one year in advance of Conference. Corbynite group Momentum described it as a “power grab”.

Rule changes agreed by Labour’s NEC are usually signed off by delegates. The party’s leadership has opted not to focus on reshaping the rulebook this year after enacting significant changes in 2021.

Sam Tarry speaks at CWU picket line (Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News)

Future of MP Sam Tarry uncertain amid selection battle

The political future of Sam Tarry, the left-wing Labour MP who faces a deselection battle, remains uncertain after the party suspended all meetings and campaigning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

All party branches in his Ilford South constituency voted to trigger a full selection process rather than automatically reselect Tarry as their candidate ahead of the next general election.

The results prompted a fresh contest, which was originally scheduled to conclude on 21 September – but with restrictions on party activities, Tarry will not now know his fate until after Conference. The final hustings will be held on 10 October.

The MP, who was sacked from the Labour front bench over statements to the media supporting rail strikes in July, faces a challenge from Redbridge council leader Jas Athwal.

Their rivalry goes back to Tarry’s selection in 2019, when Athwal was shortlisted – and considered a frontrunner – but was suspended from the party over allegations of sexual harassment shortly before the vote was due to take place.

Almost a year later, Labour’s top disciplinary body cleared Athwal of wrongdoing. Those close to him, including now-senior MP Wes Streeting, described the complaint as “malicious”, while Tarry called claims of a stitch-up “farcical”.

In the current race, Athwal backers stress that their candidate has the support of the Unison, Usdaw and Community trade unions. One supporter said: “Local support for him is real – he unites communities in Ilford.”

But a source close to Tarry told The House: “We’re quietly confident. We've had a good response from large sections of the membership.”

Apsana Begum, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, and Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, have also been triggered and will face full contests. Of these, Tarry is considered by party insiders to be the most likely to be deselected.

All three MPs have raised concerns over the procedures followed in their trigger ballots. In an interview with The House, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner revealed she had raised their concerns with general secretary David Evans.

Describing Tarry – who is on the left of the party – as “a fantastic MP for Ilford South”, Rayner said: “Attacking individuals because you don't like their political allegiances within the movement is really unhelpful.”

Labour MP Rosie Cooper to quit Parliament

Reporting by John Johnston

Labour MP Rosie Cooper has announced her intention to stand down in order to take up a new role as chair of an NHS trust.

Revealing her plan, the West Lancashire MP said she was “very sad” her time in Parliament was coming to an end. Her departure will now trigger a by-election this autumn.

Cooper was the target of an attemted murder plot in 2017 – neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw was handed a life sentence after he admitted buying a sword he planned to use in an attack on Cooper and a female police officer.

The MP said in a statement: "The events I have faced over the last few years are well-documented and undoubtedly have taken their toll.”

Cooper, who has held her seat since 2005, did not give a timeline for exiting Parliament, but a Labour source said the by-election was expected later in the autumn.

Leader Keir Starmer will hope to defend the West Lancashire seat, which has been held by his party since 1992. Cooper was re-elected with a majority of more than 8,000 in 2019.

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