Sir Keir Starmer’s high stakes over Labour’s future – Bill Carmichael

SIR Keir Starmer has one of the toughest jobs in politics – making the Labour Party electable again after the madness of the Corbyn years.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is preparing for a pivotal party conference in Brighton, starting this weekend.

Whether you are a Labour supporter or not, you should wish him well in that endeavour, because a strong and effective opposition that offers a viable alternative to the current government is an essential plank of a healthy democracy.

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And this weekend is a crucial stage in that recovery as it marks Labour’s first face-to-face party conference since Sir Keir became leader.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is preparing for a pivotal party conference in Brighton, starting this weekend.

In fact it is conceivable, although unlikely, that it could be the last Labour conference before the next General Election. The Government is currently repealing the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – a move that would restore powers to the Prime Minister to call an election at the time of his choosing, rather than waiting until May 2024.

So, Sir Keir may have only one chance to get it right before voters have to decide whether they can trust the Labour Party again. The stakes are high.

There are some signs for optimism. After months in the doldrums Labour is performing slightly better in the opinion polls, and some surveys actually put it ahead of the Conservatives for the first time since the 2019 General Election.

Sir Keir Starmer succeeded Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader under the 'one member one vote' system that he wishes to reform.

The Government’s ill-advised massive tax increases – breaking solemn election promises in the process – have proved predictably unpopular, and Boris Johnson’s long honeymoon with voters may be coming to an end.

It presents a good opportunity for an agile and vigorous opposition to make some real headway against Johnson’s government during what may prove to be a tough winter, particularly with a looming energy crisis.

And Sir Keir appears to have learned some important lessons from his past mistakes. Don’t forget that during the last election he was the architect of Labour’s disastrously ambiguous policy towards Brexit, which was a key factor in the fall of “red wall” Labour seats to the Conservatives in the North and Midlands.

Very wisely this time around Sir Keir has ditched any notion of re-running the 2016 referendum, or ignoring the vote, or rejoining the EU. Brexit is done and dusted and under the current leadership Labour will not be reopening that old wound.

But the challenges facing Sir Keir are formidable. One of his bold ideas to restore sanity to the party is to ditch the one member, one vote (OMOV) system of electing the party leader, in favour of an electoral college, which would restore much power to the party’s MPs.

OMOV was introduced by the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in 2015, and was seen at the time as a way of reducing trade union influence in the party, but it proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

Anyone prepared to pay the £3 membership fee could join the party and have a vote on the leader, and this opened the door wide open.

It led directly to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. I know of several decidedly right of centre people who joined the party and voted for Corbyn “for the LOLS” as one explained to me.

It also led to a withering and humiliating report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that condemned Labour for failing to deal with anti-Semitism, and ultimately to a disastrous showing in the 2019 General Election – the party’s worst result since 1935.

To repair that terrible damage to the party’s reputation is going to be a tough job, and Sir Keir needs the free hand the removal of OMOV would give him.

But already there are signs of opposition from the far left, such as Corbyn and the Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, and more importantly from several trade unions.

Without some big trade union support, Sir Keir is unlikely to get his plan through and risks a humiliating defeat.

That would be a pity. The party is at a crossroads, and the scale of the 2019 defeat, and the abandonment of its working class supporters, should be a loud wake up call.

It urgently needs to re-focus its efforts on the issues that really matter to potential voters – jobs, wages, tax, housing, crime, education, health and transport.

One thing is for sure, if delegates continue ignoring voters and instead keep waving Palestinian flags and obsessing over transgender issues, the party is condemning itself to complete irrelevance.

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