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Starmer's reform plans expose not just his politics but his competence

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22.09.2021

When Keir Starmer held his crunch meeting on his Labour reform plans, the distance between him and the trade union bosses wasn’t just because everyone was on Zoom. While there was no rancour, there was something a little more worrying: a united front from disparate unions, all agreed that this year’s conference was too soon for big changes.

The more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone of even friendly union general secretaries in Usdaw, Community and Unison made plain their discomfort at being bounced into long-lasting constitutional reforms. Shrewdly, Unite had picked up on the unease and proposed that more time was needed for momentous changes like a return to an electoral college for leadership elections.

In the week before the annual conference, the union meeting normally seeks consensus. Crucially, general secretaries are acutely aware of the huge power they have (50 per cent of the votes at conference, with 50 per cent for party members) over constitutional changes. When some in Jeremy Corbyn’s team pushed for mandatory reselection of sitting MPs in 2018, even the usually supportive Len McCluskey joined other union chiefs in coming up with a compromise instead.

This time, some unions were more concerned with practicalities, such as the sheer financial costs and practical difficulties they might be faced with if two million of their members were given ballot papers. And even unions friendly to Starmer worried that they were being lined up for the backlash if they supported the reform. “Why should they take the hit for Keir?” one insider said.........

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