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Unions urge Labour leadership to reconsider ‘reckless’ plans to overhaul party democracy

MAJOR trade unions urged the Labour leadership today to reconsider “reckless” plans to overhaul the internal voting system “while members’ backs are turned.” 

Labour’s governing body, the national executive committee (NEC), is to consider this week switching its voting system for party representatives from first-past-the-post to single transferable vote. 

The move has sparked anger from individual members and trade unions, who say that the changes are being carried out “behind closed doors” while members are focused on the pandemic. 

Four party members have sent a legal letter to Labour outlining intentions to challenge the NEC should it switch the system without first going to conference. 

The four argue that the change amounts to a “constitutional amendment,” which, according to the party rule book, should be approved by conference. 

One of the signatories, Sophia Bolton, said: “It is utterly wrong to propose sneaking through sweeping changes to our party’s constitution while our backs are turned. Party rules are clear that they can only be changed at annual conference.”

Left Labour-affiliated unions Unite, BFAWU, Aslef and FBU threw their weight behind the members’ initiative today, branding the proposed overhaul “reckless.”

They said in a statement: “Many of our Labour-supporting members have been working on the front lines of an unprecedented and deadly pandemic and the composition of the Labour Party national executive will be far from their minds. 

“Factional manoeuvrings during such an extraordinary time undermines [Labour leader] Keir Starmer’s firm commitment to lead a plural, broad-church party.”

Mr Starmer is understood to support the change, according to Labour List. Moving away from first-past-the-post has also been promoted by MP Clive Lewis, who claims the current system “encourages a culture of ‘winner takes all,’ stitch-ups and diktats.”

Left Labour activists contend that changing the system would effectively prevent left candidates being elected to the NEC. 

Writing in Tribune, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said that attempts to change procedures within the party are often “a proxy for much broader conversations about Labour’s soul.”

“Labour supporters are fed up of infighting,” he wrote. “It has dominated five years and cannot be allowed to dominate more. Those supporters welcomed Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign pledge to lead a unified party.

“Changing the system without the proper process would fly in the face of such promises.”

The NEC has 38 seats, of which nine are held by constituency Labour Party members. 

The party was contacted for comment. 

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