Labour’s annual conference has backed Keir Starmer’s call to change how the party leader is chosen and to make it harder for local constituency parties to deselect their MPs. But the conference has been overshadowed by rows over Sir Keir’s abandonment of a promise to nationalise Britain’s energy industry and deputy leader Angela Rayner’s description of Conservative ministers as “scum”.
Delegates backed the rule changes after Sir Keir ditched a proposal to replace the one-member-one-vote system for choosing the party leader with an electoral college made up of MPs, trade unions and party members. They agreed that leadership candidates will need the support of 20 per cent of MPs, rather than 10 per cent at present, to get on the ballot for members’ votes.
The changes, which also require members to have been in the party for more than six months before voting for the leader, drew criticism from the left of the party, which accused the leadership of grabbing power from the members. Sir Keir angered the left further on Sunday when he said he would not nationalise energy companies, some of which have gone out of business because of a sharp rise in gas prices.
“When it comes to common ownership, I’m pragmatic about it,” he told the BBC.
“Let me spell it out. What that means is that where common ownership is value for money for the taxpayer and delivers a better service, then I’m in favour of common ownership.”
Sir Keir’s 10 pledges when he campaigned for the leadership last year included a promise to “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”.
The Labour leader rejected criticism that he had failed to engage more emotionally with voters and that his lack of showmanship put him at a disadvantage against Boris Johnson.
“It’s priced in, apparently, that he is dishonest. Just stop there and ask ourselves: do we want our politics, and our political leaders and our prime minster to be of a characteristic where they are untrustworthy, and where it’s priced in. I’m different, I’m afraid. I believe in integrity, I believe in truth,” he said.
Ms Rayner on Sunday refused to apologise for remarks at a fringe event at the conference when she described Mr Johnson’s cabinet as “a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian piece of scum”.
She told Sky News she had been trying to fire up activists by expressing her anger at the prime minister’s record of racist, homophobic and misogynist comments. “I will apologise when Boris apologises for saying the comments he has made,” she said.
Sir Keir distanced himself from Ms Rayner’s remarks, saying it was not language he would have used but he stopped short of calling on her to apologise.