Sadiq Khan refuses to back Sir Keir Starmer's Labour leadership rules change

Sadiq Khan – Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe

Sadiq Khan has refused to endorse Sir Keir Starmer's plans to change party leadership election rules – which have been described as a “power grab” – as the embattled Labour leader prepares for a conference showdown with the Left.

On Thursday, Mr Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, refused three times to back Sir Keir's plans, which would replace the “one member, one vote” system for electing Labour leaders with an electoral college expected to favour moderate candidates over Corbynites.

The plans have been condemned by the Labour Left, which has called them a “shameful, anti-democratic power grab by the leadership” that would leave “yet more power in the hands of MPs in Westminster”.

The row will continue on Friday when Sir Keir is expected to take some form of the plans to Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, which could approve a vote at the party conference, which begins on Saturday.

Momentum, the hard-Left group of Labour members who supported Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, warned it may have enough support at the conference to vote down the plans. A source told The Telegraph Momentum “wanted to let Starmer know that Momentum hasn't gone away” since Mr Corbyn stepped down.

“This is a subversion of democracy within the party,” the source said. “How can people believe that we can govern this country fairly if we can't even govern our own party fairly?”

Sir Keir Starmer – Stefan Rousseau/PA

An electoral college would allocate one third each of the votes in a leadership election to members, Labour MPs and trade unions. It would strengthen the power of the parliamentary Labour Party, which is thought to be more pro-Starmer than the wider membership.

Unite, Labour's largest financial backer, is against the plans, while Unison, another major union, has yet to decide whether to support them. A trade union source suggested Unison could hold the balance of power, but warned that the strength of feeling among members could mean union delegations choose to defy their bosses and vote on conscience.

Asked about the plans on Thursday, Mr Khan said: “I've got to be frank – as the Mayor of London, internal party rules isn't at the fore of my mind. I haven't had a chance to look into the changes being considered.”

His refusal to back Sir Keir suggests a growing coalition of Labour figures believes the leader has made a mistake in attempting to force through a “Kinnock moment” and vanquish the Left at this year's conference.

Supporters in the shadow cabinet have rallied around Sir Keir. Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, told The Telegraph's Chopper's Politics podcast: “He's right to take this opportunity, the first opportunity that he's had to make sure that we've got the right processes in the party so that we can turn outwards to the country.

“He's had a lot of flack for it, but actually this is the first chance because we have to vote through rule changes at conference and we haven't had one since he became leader.”

She argued Sir Keir would not have to resign if he lost a vote on the conference floor.

While the Labour leader is now expected to push forward with the reforms, he could dilute them or delay a vote to another conference to avoid a showdown next week.

One ally suggested on Thursday night that the most “optimistic” compromise was to buy off unions with an offer to change Labour policy on another issue, but the most likely outcome was that the vote would be delayed.

A similar rule change under Ed Miliband's leadership prompted a special Labour conference to debate it.

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