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Keir Starmer could be forced to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour MP under radical proposals to give the party’s annual conference control over parliamentary discipline.
Former shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon has backed calls for a rule change which would hand to activists the final say over controversial whipping decisions.
Starmer sparked a backlash from leftwingers year when he refused to readmit Corbyn to the parliamentary whip following a row over the former leader’s stance on anti-semitism in the party.
He was barred from being a Labour MP by Starmer and chief whip Nick Brown until he made a fuller apology to the Jewish community for remarks made after the publication of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on racism within the party.
Corbyn supporters say that Starmer’s refusal to restore the whip is a “factional” decision.
They point out a National Executive Committee (NEC) panel restored his party membership after a “clarification” that anti-semitism claims had not been exaggerated to attack his leadership.
With just days to go before proposals for party rule changes have to be submitted for this September’s conference, Burgon backed moves by the left-wing Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) to give activists control over contested whipping decisions.
At present, disciplinary cases covering MPs are covered by the rules of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), with the final say over whipping in the gift of the leader and chief whip.
But if accepted for a vote and approved, the proposal would mean that a vote by the party conference’s hundreds of delegates could overturn the Corbyn decision.
Burgon said: “I’m backing this rule change for this year’s Labour Party Conference that, if passed, could see the whip returned to Jeremy Corbyn. The change would make the Parliamentary Labour Party accountable to Conference on decisions to withdraw the whip.”
I’m backing this rule change for this year’s Labour Party Conference that, if passed, could see the whip returned to Jeremy Corbyn
The change would make the Parliamentary Labour Party accountable to Conference on decisions to withdraw the whip.
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) May 24, 2021
The CLPD said: “If adopted, this rule change would require the PLP to report directly to the conference, including on MPs’ discipline, with the conference able to confirm or reject disciplinary decisions that are of concern to delegates.
“There is currently a gaping hole in the Labour Party rule book in that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is not accountable to Annual Conference. The work carried out by the PLP to advance or implement Labour Party policy and discipline within the PLP are not reported to the conference, nor do delegates have a say on disciplinary decisions they believe are of concern.
“The NEC and NPF [National Policy Forum] have to account to the Party’s sovereign body, but not the PLP. This needs to be rectified at this year’s Conference.”
However, other party figures warned that subjecting whipping or other similar disciplinary decisions to the party conference would be a bad idea.
NEC member Luke Akehurst suggested the move may not be legal, while others said sexual harassment cases like that of former Hartlepool MP Mike Hill could be contested.
I’m not convinced that the details of highly sensitive disciplinary cases are best dealt with by a debate between hundreds of delegates, with the TV cameras rolling, or that that would even be legal. https://t.co/IZI8c1wIeU
— Luke Akehurst (@lukeakehurst) May 24, 2021
This would undermine any hope of removing political interference from sexual harassment complaints in the Labour Party and would actually endanger’s MP staff safety
How anyone could even suggest this when ex MP Mike Hill is in the Employment Tribunal for sexual assault… https://t.co/QzUBwanl05
— Deeba Syed (@deebasyed) May 24, 2021
The party conference in Brighton will be the first in person since 2019, and activists on both the left and centrist wings of the party are gearing up to get as many delegates as possible to represent local constituency parties.