Keir Starmer’s Leadership Is Deeply Antidemocratic

The Labour Party’s online voting system appears open to tampering — and some left-wing candidates claim it’s been systematically rigged. If true, these allegations would mark a new low for party democracy under Keir Starmer.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks at the party’s offices on February 19, 2024, in London, England. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

On March 18, the Metropolitan Police’s cybercrimes unit announced it had launched an investigation into the Labour Party’s selection process for the new seat of Croydon East. The contest had been suspended following allegations that members’ details had been tampered with — allegations since confirmed by party sources. Joel Bodmer, a candidate on the party’s right, subsequently withdrew before the contest recommenced.

The scandal in Croydon was followed by a jaw-dropping report in the Telegraph suggesting that Labour’s parliamentary selections may have been systematically rigged using Anonyvoter. Anonyvoter is the online voting software used by local Labour Party branches to choose their candidates for the next election.

Leading those complaints is Sam Tarry, the MP for Ilford South and a former shadow minister sacked by Keir Starmer for appearing on a picket line. Tarry, who was deselected in October in favor of a candidate from the party’s right, has since submitted an official complaint to Labour. He alleges tampering with membership lists, raises concerns that the Anonyvoter system was misused in his deselection, and has even threatened legal action against the party.

He isn’t alone. Beth Winter, the socialist MP for Cynon Valley, narrowly lost a reselection battle to a Starmerite shadow minister in June in highly controversial circumstances. Once again, Anonyvoter and alleged membership list tampering featured prominently in complaints. Remarkably, in both cases, Tarry and Winter were winning their selection battles (via hustings and postal votes, respectively) — until Anonyvoter came into play.

The allegations extend beyond sitting MPs. There are growing concerns that Anonyvoter may have been abused on an industrial scale to rig internal Labour contests. It would be astonishingly easy to do so: poll administrators could theoretically add votes during the contests or vote on behalf of members without them knowing. They can also see who has and hasn’t voted. Meanwhile, the safeguards that should be in place aren’t — while Anonyvoter allows independent “tellers” to verify counts, Labour hasn’t allowed them for its parliamentary selections.

It’s no wonder. In one parliamentary selection cited by the Telegraph, a leadership-favored candidate won just 10 percent of votes at the selection hustings but a whopping 62 percent in the online vote. Investigative journalist Michael Crick — no left-winger — has raised the possibility of online voting system being used to rig contests in constituencies across the country. One example flagged by Crick even concerned the selection of the wife of Morgan McSweeney, Labour’s general election campaign manager and an architect of Starmer’s purge of the Left.

That’s not the only eyebrow-raising coincidence in this story. Anonyvoter is co-owned by a married couple who are Labour activists in Croydon on the right of the party. According to Inside Croydon, they were awarded the contract for Labour’s selections by David Evans without tender. Evans himself is a veteran of Croydon Labour politics.

Demanding an Investigation

It should come as no surprise that there are growing demands for an independent, King’s Counsel–led investigation into Labour’s selection process and the suspension of the use of Anonyvoter in the interim. Supporters of an investigation into possible corruption include Labour’s affiliated trade unions, Michael Crick, MPs Sam Tarry and Beth Winter, and the thousands who have signed Momentum’s online petition.

If an independent investigation finds evidence that Anonyvoter has been utilized in vote rigging, not only must Labour adopt a truly independent system (as it does for NEC and Leadership elections) and rerun any rigged selections, but evidence of malpractice should also be passed to the police. No stone should be left unturned.

Accountability for any misconduct, however, shouldn’t stop there. It must include a far wider reckoning with the crushing of internal democracy within Labour and the widespread undermining of member and trade union rights. After all, a selection contest in just one constituency in 2013, Falkirk, provoked a chain reaction resulting in wide-ranging reforms to Labour’s leadership elections. What we are witnessing now goes far beyond that — yet because it is the Left and trade unions that are aggrieved, established media outlets largely ignore it.

This chicanery runs deep. In their attempt to remake the party in the leader’s image, Keir Starmer’s acolytes have already employed a dirty-tricks campaign to stifle democracy, evident in their attempts to push out Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group.

The arbitrary removal of the Labour whip, first to suspend Jeremy Corbyn and more recently to freeze out Diane Abbott and Kate Osamor, demonstrates the leadership’s preparedness to use every weapon at its disposal against socialist MPs. And while Tory convert Christian Wakeford was exempted from having to seek members’ approval to stand as a candidate, Apsana Begum was forced to undergo a trigger ballot while hospitalized and signed off sick following a “campaign of misogynistic abuse.”

Threat to Democracy

As Hilary Schan wrote in Tribune in 2022, the stitch-up of parliamentary selections has resulted in the blocking en masse of popular local left-wingers. The leadership’s line, that its focus is securing “high-quality candidates,” is easily debunked by the examples of Azhar Ali in Rochdale and Darren Rodwell in Dagenham, who prompted respective scandals regarding the spreading of conspiracy theories and the cracking of racist jokes at a Black History Month event.

In truth, what unites these candidates and motivates the alleged rigging of selections in their favor is their unwavering loyalty to the leadership — the consequences of which cannot be overstated. With Tory support collapsing, the number of Labour MPs could double at the next election. But Labour’s trajectory suggests it would see Parliament stacked with nodding dogs at the expense of politicians prepared to act of their own volition when it’s in the public interest.

Independently minded politicians are a vital component of our democracy and are often on the right side of public opinion and history. This was displayed in November when a quarter of Labour MPs defied the whip to vote for a Gaza cease-fire, as well as during the New Labour–era rebellions against detention without trial, private finance initiatives, and, most notably, the Iraq War.

The unfolding scandal around Labour’s parliamentary selections is much bigger than an internal party matter — it is at the forefront of the slow-burning, antidemocratic coup. Starmer’s fraudulent leadership campaign, corporate policymaking, and relentless attacks on the party’s membership should be seen for what they are: a restorationist project aiming to insulate Labour’s elite from democratic pressure. Far from making Labour the “political wing of the British people,” the goal at every turn has been to suppress popular interests, marginalize ordinary members, and empower big business.

The fight for democracy and socialism within Labour and within the British state have always gone hand in hand. This story shows exactly why.