THERE is often a fine line in politics between being brave and being foolish. Outcomes determine whether a risky strategy ultimately falls into the former category or the latter.

This weekend as the comrades gather on the Sussex coast for their first annual conference in two turbulent years, Keir Starmer decided to take a big gamble and lost.

The Labour knight chose to do a Blair and pick a fight with his own party to show who’s boss.

Ahead of conference, he took Shadow Cabinet colleagues unawares by unveiling his desire to change the rules on how the party elects its leader; reverting back to an electoral college to give MPs and trade unions more of a say and avoid a repeat of a left-wing radical like Jeremy Corbyn seizing control of the party.

A senior Starmer supporter explained: "It's true we are 'de-Corbynising' the party. We have to if we want to survive and this is just another step on that journey towards being seen as a credible party of government again.”

There is something of an historical irony to Sir Keir’s strategy. In 1981 it was left-winger Tony Benn who argued for an electoral college over One Member One Vote[OMOV] to give trade unions more of a say and MPs less of one.

The then Labour leader, Michael Foot, wanted MPs to have a 50% share of the vote but, after much wrangling, it was decided the trade unions would have the lion’s share at 40% with MPs and party members each having 30%.

In 2014 under Ed Miliband’s leadership, OMOV was overwhelmingly adopted to strengthen democracy within the party; Labour supporters could register to vote for the price of a cappuccino. Unforeseen consequences led to the election of Corbyn just one year later.

Five years on, Labour’s lurch to the Left ended in abject failure; its biggest election defeat since 1935.

But in his drive to make the party less radical, Starmer picked the wrong fight as his strategy not only alienated his detractors on the Left, as expected, but also his supporters on the Right.

Ex-Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, helpful as ever, pointed out Keir had not mentioned changing Labour voting rules during his own leadership campaign and warned he was "opening himself up to charges of dishonesty" and looking "grubby".

Sharon Graham, the new leader of Unite – Labour’s biggest donor – branded the proposed move to scrap OMOV “unfair, undemocratic and a backwards step”.

Even allies like Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, made clear their opposition, while Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, reflected, euphemistically, that he did “not think it should be our focus”.

Starmer hedged his bets after a negative meeting with trade union leaders, insisting: “This was never a take-it-or-leave-it conversation. I am continuing to take suggestions.”

Securing support from Unison, GMB and Usdaw was deemed essential but it never materialised. At another meeting on Friday, one insider claimed the party leader had received a “mauling”.

To make matters worse, his deputy, Angela Rayner, was unsupportive, believing - understandably – that, given the unfolding energy crisis, the impending Tory tax hikes, and the scrapping of the Universal Credit uplift, Keir shouldn’t be picking a fight with his comrades but with the enemy: the Conservative Government.

A theme picked up with alacrity by the ghost of Christmas Past, Corbyn, who remains an Independent MP after he lost the whip over the anti-Semitism row but who is still a Labour member.

The ex-leader, expected to speak on the conference fringe, claimed under his successor “Labour props up rather than challenges our broken political and economic system”.

By yesterday morning it was clear; friendless, Starmer’s electoral college plan was, as the Corbynite Momentum campaign gleefully put it, “dead”.

During a media round Rayner tried her best to focus on Labour’s offer on a “new deal” for workers, including improvements on pay, job security and equality. But her leader’s failure of judgement couldn’t be avoided.

A party source tried to limit the damage, explaining how Starmer would still be putting some reforms to the ruling National Executive Committee to “better connect us with working people and re-orient us toward the voters who can take us to power”.

These include: increasing the threshold for future leadership candidates to get on the ballot with the need for 25% instead of 10% of MPs’ nominations; making it harder to deselect sitting MPs and scrapping the registered supporters policy.  

“We’re pleased with where we’ve ended up,” declared the leader’s spokesman.

But one exasperated MP moaned: “This is an unmitigated disaster. When we’re supposed to be reconnecting with working people, we’re having a punch-up with ourselves.”

In his 12,000-word opus, The Road Ahead, Starmer sets out his vision for Britain, promoting Labour as the agent for change and focusing on the reassuring slogan of “security and opportunity”.

As the Labour leader concentrates on winning over lost voters, he is rushing towards the centre ground, abandoning any notion of Corbynite nationalisation while being very chummy towards the business community.

Starmerism is beginning to feel a bit like New Labour 2.0, which is why the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs is pushing their leader to show more substance and fewer soundbites.

His reverse-ferret on the electoral college means Starmer - also facing flashpoints on Labour’s position on trans rights, climate change and tackling anti-Semitism - needs a powerful speech on Wednesday, focusing on voters’ needs as we approach a difficult winter.

In pushing his electoral college plan, the leader complained the party’s current rules “focus us inwards to spend too much time talking to and about ourselves”. A little self-awareness would not go amiss.

As Starmer arrived at conference yesterday, posing for pictures, reporters barked out why he had “backed down” and if he was having an “embarrassing start”. The party leader beamed a rictus grin, replying: “It is absolutely fantastic to be here in Brighton.”

I fear all conference will prove yet again this week is that disunity is written into Labour’s DNA.