22 September 2019 | UK NEWS
The Labour Party’s conference season has suffered a rocky start, following an aborted attempt to abolish the elected position of Deputy Leader (present incumbent Tom Watson) in a motion put forward by Jon Lansman (the founder of the Corbynite Momentum movement) on Friday night.
The motion was passed by a 17-10 majority, although in doing so it failed by a small margin to achieve the required two-thirds majority to secure a debate on the first day of the Labour conference on Saturday, as had been the intention. The move was thwarted when party leader Jeremy Corbyn intervened to propose instead that the post of Deputy Leader should be “reviewed” as an alternative.
This was in a bid to “consider how democratic accountability can be strengthened to give members a greater say, expanding the number of elected positions, and how diverse representation can be further improved”, according to a Labour source. As such, the motion was not put to a conference vote. However, other voices within the Labour movement have reacted by suggesting that ‘members’ may as well equate to ‘Momentum’.
Mr Corbyn has reportedly since told The Sunday Mirror: “I told the National Executive we need to review how the Deputy Leadership works and have an election process for two Deputy Leaders in the future which reflects diversity within our society, so one would be a woman. It was agreed overwhelmingly.”
Mr Watson appeared to react angrily to this attempt to oust him, telling reporters as he arrived at Brighton Station for the conference on Saturday afternoon (amid cheering supporters) that: “I think it says there are some people who don’t think clear-headedly, who risk us having a transformative government by playing sectarian games.”
He added: “I put Jon Lansman in that category and I think it’s very sad because I think he has undermined himself and the members of his organisation, many of whom have been in touch with me today and said they were not consulted when he did that and they were very disappointed with him personally. But that’s politics, I’ve been around a long time and I want us to reunite now.”
These events come amid advance attempts from Momentum to cause their agenda to be adopted as official party policy at the conference, according to an e-mail sent to members of the movement. One of the most striking aspects of this agenda is the proposal to move the country to a four-day working week, but without any loss of pay for people in existing jobs. This would effectively decrease the economic output of workers in 9-5 jobs on the order of one-fifth.
There have also been ructions within the party concerning its official position on Brexit. Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said: “This year’s conference takes place on the eve of an election. We need to go into that election united in our Brexit position – both united in terms of having the policy our members and voters want, and having a united policy across the UK.
“That means being honest with the electorate, backing Remain and moving the conversation on to our radical domestic programme of jobs, investment and social justice. As an English Labour MP, I worry about the message it sends to voters in the rest of the UK to have UK Labour contradicting the position they hear from their own Labour Parties.”
In other Labour Party developments, it is understood that its ruling council, the NEC, has agreed to set up a ‘working group’ to consider the re-introduction of the original Clause IV of the party’s constitution. The wording of this clause committed the party to the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”, which was widely considered to represent adherence to the party’s founding Socialist values.
However, the clause was abolished by the new Labour Leader, Tony Blair, in 1994. The move was seen to represent a clean break from the party’s more traditionally left-wing values, and viewed by many as the beginning of the New Labour movement, which then went on to govern the country for 13 years following its 1997 landslide election victory.
It comes amid further swirling rumours that Jeremy Corbyn is set to resign as party leader in the near future. There have long been suspicions that Mr Corbyn, now 70, has been considering stepping down owing to the pressures of the role, although these have previously followed a pattern of subsiding only to resurface once more. On the topic of the Labour leadership, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, appeared to rule himself out of succeeding Mr Corbyn in an interview with The Times, stating that the next party leader should be a woman.
Mr McDonnell said: “If Jeremy got hit by the Number 57 bus, or whatever it is, there’s the next generation coming through. And the reality is the next leader should be a woman. It’s high time to have a woman. Becky [Long-Bailey], Angie [Rayner], Emily [Thornberry], you name it. Dawn Butler… they’ve just been fantastic.”
There has also been a high-profile Labour resignation in the past week. The first is Andrew Fisher, who was formerly Head of Policy and wrote the party’s last General Election manifesto. The Sunday Times carries a front-page article stating that he resigned a week ago, declaring that he “no longer [had] faith we will succeed”, in reference to Mr Corbyn’s ability to win a forthcoming election. He is said to have denounced Mr Corbyn’s team’s “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency”, decrying their “blizzard of lies and excuses” and further citing “class warfare” as his reasons for leaving.
Finally, on the same front page, it is reported that a YouGov survey of 1,100 Labour Party members revealed that most would prefer to abolish the monarchy, move towards open borders and abandon Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The same poll also revealed that a mere 15% of members are “proud” of their country’s history, with 43% reported to be “ashamed” of it.
The person who commissioned this YouGov poll was reportedly Ian Austin, a former Labour MP who resigned the whip in February 2019 to sit as an independent in Parliament. He has recently launched the new cross-party campaign group Mainstream UK, whose chief stated aim is to “banish extremism from British politics once and for all”. The organisation’s website states that its backers include Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, Sir Norman Lamb of the Liberal Democrats, and Lord Eric Pickles of the Conservative Party.
The campaign claims that it is “designed to encourage a return to respectable and responsible politics”. Further coverage of this, and other developments as the Labour Party conference progresses, will follow in due course.