Time was when the box office attraction at Labour conference was going to be Tom Watson’s speech this afternoon. The biggest drama would be activists who planned to walk out in protest at the deputy leader’s constant undermining of Jeremy Corbyn.
That was before the Supreme Court verdict, of course, and now Corbyn will be speaking at 4pm, having moved his speech forward from tomorrow so that he can head back to Westminster in time for parliament returning. But there’s still some internal drama playing out: Labour’s press team said Tom Watson would be speaking tomorrow afternoon to close conference, but Watson almost immediately said he wouldn’t do this as he also wanted to be back in parliament. ‘I’ll have to save the speech until the next conference,’ he said.
Corbyn’s team are currently refusing to say whether they will launch a vote of no confidence against Johnson tomorrow. He would almost certainly lose this, given he currently has a majority of -45, thanks in part to his own decision to boot out 21 of his own MPs. This could then lead to the election that Johnson wants, and that he could frame as being the apotheosis of the establishment ganging up on those trying to deliver Brexit.
Then again, things do seem to be shifting in favour of a Brexit deal, and an election would make a no-deal much more likely. So there’s a greater chance now that the opposition groups will try to install some kind of ‘government of national unity’ (we will ignore the mislabelling of something that will only unite remainers) in order to get an extension to the Brexit deadline before an election.
This does mean that Tom Watson’s speech is the least relevant thing in politics right now, but the unease of those around him about Corbyn’s ability to rise to the Brexit challenge is even more justified. He might be the barrier to an alternative government forming, and the party’s choice of ambiguity on Brexit this week hasn’t helped either. Presumably Corbyn is currently hastily re-writing his planned speech to answer these concerns.