Labour conference will this afternoon vote on three different motions on its Brexit position. There are two – one from the NEC, and one from delegates – which endorse the leadership’s plan to put this decision off until after the next general election, and then to hold a special one-day conference to decide instead. Then there’s an unambiguously pro-Remain motion. It’s going to be tight.
Those around Jeremy Corbyn are anxious that conference doesn’t back the Remain stance, seeing it not just as a debate about policy, but as a move that could seriously undermine the Labour leader’s own position. Len McCluskey has just spoken to the conference hall, ostensibly about a motion on something else, but used the majority of his time to urge the party to vote for the leadership’s position. He appealed to members’ happy memories of Corbyn’s election four years ago, and referred in his slightly menacing way to the hard fight with ‘those without and those within our party who reject that vision’. The party had got this far, he said, because it had remained united, and this needed to continue.
Corbyn was ‘a thousand times right’ in trying to speak to the whole of the country, unlike the Tories and the Liberal Democrats who had written off one half each. ‘We should not let anyone define us or divide us as Leavers or Remainers: what defines us is that we are socialists,’ he shouted, to rapturous applause from the floor. ‘There’s only one door to No. 10, comrades,’ he added. ‘We can only go through it if we go through it together.’ This suggests an interesting approach to doors which most people haven’t tried. It is just as well that the famous black Downing Street door isn’t a revolving one, or Labour would be really stuck.
The problem for McCluskey is that his short speech will be followed by contributions from members of the shadow cabinet who do not share that vision, particularly Emily Thornberry, who has spent much of this conference so far either dressed up as a European Union flag, or urging the party to be unambiguously pro-Remain. And she – as well as others on the frontbench – doesn’t seem to think that the leadership is tough enough to fight them any more.