Labour Conference Report - Days 4/5

Green New Deal debate

A cheering and unifying day with big news and reliefs in and out of the hall with both Green New Deal motions passing including the one with the explicit 2030 target in it and obviously the Supreme Court judgement dropping during Rebecca Long Bailey’s speech before that debate. I ducked out of the hall to watch the announcement at the BBC stand and came back to hear the end of the speech which was pretty good although I think she misspoke on the location 

During the debate there was a lot of enthusiasm and far stronger speeches for the 2030 commitment but if the only unions with us were the FBU and TSSA the vote would be close. I knew the 2030 commitment would pass when a speaker for Unite announced that they were backing both motions. Combined with the clear CLP support in the room that made clear it would pass which it later did on a show of hands without needing a card vote.

Debates opened on homelessness, local authority cuts and housing. Harrowing, powerful personal stories about the state of the modern UK. The diversity of the speakers and quality of the speeches was very high. That such a platform is provided is I think a powerful part of conference. I haven’t been counting but I suspect more women have spoken than men, with a number of speakers with disabilities too.

Leader’s Speech

Labour Conference Report Day 3

Brexit Votes and Debate

I’m going to jump into the main controversy of the day: the Brexit votes.

I voted for composite 13 (that Labour should adopt a remain position) and I also backed the other motion that confirmed the referendum in all circumstances composite 14 (current policy and was compatible with the remain position one). I voted against the NEC statement (which was before the other votes).

While a strong remainer myself it wasn’t an easy decision for me and I'm slightly disappointed rather than anything more. I’m not fully convinced that the current referendum position isn’t sufficient but I don’t like the NEC statement policy of a special pre-referendum conference very much either (seemed to have been rushed together and I’m not sure it should really be the priority when the campaigning should be starting). The way it was introduced and presented separately in the morning session and being voted on before the main composite Brexit motions didn’t sit well with me.

I’m very confident that the votes were called correctly and the chair just misspoke at one point (when she reversed). From my seat at the back of the hall it looked much more clearcut than some of the ones called as card votes on days 1 and 2. While Unison was backing the remain position the other unions including Unite and GMB were with the NEC. There was sufficient split that a card vote would have been reasonable but from looking at the room and knowing where the big unions were I’d be surprised if more than 40% were backing the remain position so I don’t think it would be good for Remain and it would spread the split story out another day as the result wouldn’t be out until the morning.

Labour Conference Report - Day 2

Another long day. I spent a bit more time out of the hall and found time for some lunch today. The most interesting content is probably the last, the Green New Deal compositing which is potentially newsworthy.

9-10.30 am - Campaign Creator training

More Campaign Creator training on Selections (custom filtering). This should allow to start targeted canvassing even where we don’t have our own data. Might be worth experimenting to see how good the data is and augment the data with some canvassing. I’ll be announcing some sessions soon.

11am-12pm

SERA (https://www.sera.org.uk/about/) event on Tackling Brexit and the Climate Emergency with Hillary Benn, Seb Dance (London MEP) and Mike Buckley (Director of Remain and Reform). The session was packed and I think only two present were leavers (they seem very sparse on the ground generally although that is maybe them keeping a low profile and that there are divisions even amongst remain supporters about the best position for Labour).

12.15-12.30pm - Voting / chaos

Labour Conference Report - Day 1

It feels like it has been a long day.

11am-12

I got to the conference area in time to get basic training on Contact Creator which I now have access to for Surrey Heath.

12-1pm

South East Labour Meeting including distribution of voting cards of numbered votes that can be applied to particular votes if either a show of hands is inconclusive or they are rules change votes.

1pm-2pm

Brexit policy forum with Keir Starmer and Richard Corbett. I didn’t get the chance to speak but it was well natured. No real opposition to a referendum and a range of views about whether the Labour leadership should take a remain position but all expressed without anger.

2.30-6pm

Main hall with votes on rule changes.

Minor controversy as a card vote was called to reject the CAC report. The principle concerns were:

  1. the way that the Asylum, Immigration and Detention motions had been split into different options for the priorities vote.
  2. the disciplinary rule change not meeting the wishes of Jewish members and particularly the fact that it was being debated and voted on when strict Jews could not participate.
  3. Presentation of rule changes where those changes not supported by the NEC were presented differently without side by side of the old and new text.

The final vote on this was 60%-40 in favour of accepting but the accept side was dominated by the union block vote.

Highlight was Dawn Butler speaking on equalities. The person next to me and I both spontaneously had thoughts about whether she may be a candidate for leadership in the future.

On the rule change votes most of those lacking the support of the NEC were withdrawn. I voted against a few changes in particular where there were requirements around the EC make up that I didn’t think we could sustain with our current levels of interest. I was hugely torn on the disciplinary process changes proposed with good speeches against from a barrister, an NCC member and a Jewish member but I decided to back the change which puts greater power in the NEC’s hands to decide clear cut cases. I view it as a test/challenge to show that they are dealing with issues and hold them accountable for the outcomes.

7pm-0:30am

Green New Deal Compositing Meeting - to be continued Sunday evening

No blood (or conclusion) but definitely sweat and tears. [I’m going to have to have words with Julian for proposing this motion when I see him next as I think the Brexit one might be easy in comparison]. A couple of core issues are risking split motions. It took a couple of hours to get to the point where a starting point combined text was decided on by vote (multiple earlier calls for votes were denied) but after finally voting the one the party staff had assembled was adopted as a base (I voted of the “Socialist Green New Deal” starting point but wished they had just done the vote earlier. I did contribute a little to break a deadlock on whether “HS2” was was to be supported by proposing that “high speed rail” was used instead so I wasn’t entirely useless. There is real feeling and dilemma in the room about how much watering down to accept and whether it should be split and the allowed to fall rather than compromising too much especially on target date.

What I’ve Got Wrong About the Brexit Process

While the overall destination of Brexit was reasonably foreseeable what has caught me out is the lack of will to decide on a long term destination for the U.K. The willingness to fudge and to postpone making any choices that entail any trade offs has been spectacular. Even now the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration Leave almost anything on the table from Norway to something more like Canada. Issues around the border in Ireland are significantly due to the limits on the fudge the EU is prepared to accept where they apply there.

Surprised by May

I honestly thought she was smarter than to trap herself into corners with red lines like she did, alienate “people of nowhere” and to fail to listen to the experienced advice around her like Ivan Rodgers.

The other surprise was May’s decision not to reach across to Labour to make them complicit in the deal and to provide her with more routes through Parliament. There were two main opportunities to do this; after the referendum and again after the general election. She could have said “Things have changed”, acknowledged her lack of majority and sort to find a compromise option. She could then have shared blame for aspects that were softer than the ERG wanted, could have blamed Labour if the walked away and critically potentially had a majority without DUP or ERG. The only thing she would have lost would be being able to act as if Corbyn was unfit to be near responsibility, a threat to be used against all who oppose her except Labour, maybe that was too high a price for her to pay.

Sufficient Progress (December 2017)

That this stage was crossed without it seems the DUP or the ERG understanding the contents and melting down at that point was a surprise as the now unacceptable Withdrawal Agreement was essentially set out at that point. It did also seem at times like May didn’t understand what it meant either as she claimed the backstop was something that “no British PM” could agree to despite having done so in December 2017 and then proceeding to do so again in December 2018.

No Confidence in Brexit - Parliament could Take Control

This is an outline proposal of mechanism for Parliament to really take control if it becomes necessary. I don’t think this is most likely route to an informed consent people’s vote but this is the last ditch restoration of Parliament’s control that could become necessary in the New Year.

This sets out a route that could remove everyone’s worst fears in voting no confidence in the current government and get the country through a referendum and allow parties to restore themselves before an early next election later.

BBC Complaint - Planned Marr interview of Aaron Banks

This is a copy of a complaint I've submitted to the BBC about their plans to interview Aaron Banks (the Leave.EU funder now under investigation by the National Crime Agency).

The Marr show is the wrong place to cover Banks. It is too general and get to know you to interview someone accused of serious crimes. A live interview where he can’t be fact checked and be asked to provide evidence is a mistake.

Three Jewish Newspapers Discredit Their Case Against Labour

There appear to me to be absolute inaccuracy in their characterisation of the Labour proposed code of conduct which I will detail below. Essentially their one specific claim of what is acceptable is clearly and specifically forbidden in the Labour rules.

Short version is that the case against Corbyn and Labour regarding these definitions seems at least exaggerated and incorrect statements are made about specific examples casting doubt on the overall thrust. I do believe that there is a genuine problem to clear up in the Labour party but with such inaccuracies in reporting of basic facts it becomes harder to accept the extraordinary claims made without appropriate supporting information or evidence. This isn't to say that there might not be some room for improvement but the current document definitely doesn't seem to be something that should be triggering the level of outrage that it is unless people haven't read it and are basing their opinions on what they read in the inflammatory press.

I'm not in a good position to judge the general situation and would generally place a lot of trust in those media organisations better placed but when the factual details I can check are so wrong it makes it harder to trust them for the big picture and whether there really is a problem with the code and what it really won't catch. I also fully accept that there is antisemitism in Labour and want it to have strong and robust rules and practice to deal with it, this is purely about the best mechanism to do that and whether the criticism of the leadership is fair and valid; if I felt it was I would be having to change position on certain things but for the following reasons I still believe that the criticism of the leadership is overblown and exaggerated.

Labour, Brexit and OFOC

I’ve been meaning to set out my views about the Labour’s position on Brexit and the in my view frequently unfair and very often plain wrong views of it from much of the hard remain community (to which I myself align). Yesterday there was an excellent and civil discussion between Femi of OFOC and Owen Jones who is closely aligned to the Labour leadership.

I am a Labour member who has also funded OFOC but was very frustrated recently by the attack posters they created aimed at Labour shadow cabinet individuals that I felt were highly counterproductive.

The thread is here, you may want to focus largely on Femi and Owen’s comments themselves.

My summary of the key areas of disagreement are:

  1. The extent of the damage any Brexit would do and how it would prevent Labour making their desired changes to the country.
  2. The likelihood of a remain success in a People’s Vote.
  3. The possibility of a People’s Vote triggering a far right surge.
  4. The effect on the path of the Brexit process that Labour coming out explicitly for a People’s Vote would have.

Now on some of these points I lean more to Owen’s view and on others to Femi’s view.

May’s Trump Opportunity

Theresa May is unlikely to to be able to talk Trump around back to the international system of rules and organisations and back towards human rights. She is also unlikely to be able to talk him down from the trade war that he has declared with the rest of the world. Without the USA as a trustworthy partner the precariousness of the UK’s currently planned place outside the EU is crystallised and it could become a moment of opportunity to change course.

The opportunity comes in how she responds, either in the closing press conference of the visit or within the days after Trump departs. This is an opportunity for Theresa May to say something resembling the following and potentially go down in history as one of this country’s greatest Prime Ministers (unfortunately from my point of view preventing a Corbyn government).

Things have changed the world is not the one in which a majority voted for Brexit, and this presidential visit has made clear to we no longer have a reliable partner for free trade across the Atlantic, that nationalism and even facism rising across the world and the current US government. Given this changing world it is time to rejoin forces with our strongest allies for a rules based global order, democracy and human rights. It is no longer even clear that we can rely on the systems of the WTO to enable trade to continue effectively.

Given this I have today spoken to my fellow leaders across Europe and received agreement to withdraw the Article 50 notification which I have now done. This means any Brexit will be substantially postponed and for the next few years we will return to our full place in in the EU to strengthen the values we hold dear across the continent of Europe and beyond. We will remain in the EU until at least the next election in 2022. 

Now this does not mean the end of Brexit. We will keep DExEU operating to plan in detail how to implement Brexit effectively. We have learned a lot from the negotiations so far that will assist in this planning and legislation will be prepared so that when a future Parliament decides to proceed the bulk of the legislation can be in place before we again start an Article 50 process. They will also be producing a series of different proposals and the OBR will provide associated forecasts for their impacts especially in the run up to the next general election. The full information will be available for all parties and the public to read an understand.

I realise that this delay to Brexit will be disappointing and frustrating to many of you; this was not the news I wanted to deliver to you but global circumstances have changed and we must adapt our plans. Let me be clear, this is not the end of Brexit; all parties will have opportunities to set out their plans in their manifestos for the 2022 election based on the reports produced by DExEU and the OBR.

The collective sigh of relief that would come from across much of the country including virtually all of industry would audible from across the Atlantic although there would be a scream of rage from about fifteen percent of the country and the right wing press but I don’t believe there would be any substantial civil unrest and the papers would soon return their attacks to Labour. There would be a Tory leadership challenge but I think Theresa May would survive. In Parliament either the DUP or the Tory Brexit ultras would have the power to bring her down but to what end? The outcomes would either be Theresa May with a bigger majority or a Corbyn government for whom Brexit would be a low priority and if they did pursue it (unlikely I think if they went into an election more Brexity than the Tories they would lose).

Well, I can dream can’t I? While I think this is possible and would be good for May, the country, the government and Europe it is still a vanishingly unlikely fantasy and I’ll be out on the 13th July joining the protests against the criminal in the White House.