5 things we learned from the 2019 Labour Party conference
- The opposition Labour party gathered this week in Brighton, England for its annual conference.
- Its week was dominated by infighting over Brexit, a botched coup against Labour's deputy leader, and the dramatic verdict of the UK Supreme Court against prime minister Boris Johnson.
- In the conference bars and meeting rooms there was growing discontent about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership among delegates with the vast majority of Labour MPs failing to even turn up to conference.
- For the first time since his second victorious leadership election, the party is beginning to look towards life after Corbyn steps down.
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Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday closed the Labour Party conference a day earlier than planned, following the Supreme Court verdict that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament was illegal.
The Labour Party leader received a warm reception from party delegates at the end of a fractious few days which were overshadowed by party infighting, a botched coup against deputy leader Tom Watson, and the dramatic events at the Supreme Court.
Here's the 5 things we learned from the Labour Party's 2019 conference.
Brexit is tearing the Labour party apart
Conversations among delegates in the bars and meeting rooms in Brighton were totally dominated by the issue, with few expressing themselves content with the position the party has got itself into.
Pro-Remain Labour members of Parliament were dismaying over what they saw as dithering on the most important issue of the day, and gifting votes to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, led by Jo Swinson.
One told Business Insider: "If there's an election tomorrow my majority will be significantly reduced, and when I tell people that they say it's because of Leave voters who hate me, but it's not - it's Remain voters going to the Lib Dems."
Labour, which has seen its support collapse in the polls over recent months, is desperate for the national debate to move on from Brexit. All the evidence from this week is that this simply isn't going to happen any time soon.
The campaign to replace Corbyn is already underway
At conference fringe events, in broadcast interviews, and even on the main conference stage itself, senior Labour figures lined up to criticise Corbyn's Brexit policy and set out their own ideas about the direction the party should take.
Even Corbyn's closest allies were at odds with him this week. The attempt by some of those close to Corbyn to oust his deputy Tom Watson at the start of the week was stopped in party due to an intervention by Corbyn's Shadow Chancellor and closest political friend, John McDonnell. Jon Lansman, who runs the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group, also publicly criticised the Labour leader's Brexit policy on Twitter.
Even among Corbyn's friends there was a growing sense here in Brighton that things were starting to slip away from him.
"This doesn't feel like a party which is ready to win a general election," one former adviser and a long-term supporter of Corbyn, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Business Insider.
"The policies are there but the leadership isn't. Why would you go into a party conference before an election and then spend your time having a factional war over the deputy leadership? It doesn't make any sense."
Corbyn remains highly likely to take the party into the next general election. However, for the first time since his second victorious leadership election, eyes are beginning to turn to what will happen when he stands down.
Labour's next leader will be a Remainer
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
This week Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry both moved to the front of the leadership race thanks to their unequivocal statements of their desire to stay in the EU.
Both used their keynote speeches to state explicitly that they want to remain in the EU, in contrast to Corbyn. Both also expressed their frustration with the party's decision not to adopt a clear pro-Remain position. Thornberry on Sunday said she wanted the party to confirm at its conference whether it was pro-Remain, rather than pursue Corbyn's preferred policy of delaying the decision until after a general election. Starmer said he was "disappointed" by the party's decision to postpone the decision.
But their pitches to the Labour membership were not confined to Brexit alone.
Both MPs used their headline speeches to spell out left-wing ideas on the economy and foreign policy - proposals that wouldn't sound out of place coming from the mouth of Corbyn himself.
While many Labour members are frustrated with the party's reluctance to become an out-and-out Remain party, the membership still sided heavily with the wider policy agenda of Corbyn and his leadership.
With this in mind, MPs who are seen as natural successors to Corbyn and his ideology - like Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner - will have a strong chance of winning the next leadership contest.
Starmer and Thornberry may also face an obstacle in the belief held by some figures in the party that its next leader must not come from London. The party is also keen to make its next leader a woman, which obviously puts Starmer at a disadvantage.
Nevertheless, recent polling makes encouraging reading for the pair. A YouGov survey of Labour members published in July found that Starmer was the most popular candidate to replace Corbyn, while Thornberry was in third place.
Corbyn is failing to capitalise on Johnson's mistakes
Partly, that is because the ruling against Johnson could actually play into his game plan, which will see him pit Parliament and the so-called elites - in this case, the judiciary - against himself and the will of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit.
But it also illustrates the way that Labour's has struggled to capitalise on Johnson's mistakes during his spell as prime minister. Support for the Conservatives has shown little signs of flagging since Johnson took office, despite the government losing six consecutive Commons votes and failing to secure a Brexit deal.
In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, Corbyn told his party conference that: "I invite Boris Johnson in the historic words to consider his position.
"And become the, and become, I got that message, and become the shortest-serving Prime Minister there's ever been."
It remains to be seen whether the latest blow to Johnson's authority will damage his standing in the polls, but so far Corbyn doesn't seem to have capitalised from the prime minister's mistakes.
Labour is struggling to be heard
The decision meant that Parliament was recalled from Wednesday morning, forcing the Labour leadership to move Corbyn's speech back to Tuesday afternoon. According to the Mirror's Dan Bloom, it meant that Labour aides were to be found before his speech "stripping out carefully-planned policy announcements and "saving them for another time when they'll actually be able to get some press coverage."
The timing was unfortunate, but the truth is that Labour had been struggling to generate much press coverage for its policies for some time now. Corbyn's determination to shift the national conversation from Brexit to areas where he feels Labour has more appeal - a pledge to end austerity, to tackle climate change, and to improve working conditions - has not been a success.
A pledge by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on Monday to introduce a four-day working week was immediately undermined by the news that a Labour-commissioned report, published two weeks earlier, suggested that such a policy was not "realistic or even desirable."
Other announcements, including a £300 million plan to introduce 300,000 electric hire cars to Britain's streets, and a radical pledge to make Britain carbon-neutral by 2030, have received limited attention in the press. The resignation of Corbyn's senior aide, Andrew Fisher, who masterminded the party's well-received 2017 general election manifesto, appeared to be symbolic of a wider lack of a clear agenda from the party.
When Corbyn became prime minister his critics warned that his radical agenda would be deeply unpopular with the public.
Four years on the far bigger risk for Labour is that the British public simply isn't listening to them any more.
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