Labour conference Brexit split would make the Tories proud

Sir Keir Starmer addresses Labour party conference.
Sir Keir Starmer addresses Labour party conference. Picture via @Jeremy Corbyn.

Party conferences are, by definition, odd. Giving up considerable time and expense to talk about politics is obviously not normal. The atmosphere is intense, making it hard to understand what is happening at a conference that you are not attending.

I say this to try and begin to process how it can be that Labour delegates spent three hours arguing a motion on Brexit on Monday night, only for key figures to spend the next day completely at odds with each other over the issue.

Splitters

The culmination of it all was Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer saying a second referendum should include a Remain option. His speech received wild applause. However, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Union boss Len McCluskey had previously said the opposite. McDonnell later seemed to change his tune. Frankly, I now have not got a clue what Labour’s Brexit policy actually is.

All I am clear on is that Labour is in a total mess over the key issue of the day. From the outside, the split seems to be between the middle-class Momentum members and the old-Left, including the unions. I suspect though that there is further factionalism at play, only obvious on the conference floor.

Part of the problem is Jeremy Corbyn’s own lack of enthusiasm for the EU. It means there is no real opposition to Brexit right at the top of the party. Corbyn’s acolytes have never quite understood this. Furthermore, lots of traditional Labour areas voted Leave. Keeping support in both those areas and the Islington-like Remain voting areas is a challenge that would stretch the capabilities of a leader far better than Corbyn. In the tinderbox atmosphere of a party conference, such combustible elements can easily catch alight. And so it proved.

It is though still deeply impressive that Labour has managed to have such a Brexit split that the Tories almost look united. At least they’ve achieved something this conference.

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My first book "Not Buying It", looking at post-truth in media and politics, is being published by Unbound

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