Reflections on the Labour Party Conference, by Martha Kool, Associate

Despite being interrupted by the Supreme Court ruling and subsequent return of Parliament this week, the Labour Party Conference provided us with some significant policy announcements. From delegates voting to get rid of private schools, to John McDonnell announcing Labour’s plans for a four-day week, we’ve seen the Party make further bold moves towards socialist policies ahead of the forthcoming General Election. 

Conference was dominated by Momentum supporters and this move to the left, exemplified by the attempted removal of the Deputy Leader position, and subsequent campaigning on the streets of Brighton to boycott Tom Watson’s speech. His speech was, of course, cancelled and replaced by the Leader’s, but no doubt reactions from Corbyn’s committed supporters would have been dramatic had it gone ahead. 

Much as I’d like to leave Brexit out of this altogether, I must mention the (incredibly close) vote, which resulted in Labour agreeing to a ‘neutral’ position, something they have been immediately attacked by other parties for. The position has been called non-committal and Jo Swinson has accused the Labour Leader of being a “Brexiteer at heart”. But Labour’s policy is unique in that they are the only party committing to a second referendum, something which could be conceived as more democratic than the Liberal Democrats promise to revoke Article 50. 

In general, outcomes from Brighton have not been best received by business bosses. Policies like cutting the working week to 32 hours with no loss of pay over the next ten years and banning zero-hour contracts, were always going to be a cause for concern among those paying worker’s salaries. But they have proven popular among members and are likely to be attractive policies to the public during a General Election. 

Similarly, healthcare policies such as free personal care for the over-65s and the creation of a state-owned drug company to sell to the NHS at affordable rates are likely to sound appealing to voters, although there have already been questions raised over the funding of these plans. Experts have expressed doubts that this is the answer to the current social care crisis. The Nuffield Trust, for example, has called the commitment to over-65s only, a “missed opportunity”. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech brought the conference to an abrupt end on Tuesday as MPs were summoned back to Westminster following the Supreme Court ruling that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament had been unlawful. But it was surprisingly lacking in attacks on the Prime Minister and his party. The thrust of his speech, though strong on policy and well-received, could have been harder on the Tories – considering the imminent election. 

Now we wait to see what comes out of Tory Conference. The Government just lost its seventh vote out of seven, this time trying to hit the ‘pause’ button on Parliament so they could enjoy their Manchester jamboree without having to shuttle between the North and the Capital. The vote was tight -306-289 (with nine Tory ‘rebel’ MPs voting with the Opposition). Conference is going ahead, nonetheless, but MPs are pulling out of fringe meetings, and the whole event may end up scaled back, in the same way that the Brighton Conference was truncated.

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