The Labour Party conference in Liverpool staged one of its most important debates in a generation today when delegates tackled Brexit.
The conference was gripped from the the very outset when the Shadow secretary for state for Exiting Europe declared that Remain was still an option.
Sir Keir Starmer began his keynote speech by stating that Brexit cannot be driven by a “narrow and divisive” Conservative ideology, whilst defending Labour’s calls for a Customs Union with the EU and a strong Single Market deal, ensuring that Parliament has a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.
Most significantly, Starmer confirmed that Labour would not vote for a Brexit deal that does not meet Labour’s key tests on Brexit.
Whilst calling for a General Election that can “sweep away” the Conservative Government and allow for the introduction of “a radical Labour Government” that would put jobs and living standards first, the Shadow Secretary of State reiterated Labour’s commitment to keep all options open if such a General Election is not possible.
This could include the backing of another public vote, he stated, with nobody ruling out Remain as an option.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy used her keynote speech at Conference by announcing the development of a long-term strategy for high-streets, consisting of an emergency five-point plan to save them. Such measures include the banning of ATM charges, Post Office and bank branch closures, as well as the provision of free public Wi-Fi in town centres.
It is also planned that business rates will introduce annual revaluations of rates and ensure a fair appeals system.
On climate change, she stated that a Labour Government will back a target for net zero emissions by 2050 and announced the intention to provide 60 per cent of the UK’s energy demand from renewable or low-carbon sources within 12 years.
John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, used his keynote speech to announce that the next election will usher in a “radical” Labour Government.
Using rhetoric that clearly put his Party on a war footing in preparation for a snap election, Mr McDonnell unveiled plans to clear up the “mess” left behind by the Conservative party’s tenure in Government.
The most striking extract of the speech was his warning that: “The greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be; the greater the need for change, the greater the opportunity to create that change and we will.”
Plans to force big companies to hand over 10 per cent of their equity to their employees
Criticising the Conservative’s implementation of austerity measures since 2010, McDonnell openly welcomed the prospect of a snap general election and the subsequent opportunity for Labour to “…build the future.”
Unveiling further plans for nationalisation, Mr McDonnell declared that the water industry would also be put “back in the hands of local councils, workers and customers…” and adding that there would be a new culture of openness and transparency in how the water industry will be managed.
This comes after previous commitments to nationalise rail, energy, and the Royal Mail. There will therefore be radical changes to the profiteering in dividends and vast executive salaries within the utilities industry. Surpluses, he added, would instead be re-invested in water infrastructure and staff, or used to reduce bills for customers.
In further radical announcements, the Shadow Chancellor also confirmed plans to force big companies to hand over 10 per cent of their equity to their employees, whilst also announcing plans to launch a shareholder campaign aimed at putting pressure on companies which avoid tax.
He also said that the next Labour Government will demand that companies sign up to the Fair Tax Mark standards.
On Brexit, McDonnell said that a Labour Government will “protect” the economy, jobs and standards of living for people whilst keeping “all the options for democratic engagement on the table.”
Extension of the Article 50 Period
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry said that Labour should seek to delay Brexit by extending the Article 50 period, if it wins power in a snap General Election.
According to an article in The Independent, Ms Thornberry insisted that the UK could not leave the EU “in current circumstances” and that, in the next Labour manifesto, would commit to extend Article 50 in the event of a snap General Election. Speaking at a conference fringe event Ms Thornberry nonetheless emphasised that the UK must leave the EU eventually as a result of the 2016 Referendum, which must be respected.
De-selection of MPs made easier
In other developments, the Labour Party voted through new rules making it easier for MPs to be de-selected if deemed to be out of touch.
In a result on a card vote of members and Union Chiefs, 65 per cent to 35 per cent voted in favour of putting the power to trigger a re-selection battle into the hands of a relatively small number of local party members. The move that was criticised by more centrist-leaning and independent minded MPs.
The proposals supported include lowering the threshold at which local branches and affiliated unions can start a “trigger ballot” which can potentially lead to MPs being de-selected in favour of those more aligned to Corbyn’s agenda.
Momentum subsequently described the measures as “meagre” in comparison to what the organisation had hoped to see implemented, adding that the outcome could in fact have been more radical in nature.