Party Conferences: What Did We Learn?

By Campaign Agent Joe Monk

As MP’s return to the green benches this week for PMQ’s, many senior figures will be hoping their performance during the conference season strengthened their ranks, as negotiations enter a turbulent period. Much uncertainty still admits as to whether the EU-27 will accept May’s proposed Chequers deal, or whether this will be unanimously revoked, forcing May to cut her losses and come back with no deal at all.


Labour had the advantage with `serving` first by holding their conference in their stronghold of Liverpool. Undoubtedly, the mood here generated impetus for the public to have another say on Brexit. Aside from Brexit, Corbyn has had to contend with internal divisions within the party between his loyalists – most of whom generated much of the debate towards the prospects of Labour pledging to hold a second referendum – and the moderates. Compared with May, Corbyn seems to have a stranglehold on the party, and anyone who contests the Corbyn approach will be vilified. With regards to deselection of Labour MP’s, it was agreed that the threshold to deselect members from their constituency would be reduced to 33%. Ultimately, this gives more power to the likes of Unite and Momentum to generate the support needed to oust honorary members such as Chukku Ummuna, Lucy Powell and Rachel Reeves. Thus, it can be said that if there was doubt to whether Corbyn was in a stable position as the party leader, this has surely been revoked. 


Turning attention to the Conservatives, so long as cough sweets were in the many, it would be a dramatic improvement from the calamities that occurred last year. Despite the inevitable attacks from Boris Johnson at his fringe event over how Chequers would be a betrayal of the British public, May certainly proved to many that she had no intention of going anywhere in the foreseeable future. One quote that was resonate across the conference was that the Conservatives were “for everyone”. This was a clever approach to take given the Labour rhetoric of `for the many, not the few`. May is now turning attention to Labour backbenchers, party members and voters to secure their support when it comes to voting on the deal she intends to take forward to the EU-27. She is very much taking a centre ground approach, to the distaste of the Brexit faction of the Conservatives, arguing that party alignment needs to be put aside, and that putting support and trust into her will ensure stability over the next few months. 

It is a smart approach to take given that The European Research Group, an alliance of backbench Conservative MPs who lobby on issues surrounding Brexit, have increasing influence within the party. Therefore, she needs to ensure there is unity within parliament, not necessarily the party, to ensure that she gets the votes needed to put forward her plan. Nevertheless, this approach does show flaws. Corbyn knows she needs his support, but for him it’s a question of supporting an austerity-infused Tory government and keeping them in power, as opposed to forcing a no-confidence vote in her resulting in a possible general election where Labour would counter with prominence. If Labour were to vote down the deal May delivers back to parliament, there would be a constitutional gridlock. A general election would further delay the process of the Brexit negotiations, in addition to the possibility of a second referendum causing serious backlash and hindering our democratic values, and this illustrates what could happen if a deal is rejected


The toxic nature of Brexit has arguably caused more divisions in the Conservatives than with Labour. Although some may point to deselection fears within Labour, this is also present within the Tories. Sarah Wollaston, who changed her allegiances to remain over the proclaimed false allegations made by the leave campaign, represents the Brexit area of Totnes in Dorset and is coming under major scrutiny to be deselected. The former UKIP donor, Aaron Banks, is encouraging people to join the Totnes Conservative association to help topple her position as the constituency MP, referring to her as `Slippery Sarah`. Do the Conservatives need this to contend with amongst the complexities of trying to compromise with what approach to take next?

Consequently, it’s very hard to determine who has the upper foot for when PMQ’s resume. Vince Cable has urged Sturgeon to get her SNP colleagues in Westminster to back them in proposals for a second referendum. This does benefit May with the assurance that these parties want to remove the possibility of there being a no-deal. Nevertheless, the underlying motive for the SNP may be to hope that there is a no-deal. This would produce much persuasion for there to be a people’s vote, or even another independence referendum

Sources and Further Reading

Image: Mick C @flickr

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