By Arun Srivastava
More than deciding the fate of the future UK government, the annual conference of the Labour Party being held in Brighton would untie the destiny of its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
He became the leader of Labour in 2015, but this is the first conference where his leadership is on test, especially on the issue of Brexit. No doubt health and education are the two major issues confronting the leadership, it is the Brexit that will set the course of the political dimension. The reality is that Brexit is going to dominate much of the proceedings and the media coverage.
Issues of Leave and Remain have made walking tough for the Labour leadership. Significantly Labour members are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit but have been pressurising the leadership to move towards a more avowedly remain position. Some of its MPs are working with colleagues from other parties to encourage the prime minister to strike a Brexit deal, and bring it back to parliament for approval.
The ambivalent stand of Corbyn has created confusion in the Party. Though Boris Johnson has lost the game, the latest opinion poll, conducted by Deltapoll for The Mail on Sunday, shows the Conservatives have gained 10 points to stand at 30 per cent because of the “Boris bounce”. That puts them five points ahead of Labour at 25 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 18 per cent and the Brexit Party on 14 per cent.
Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union was always a complex technical matter. Corbyn who backed remain in 2016 despite being a life-long Eurosceptic, has so far resisted pressure to say which way he would campaign if there is another vote, insisting he would carry out the wishes of the people.
Labour desperately wants power but it is not as simple as that and the whole issue of election timing could rear its head in Brighton. The differences between the senior Labour leaders have reached to such a level moves are afoot to oust deputy leader Tom Watson. An attempt to abolish Mr Watson’s role was made at the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on Friday by the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum, but it failed to get the two-thirds majority needed.
It is worth mentioning that since last year’s conference, nearly a dozen MPs have quit the party. With elections knocking at the door Brighton conference was meant to showcase its radical policies and provide an opportunity to enthuse grassroots members about the project of propelling Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street, but this does not appear to be happening.
With the Remain and Leave virtually splitting the party, Corbyn has tried to float his own formula of “Labour Brexit”. This according to the Labour leaders would be the middle path. However, more than 90 local constituency units have submitted motions demanding the party support remain.
What has been most shocking is on the eve of the conference, a poll was published that gave Corbyn a negative personal approval rating of minus 60 points. To have a candidate for prime minister who is that repellent to the country is a problem for Labour, especially when it is facing a general election. If Labour is again rejected by the country, in that case it is almost certain that Corbyn will have to go.
Corbyn was hard-pressed to contain an open revolt by some of his most senior shadow ministers, MPs and party activists as his refusalto back a policy of remaining in the EU threatened to wreck the Labour conference. His development has put him in an embarrassing position.
His situation is simply been weakened from the failed attempt by his supporters to oust Tom Watson and abolish his role as deputy leader. This has even erupted angered in the rank and file and he is accused of trying to block democratic debate and fudge a decision about where Labour stands on the issue of leaving the EU.
Devastating for Labour, 58% of those polled now think the Tories have a clear policy on Brexit, against just 31% of voters who say Labour’s approach is clear. The poll also shows for the first time that as many Remain voters (33%) now plan to vote for the Liberal Democrats as for Labour. In April the proportion planning to vote Labour was nearer 50%, with only around 10% saying they would choose the Lib Dems. Incidentally Labour’s Brexit policy has shifted significantly over the past 12 months. (IPA Service)