It was the debate everyone has been waiting for. After months of speculation, weeks of CLPs passing motions and the now legendary 5 hour plus compositing meeting, the Labour Conference Brexit debate turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. In the end the motion, which keeps “all options on the table” was passed by an overwhelming majority of those in the room.
There were moments of sparkle, Keir Starmer received a standing ovation when he announced no one could rule out having Remain as an option in any referendum. Delegates had hardly sat down again when Steve Turner from UNITE took the platform to rule out having Remain as an option. As far as Labour’s biggest donor is concerned, it’ll be May’s Deal or No Deal.
While the majority of speakers backed a second vote and many lamented the cause of Brexit, the delegate from Blythe Valley spoke passionately in favour of a General Election over another referendum, and slammed the EU as a “capitalist club”. After his speech he received a hug from Jeremy Corbyn, though it wasn’t clear which view he was endorsing.
Elsewhere, at the start of a debate on foreign affairs, delegates unfurled Palestinian flags and joined in chants of “Free! Free! Palaestine”. As passions rose and the Chair struggled to maintain order, another delegate called for an end of arms sales to Israel and an end of the Gaza Blockade.
Emily Thornberry, making her address to Conference during the debate, gave a blistering speech which in other times would have been seen as a leadership pitch. A whistle-stop tour of Labour’s history fighting racism and fascism ended with chants of “No pasaran!” as the afternoon briefly resembled the terraces at Clapton FC rather than a Labour Conference.
Diane Abbott also made her speech on Tuesday, condemning the hostile environment created by Theresa May and continuing under Sajid Javid. She slammed Tory austerity for the impact it has had on community safety, and she called for the closeure of the Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres. The shadow Home Secretary finished by telling delegates to rapturous applause that a Corbyn government was needed to “repair the ravages of the Tory years”.
Aside from the frontbench speakers, Tosh McDonald from rail union ASLEF told delegates that he hated Margaret Thatcher so much that he set his alarm clock an hour earlier every day, just so he could hate her for longer.
Meanwhile over at The World Transformed, the Momentum parallel conference, Laura Smith MP called for a General Strike. The Crewe and Nantwich MP told a rally “If we cant get a General Election we should organise with trade unions to bring an end to this government with a General Strike”. The crowd loved it, so did the MPs on stage, including shadow cabinet member Margaret Greenwood and Richard Burgon.