by Tanya Harrington
Every autumn (not summer, sorry), the Labour Party gets together for its annual conference. Speeches are made, motions are passed and the media works itself into a frenzy looking for as many articles as it can possibly find in all the commotion. This year, the event was held in the sunny seaside town of Brighton, home of its very own pier and the famously tall i360.
Perhaps spookier than heights for some onlookers was fear of a “cultish” atmosphere at the conference, with many speaking in praise of the party and Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign tactics, and many apologetic for their previous doubt of the party leader. However, rather than being a result of what has been referred to as a “cult of personality,” perhaps these buoyant vibes purely reflected the relief of a year gone far better than expected. What can be said for sure is that the reception at the conference was mostly positive, a welcome difference from the previous one which doubled as the platform for the controversial re-election of Jeremy Corbyn.
Events began on the 23rd with the National Women’s conference, a place for Labour-supporting women to discuss issues important to them. On Sunday 24th through Wednesday 28th was the “official,” conference (where motions could be passed), split into a main stage and the fringe events. The main stage included speeches from Diane Abbott, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson, and served as the platform for the financial report.
The fringe is often where the more interesting (and potentially controversial) events happen – this year, there were talks with Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham, John Prescott and John McDonnell. Diane Abbott gave a speech on migration, and there was much discussion on hot button topics austerity, Brexit, diversity and socialism. Among the speakers were also media personalities Russell Brand and Owen Jones, who discussed addiction and migration respectively.
Of course, the party is still split in terms of political leaning – the divide between the moderate and more left-leaning party members is still prevalent, and with every suggestion of a more “hard-left” direction for the party came an equal and opposite reaction about how this would be a bad idea. Despite a newfound ability to get along, there are definitely still issues among factions. As well as this, there were concerns of antisemitism at the conference, with an example being the Jewish Labour Movement being accused of ““running to the Daily Mail and the Telegraph with stories,” by campaigner Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Fortunately, with the passing of the new rule which will help to crack down on antisemitic abuse within the party, it should be made clear that behaviour such as this should not be tolerated.
Finally, the conference closed with a speech by a content Jeremy Corbyn, who declared the Labour Party as the face of “the new political mainstream,” a statement which was met with controversy. However, now at the end of a particularly apologetic and concessional Conservative Party Conference, in which the party did appear to become more “left” on topics such as student debt, can the influence of Labour politics actually be so readily dismissed?