Brexit is not the only issue at this year’s Labour Party conference—despite what the media suggests.
Coverage has focussed on efforts by right wing Labour MPs to undermine Jeremy Corbyn—and on apparent splits between the party leader, members and his aides.
The conference is set to debate its Brexit position tomorrow, and many delegates are expected to back moves to push Labour towards supporting Remain.
Yet the right has shown ever more clearly how they’re using this to undermine Corbyn.
Deputy leader Tom Watson declared at a Remain (And Reform) meeting on Sunday that “whatever anyone says, Labour is a Remain party”. It was a direct challenge to Corbyn, whose position is to negotiate a Brexit deal then have a referendum.
Watson bragged about how Corbyn had been slowly pressured to give way to the right over Brexit over the past year.
He then went straight to a fringe meeting of right wing party activists who gave him two standing ovations, and praised the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Other speakers, such as the right wing MP Margaret Hodge, complained about the “ultra-left” positions Labour delegates fought for on conference floor.
The right are ever more openly using Brexit as a weapon against Corbyn, and to pull Labour away from campaigning over the climate, austerity and many other issues that affect working class people’s lives.
Giving in and backing Remain won’t make them go away—it would be a victory for them.
After a full year of forcing concessions from Corbyn over Brexit, Watson can stride around conference undermining him without any consequences.
Ahead of conference, Momentum founder and national committee member (NEC) Jon Lansman tried to get Labour’s NEC to abolish the deputy leader position—so getting rid of Watson.
After backlash from right wing Labour MPs and union leaders, Corbyn intervened to block Lansman—handing the right a victory.
The move failed because backroom, bureaucratic measures can’t defeat the right politically. They have to be challenged over Brexit—and their attempts to set the agenda and pull Labour away from the radical positions its members want.
Brexit is far from the most important issue for ordinary Labour Party members at conference.
Delegates chose housing and schools as the top two issues they would like to debate.
A Green New Deal—a plan for action on climate change—was the fourth most popular topic out of 54, narrowly behind Brexit. The debate is set to take place on Tuesday.
Corbyn began a speech to supporters on Saturday night with enthusiastic, full-throated support for the climate strikes last Friday.
He said the climate change demonstrations were “really quite amazing” and had “a massive effect.”
Corbyn demanded that governments across the world “go further, go faster” on promises to take action on climate change, and achieve zero carbon emissions “well, well before 2050”.
After the rally, Corbyn supporter Jay Ananthan told Socialist Worker that Corbyn “talked about the issues that affect so many people’s lives. When I listen to him I think, we’ve got to get this man elected.”
She added, “We’re up against it because we haven’t got the media on our side. All they want to talk about is Brexit and this business with Tom Watson. They don’t want to talk about the other issues because they don’t care.”
Another, Freddy Bradford, said, “When you see Corbyn like that in campaign mode, it’s completely different to how you see him in parliament. If we went into a general election like that, I think we would win.”
The rally showed Labour members have responded to the growing climate change movement. It also showed how supporting that movement could break out of Labour’s Brexit quagmire.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle