The Labour Party conference
By Ed Lively
Its 2018 conference consolidated the shift of Labour from a party which was a part of the neo-liberal consensus to one espousing social justice. Not only that the shift has affected the whole of British politics with rising support for policies such as re-nationalisation of failed services and increased taxation of big companies. There is an acknowledgement that things cannot continue as they have been for the majority of people. As Corbyn said before and reiterated this time Labour is successfully shifting the centre ground and creating a new consensus.
Corbyn’s speech was confident and packed full of policies, whereas the Tories have nothing to offer. The response he received demonstrated that despite the relentless campaigns against him he still has the loyal support of the party members.
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
For the first time in many years, the issue of Palestine won enough backing from delegates to be debated. The motion, which no-one spoke against was carried overwhelmingly. It:
(1) acknowledged the Naqba & the "aggressive attempt to rewrite history and erase the victims of the 1948 war"
(2) condemned of the killing of over 140 unarmed Palestinians in Gaza in the 'Great March of Return' demonstrations from 30 March this year, and
(3) demanded the UK government should immediately freeze its arms trade with Israel.
Behind the scenes attempts to scupper the motion failed.
This represents a significant advance in how Labour addresses the core Palestinians demands for Freedom, Justice and Equality - especially by linking the refugee issue with the origin of the Israeli state, and by demanding that the UK take concrete action against Israel.
The pro-Israel lobby and its allies have tried their best to smear Palestine solidarity and Labour as a whole as anti-Semitic. This historic motion is the last thing they wanted or expected.
There was a lot less clarity over Brexit. Labour is being pushed towards a Second referendum, but the motion that was passed at Conference still doesn’t commit the party to this. Corbyn made this point clearly in his interview with Robert Peston. Whilst this is not as bad as it could have been, serious damage is being done to Labour’s reputation among working class Leave supporters by the advances the Remainers have made. They prepared the ground before conference, with a well-covered demo, incessant campaigning from the Independent and other media, and wrongheaded leadership from the unions. Starmer’s off-piste intervention during his speech – promising a vote on Remain – seemed designed to reduce McDonnell and Corbyn’s room for manoeuvre. His speech chimed with a view popular in the party and among delegates – that the EU is a bulwark of decency. Ignoring the reality of Greece, privatisation, refugee deaths and rising racism.
Although the media like to say that Labour is now Corbyn’s party, there is actually still along way to go. It’s reputation and ability to achieve change is hampered by numerous elected representatives in councils, devolved parliaments and in Westminster who are the products of New Labour and self-serving opportunism. It was therefore disappointing that the chance afforded by the Democracy Review to make it easier to challenge these right-wing place-holders was not fully grasped. Open selection of MPs was rejected and a watered-down proposal passed which will make it easier to trigger a selection contest. Likewise, there was little movement on the process for party leadership nominations. Candidates will still require nominations from 10% of MPs, though in addition they will now also need support from 5% of constituency parties and members of affiliates. This leaves the balance of power firmly with the Parliamentary Party.
A LABOUR GOVERNMENT
Despite the challenges still posed by Brexit for the Party it’s policies to provide jobs, housing, decent care and education and to begin to challenge big business were given a showcase at the conference. It wasn’t just Corbyn who looked like a future prime minister, strong contributions from many members of the shadow cabinet likewise made Labour look like a government in waiting.