In between the fringe events, receptions and the conference bar, conference season plays out on social media as well as behind the secure zone fencing. Political journalist Marie Le Conte took to Twitter at the start of Labour’s Conference, summing up the atmosphere in the Pullman Hotel and surrounding bars perfectly. “My review so far of Labour conference is: I am thoroughly unpumped, the vibe is quite flat, everyone I speak to feels mostly unpumped, we all miss Brighton”.
Her take is spot on; energy is lacking and the enthusiasm that Labour is often known for is not reverberating from the walls of the hotel bars. Events on Sunday night were muted and discussions that took place around the future of the party were inconclusive.
But, maybe this year you need to be in the Conference Hall itself to feel the energy? This is the first year where the centrists of the Labour Party are on the side-lines while the hard left are on the stage, leading the fringe events and speaking about the new way to work with Labour. This is giving everyone something to talk about, but no one quite knows how to process it. Muted scepticism and quiet fear has swept over the docks in Liverpool.
John McDonnell gave the pundits something to tweet about ahead of his speech to the Conference Hall, when he set out the plans for employees to be handed 10% of UK company shares as part of his plan to revolutionise employment and governance in the UK. Breaking down what the announcement means for some of the biggest companies in the UK, Chief Political Correspondent for the FT, Jim Pickard set out some of the “gob-smacking” facts that were entailed in McDonnell’s announcement:
Jim Pickard: “This is radical, ambitious policy making whether you like it or not.”
Jim Pickard: “CBI response, ‘Labour is wrong to assert that workers will be helped by these proposals in their current form. Their diktat on employee share ownership will only encourage investors to pack their bags and will harm those who can least afford it.’”
Laura Kuennsberg: “Big policy day at #labconf18 – McDonnell measures on giving workers a stake in firms they work for, Rayner promising no new academy schools.”
Jim Pickard: “To give you an idea of the scale of this policy, this is how much (in shares) some of Britain’s biggest companies would have to hand over to workers, without compensation (my estimates) – HSBC: £13.6bn, Royal Dutch Shell: £24bn, BP: £11.5bn, BAT: £8.2bn GlaxoSmithKline: £7.6bn”
Jim Pickard: “Last gob-smacking fact. Labour would appropriate £250bn of shares to workers over decade – a tenth of equity. There are 1,169 London-listed companies worth £4 trillion. Of those £2.5 trillion are UK-based. Even excluding private firms you reach £250bn.”
One of the defining moments of the first 48 hours, is furore around the announcement that Labour would support a #PeoplesVote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. McDonnell backtracked the announcement ahead of his speech, confirming to journalists that the referendum that Labour would support would not include a “Remain” option, rather solely a “DEAL” or “NO DEAL” option, contradicting what had previously been reported.
Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit Secretary slapped down McDonnell’s comments on a video posted to Twitter saying that “no one ruled out Remain as an option. There was 300 people in the room last night and that was completely clear.” McDonnell has since backtracked on his comments saying that remain is still all on the cards, but his dismissal earlier in the day is telling.
Ahead of this conference, a YouGov survey of 1,054 Labour members commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign found that 86% of respondents said they wanted a final, public vote on the outcome of Brexit negotiations. Unsurprising then, that the motion to support a People’s Vote passed during a vote at Conference yesterday. Critically, Corbyn has said that he will be bound by the democracy of the party.
Dan Bloom: “NEW Keir Starmer – eventually – slaps down John McDonnell after being ambushed and followed halfway round Labour conference by Michael Crick. Says no one ruled out remain being an option in the Brexit vote. Full story very soon.”
Maybe Marie is right and this conference will be flat all the way through to Wednesday. The quiet fear in people’s eyes as you walk into the Pullman bar speaks volumes as McDonnell and Corbyn pace forwards. We might have some more fireworks kicking off in the coming days as Labour continues to struggle on their Brexit position and fails to give any clarity on the view of the party.