Corbyn’s position is solid – but support is not united on all issues
PUBLISHED: 09:18 01 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:18 01 October 2015
Jeremy Corbyn’s first major test as leader is complete. ANNABELLE DICKSON takes the temperature at the end of the Labour conference few, six months ago, would have predicted
For the leader of any shade of party, the gathering of the foot soldiers at the annual conference is their biggest moment of their year.
Inside what is usually a drab, purpose-built tower, those you are representing confront you, applaud you and, in more recent years, look for a selfie.
But it is not just about what happens inside the conference hall that matters, it is a unique few
days when all eyes are on your policies, personalities and internal divisions, including the all-important voter who you need to convince if you are to ever be able to enact your ideas.
Jeremy Corbyn, like many leaders before him, looked exhausted as the socialism song the Red Flag was sung to signal the end of conference.
Just an hour before he had pulled out of a raft of pre-planned interviews, including one with the Eastern Daily Press, claiming tiredness after having “had enough”.
It is a gruelling schedule and unlike his predecessors he continued with the fringe meetings.
While it was clear by the end of the conference that Mr Corbyn’s position was solid – even the most candid opponents admit that a 69pc mandate cannot be challenged – shadow
cabinet members were not all
uniting behind their leader on key issues.
The Labour leader has said he would not fire a nuclear weapon and did not want to renew Trident, a position described by his defence frontbencher Maria Eagle as “unhelpful” for a future prime minister.
And then differences over immigration emerged. Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said it was “not true” to say that free movement of workers across Europe benefits everyone in the UK. Current EU rules were “widening inequality” and hitting job security in the poorest communities, he claimed.
But in an interview for the BBC before he bowed out of his media engagements, Mr Corbyn insisted he did not believe that immigration had been “anything but a plus” for Britain.
Deputy leader Tom Watson, whose job it was to conclude conference, insisted MPs have had different opinions but “remained friends” and “stuck to a common position”.
Many who went to the conference concluded it was a success, superficially, at least.
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The newly-appointed frontbencher retold the story of how he helped a girl at primary school with her maths answers so she did not get the cane, after reading the anecdote in the EDP letters pages.
He reflected on his childhood in Great Yarmouth and told members during the packed event how he still sails on the Norfolk Broads.
The rebel MP reflected on his reputation for “telling it like it is” and admitted that he could be quite aggressive, but said that Jeremy Corbyn was giving him lessons in being more consensual. He told of his “working-class” background and how he had moved from “one of the worst slums in Europe” in Liverpool to Great Yarmouth as a child.
The former Great Yarmouth Grammar School pupil described how he worked hard at school, but had found the whole grammar school system “appalling” with pupil tested and divided at the age of 11.
He worked his way up through the Greater London Council – where, he said, he had effectively been “chancellor”.
Mr McDonnell described how he takes his mind off things by sailing his Skipper 17 on the Norfolk Broads, although he joked that he and his wife did tend to fall out.
“When people see us coming they get off the water. You are so terrified it takes your mind off everything.”
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