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Crunch conference for Jeremy Corbyn as in-fighting rages

PUBLISHED: 12:07 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:07 21 September 2018

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a crunch conference in Liverpool
Photo: PA / John Linton

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a crunch conference in Liverpool Photo: PA / John Linton

PA Wire/PA Images

Labour MPs are gathering in Liverpool for their annual conference. Here political editor Richard Porritt talks to the East’s Labour MPs about in-fighting and if the party will back a second referendum

Labour claim it is the government in-waiting.

But this is a party ravaged by division, in-fighting and a growing anger that threatens to rip the whole movement in two.

Labour was always a broad church – that is why Jeremy Corbyn was able to coexist alongside the likes of Tony Blair for so long.

But times have changed. And as the party gathers in Liverpool for their annual conference those divisions have been laid bare. Of course many of the MPs – especially those loyal to Mr Corbyn – will have you believe otherwise.

In fact in the 12 months since they last gathered in Brighton the only thing that has changed is the level of anger. Last year the main bone of contention was Momentum advising their members against debating Brexit on the conference floor. This year Brexit remains a huge issue - and there is so much more besides.

Anti-Semitism, de-selection the general direction of the party – there are contentious topics at every turn.

The leadership will be hoping to get through the next few days without too much of this inter-party strife boiling over.

It is something of a sorry state for a party than unexpectedly ran the Conservatives close in the 2017 general election. Labour should be surging ahead in the polls against a government also struggling to keep a lid on their own party spats.

Perhaps this is Mr Corbyn’s chance to draw a line under a summer of problems and begin to move his party forward together?

Both East Anglia’s Labour MPs agree the party must seize the opportunity to draw a line under a fractious period.

Ipswich’s Sandy Martin said: “One of the issues that will come up is deselection. I think members of the party in each constituency should have a say in who their candidate is at the next election. I am perfectly happy to work with that.

“I think there is quite a few different proposals being put forward ... I am hoping that it will be workable and democratic.

“The systems we have had up until now has not been particularly democratic – and it needs to be. It needs to represent what the voters actually want in the constituency.

“I think Labour has been a broad church in the past and I believe it can remain one.”

And Norwich South MP Clive Lewis agrees: “In terms of internal democracy we have been heading this way for some time. Most people out there are tired of the bickering in the party – the electorate and the members. So some kind of resolution on it is vital.

“It is very possible Labour will form the next government. That could be in the next six months possibly. Therefore resolving this as far as possible is critical. And then yes, you would like to think the party could move on and focus entirely on external issues. And whatever your political persuasion having an opposition that is entirely focussed on external matters that matter to the entire country is preferable.”

On the burning issue of Brexit both MPs called for further clarity and Mr Martin even went as far as calling for Labour to back a People’s Vote which would heap more pressure on the government.

Mr Lewis added: “We need clarity on our future position for the People’s Vote. I hope it isn’t a fudge. I hope we have a policy we can all get behind.”

But it is not just on the conference hall floor where the action takes place. Labour conference boasts a lively fringe circuit which has been enlivened in recent years by left-wing pressure group Momentum’s The World Transformed event.

This couples a nightclub atmosphere with serious discussions on policy and the future of the movement.

Mr Lewis said: “I will spend the majority of my time at the fringe. That is where the future policy is made. Many of the activists will be there more than in the conference hall. That is where the sort of things we will be looking at in the years to come is formed.”

Mr Corbyn will speak on Wednesday lunchtime and, if last year’s address is anything to go by, he can expect a rapturous reception from the faithful. Even with the ongoing rows in the party, Mr Corbyn excites and engages the majority of his membership – even though confusion over the Brexit stance has tarnished some of the sheen.

All eyes will be on Liverpool when he speaks.

Mr Corbyn must offer a clear path forward for the party and delegates will be hoping it is something everyone can get behind.

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