After the Salzburg ambush, the Prime Minister addressed the nation with two Union Jacks behind her. The absence of the EU flag was significant. Her message, that she was not going to be bullied by Brussels, will be her stance in Birmingham this weekend. The Brexit talks are on hold because Mrs May needs to prolong the Salzburg image of herself as the reasonable woman ambushed by obdurate Europeans.
Such a stance will play well with the grassroots and will help to nullify the attempt by Boris Johnson to hijack the conference. He is due to address a big rally on the eve of her keynote speech. The extreme Brexiteers will continue to denounce the Chequers compromise that the Prime Minister supports, but the suggestion that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was leading a Cabinet revolt in favour of a Canada type deal has faded.
Salzburg has rescued Mrs May from what was going to be a nightmare conference, as has Liverpool. Labour’s week on Merseyside has presented the Tories with so many opportunities to go on the attack.
Labour are in a shambles on Brexit. I was at the Pier Head rally on Sunday where European flags were almost as numerous as the contradictions coming from the platform. The leader of the GMB Union made it clear a People’s Vote would only be on the deal whilst every other speaker wanted the Remain option to be considered. Anyway, it was nice to catch up with one of the speakers, ex Everton hero Peter Reid, making his first foray into politics.
Then came the Brexit debate on the floor of conference. The result is the party will be vulnerable to Tory claims in Birmingham that it wants to overturn the democratic vote of the people, whilst at the same time being in open disagreement over whether Remain would be an option in a People’s Vote. Corbyn made his position clear by hugging a delegate who called the EU “a capitalist conspiracy”.
Mrs May can even look forward to some Labour MPs voting for her deal, if she can get one. Opponents of the EU like Blackley’s Graham Stringer may be joined by the likes of Wigan’s Lisa Nandy who is reported as being critical of Labour’s preparedness for a parliamentary impasse.
Calls by Crewe MP Laura Smith for a general strike to bring down the Tories and Shadow Minister Dawn Butler’s support for the 1980s Liverpool Militants stance on “breaking the law, not the poor” will be meat and drink to Tory supporters. One could say “who is Dawn Butler?” and even more “who is Laura Smith?”. Small fry in the great scheme of things, but I can tell you their speeches represented the general feel of the Liverpool conference that I will now turn to.
The radical gamble
The Corbyn revolution was confirmed in Liverpool. The conference was huge. The fringe meeting rooms totally inadequate (my only criticism of the venue) for the number of people wanting to debate the priorities for a Labour government. Gone was the subdued mood of New Labour where lobbyists in suits circled the debating hall where delegates were invited to watch discussions being held on sofas. The conference now is a forum for left wing zeal and endless debates on rule changes.
It is also the place where this week the leader, Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell set out their policies for a fairer Britain. Some of the proposals, like rail nationalisation, will have support well beyond normal Labour ranks. But the proposal to effectively nationalise 10% of large companies has sent shockwaves through business already reeling from Brexit uncertainty.
Promises to create green jobs in northern communities still suffering from the loss of traditional industries and changes in Treasury rules to help infrastructure investment are good. The Tories are vulnerable to Labour’s claim we live in an unfair society.
Other conference jottings
There will be no breakaway from Labour moderates. At the Progress Rally, MPs who oppose Corbyn, made it clear they were staying and fighting their corner. Good luck with that.
I was at the Jewish fringe where Wavertree MP Luciana Berger arrived with a police escort. They remain unconvinced anti-Semitism will be rooted out.
So, its off to the Midlands Engine after a week when Liverpool looked its best in the sunshine and the local economy was given a boost.