Keir Starmer will face an unpredictable challenge at the Labour Party Conference | Jean Rentoul

Keir Starmer will face an unpredictable challenge at the Labour Party Conference | Jean Rentoul
The first in real life meeting of the party since 2019 will be a critical encounter for the Labour leader

Keir Starmer will meet his party face to face in Brighton in September for the first time since it elected him leader 15 il y a des mois. Cette année, the party’s annual conference looks as if it is going to go ahead in person: foules, speeches, votes and all.

It will be a critical encounter. The party’s members usually become disillusioned with their leaders over time, but in Starmer’s case it has happened already. A poll of Labour members last month found that a bare majority – 55 per cent – thought he was doing a good job, et 69 per cent of them thought that Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, would be a better leader.

pendant ce temps, the Corbynites are crying betrayal, which they were bound to do. They accuse Starmer of retreating from the policies on which he was elected, and demand Jeremy Corbyn’s readmission to the Parliamentary Labour Party. Their fury hasn’t mattered much so far because they have no big public forum in which to show it.

That is about to change. Élan, the pro-Corbyn faction, and Labour to Win, the pro-Starmer one, have both organised to secure as many delegates from local parties as possible to the conference. When delegate nominations closed earlier this month, neither side claimed to have secured a majority. It may be that the key votes will be decided by a group of non-aligned delegates, in which case Starmer may struggle to defend some of the positions he has adopted.

That poll of party members, par example, trouvé ceci 60 per cent of them wanted Corbyn back as a Labour MP. That is not something that the conference can decide, but it can still vote to demand it.

Then there are a number of motions on policy for which Momentum is pressing, some of which are likely to gain support from non-aligned delegates. Starmer may be able to live with demands for a £15-an-hour minimum wage (une 70 per cent increase on the current £8.91) and a four-day working week as aspirations for the future, but he will have more of a problem with a vote in favour of proportional representation. That is an issue that unites many of his own supporters with Momentum.

During the leadership election, il spoke ambiguously about “electoral reform”, en disant: “We’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their vote doesn’t count.” He will try to deflect the issue by promising a constitutional convention, but many in the party are likely to try to bind him to a manifesto promise of a specific voting system.

On foreign policy Starmer will want a respectful expression of support for Palestinian rights and a two-state solution, and to avoid photos of a sea of Palestinian flags.

One of his bigger problems may come from his own side of the party, pourtant. Another poll trouvé ceci 59 per cent of Labour members think the party should campaign to rejoin the EU. That was the issue that helped propel Starmer to the leadership. As shadow Brexit secretary, he was at the heart of the drafting meeting that hammered out the wording of the policy that was voted on at the 2018 conference. It was his speech that won a thunderous standing ovation when he went beyond the agreed text on a second referendum to add: “Nobody is ruling out remain as an option.”

Corbyn and his supporters were always more sceptical about the pro-EU case, which is why Momentum has no interest in pushing such motions this year. The trickiest subplot might have been one of the 10 gages that Starmer made during the leadership campaign, which was to “defend free movement as we leave the EU”. But a “no borders” policy failed to make it on to Momentum’s priority shortlist.

It may be that Starmer can draw on his authority as Remainer to persuade his own supporters not to push “rejoin the EU” to a vote. The other thing that surveys of party members show is that they are more prepared than they used to be to do what is needed to win – and Starmer’s side of the party is well aware of how Boris Johnson would exploit any attempt to reopen the question of EU membership.

This must be one of the most unpredictable party conferences in recent years. Partly because the in-person event was cancelled last year, we don’t have a baseline for the voting strengths of the pro- and anti-Starmer forces. But we also don’t know how much social distancing will be expected by 25 septembre, and whether the traditional packed fringe meetings will go ahead.

What does seem likely, mais, is that this will be Momentum’s last stand. This may be the last time that the so-called hard left can count on the huge block vote wielded by Unite, the biggest union affiliated to the party. If Gerard Coyne, the anti-Corbyn candidate, wins the election to succeed Len McCluskey as general secretary, which will be announced on 26 août, it will be too late to change this year’s conference delegates – but next year’s conference may be easier for Starmer to manage.

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