The ACC Liverpool, home to the annual Labour party conference 2018, is located near the well-known Albert dock of Liverpool. On the rather dreary, rainy and windy day of Sunday 23 September 2018, the conference opened for delegates and members of the Labour party across the world. The first day hosted a Youth day for Young Labour members, a growing phenomenon for the party.

Labour Party Conference 2018

It can be said that the election gains made in the 2017 General Election for the Labour party occurred off the backs of young people turning out to vote – for Labour. Promises that the Labour manifesto 2017 made, such as the promise to eliminate university tuition fees, targeted young people specifically and by January 2018, party sources confirmed that the youth wing (14-26 years old) of the party had almost 100,000 members. Comparing this to the 102,000 total members of the Liberal Democrat party at the same time, Young Labour could be a party of its own right.

This Youth Day began with a speech by Jennie Formby, the General Secretary, surrounding the recent growth of the party before plunging into a panel on international human rights. Notably, Grainne Griffin, Co-Director of the Together for Yes campaign to legalise abortion in Ireland, spoke about the history of the fight to win unconditional access to abortion for all women in Ireland. Together for Yes has historically been run by younger women in particular, and the fairly recent success of the Irish referendum on abortion made it a particularly relevant issue, as well as considering that Northern Ireland is yet to legalise abortion. Previously, the numbers of Irish women flying to England for an abortion were very high, and with the Irish border being up for debate in regards to Brexit, the future of women in Northern Ireland is more uncertain than ever.

This speech was possibly most inspiring and thought-provoking in the Labour Youth day. It lacked the typical elements one finds in most speeches by politicians and other campaigners addressing young people, for example, the incessant need to emphasise how old they feel.

Ed Miliband, ex-leader of the Labour party, could be found in a fringe event debating inequality in Britain, which has stayed at a consistent high since the 1980s, and called for a more revolutionary approach to tackling inequality, including the possibility of having a 4-day working week. In a Labour conference, the opinions discussed are usually even further left-wing than shown in the public eye. The 2015 Labour manifesto under Ed Miliband was more centrist than the 2017 manifesto under Corbyn, yet Miliband himself seems to be more supportive of the current Labour politics, though he did not enact this as leader, for fear of not appealing to enough voters. The growth of the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has almost entirely thrown away Blair’s New Labour stance and replaced it with a much more socialist following than it did prior to the new century, so Labour politicians are more open to veer further away from the centre now more than ever.

Of course all the real action was happening in the main hall, where delegates from all over the country were voting on party policy. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell proposed Labour’s new policy of nationalising our water system as Scotland already does, with the (however disputable) claim that it would have no extra cost. Even more significantly, Corbyn confirmed that the option of a second EU referendum cannot be ruled out by the Labour party if the members do not wish for it to be so. Many Labour members or Labour voters have been put off by Labour’s pro-Brexit policies in the 2017 manifesto and a significant proportion of the membership support a second referendum. However, this did not stop many from voting Labour as they still gained many seats in the General Election and the Liberal Democrats, the main party pioneering an anti-Brexit position, did not make significant gains. Corbyn also said that Labour would be prepared to back a deal negotiated by Theresa May if they found it suitable. As the opposition party, Labour is able to have a more comfortable position on Brexit, allowing all or most options to stay on the table as they are not having to negotiate it themselves. Brexit is the key contentious issue that is currently splitting the country, in particular the Conservative party as the pressure on Theresa May to make a deal that the majority will accept increases day-by-day. Without this pressure, Corbyn enjoys the ability of satisfying all sides of the Brexit debate by keeping all options open for the Labour party.

Overall the 2018 Labour conference served the purpose of rallying members for the possibility of another General Election which, with the current situation on Brexit, could spring on us unexpectedly. Labour is still on a winning high from gaining so many seats in 2017 and believes that the sooner another election occurs, the higher the possibility of Labour winning in the foreseeable future.

Safa Al-Azami