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Splits? Islington Labour insist they’re still ‘one family’

Resignations and rows over Brexit, but party claim they are united at seaside conference

27 September, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Islington Labour councillors in Brighton for the party’s conference

ISLINGTON Labour councillors at their annual party conference said they are a united party despite splits within the membership on what position they should take when it comes to the UK leaving the European Union.

Thousands of delegates and members from across the country streamed into Brighton this week to shape policy and decide on the future direction of their party.

Cllr Claudia Webbe, who not only represents Bunhill for Labour but is also a member of the party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), told the Tribune on Sunday: “Jeremy [Corbyn] is the only political leader that is seeking to unite the country and therefore not write off one element of the country for the other.”

She also commented that her party was a “broad church”.

“We embrace all within the Labour family. Historically that’s always been the case and it will continue to be so,” she added.

Mr Corbyn’s motion to remain neutral while negotiating a new Brexit deal was backed by the majority of delegates while a motion for the party to back Remain in a future referendum was voted down on Monday.

But Islington South MP Emily Thornberry started conference by joining a “Love Socialism Hate Brexit” rally organised by campaign group People’s Vote on Saturday.

She later tweeted: “I believe we must not just demand the public has the final say, but lead the campaign to Remain.”

The People’s Vote are a group campaigning for a public vote on the final Brexit deal – something Mr Corbyn has now recently backed.

Cllr Webbe denied Ms Thornberry’s action demonstrated a split between the two Islington MPs.

“She was at a People’s Vote rally – I can hardly say she’s operating against the party. There’s nothing wrong in that sense. I know the media loves to engage in divisions but we’re really one family here,” said Cllr Webbe. “People should be able to express their views. The whole point of conference is that it is a debate and discussion.

“It gives us time to think and have the debate. It gives us time for different ideas to be put forward.”

Cllr Alice Perry, who also sits on the NEC and represents St Peter’s Ward, dismissed any issues around the supposed division within the party when it came to the deputy leader role.

A last-minute motion at the NEC meeting just a day before conference plunged Tom Watson’s position into uncertainty before NEC chairwoman Wendy Nichols dismissed it. Cllr Perry – who said she had to leave the meeting early – said it had been a “positive one” and added: “We had a united focus.”

She said Mr Corbyn’s later proposal of reviewing the deputy leader role to potentially have two people in the position “would be really positive”.

But Islington activists at The World Transformed, a separate conference organised by left-wing Momentum, told the Tribune that what was “most worrying” was the resignation of Mr Corbyn’s key advisor Andrew Fisher.

According to the Sunday Times, the Labour leader’s head of policy, who is credited with helping shape the 2017 manifesto, decided to step down after saying he had lost faith that the party would succeed.

“If that’s true, that’s the most worrying thing at the moment because when someone who is in the left of the party leaves, you do assume the worst,” the activist said.

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