Labour conference delegates are determined to ‘stay till three in the morning’ to secure a Remain motion that avoids the ‘fudge’of last year, a source has said.
Ninety differently-worded motions, committing Labour to offer a second referendum and to declare itself a party of Remain, have been submitted for debate.
The move comes amid concern about the growing electoral threat of ultra-Remain party the Liberal Democrats, who have overtaken Labour in some polls.
But constituency Labour party (CLP) delegates are wary of resistance from unions which “know exactly what they are doing” to prevent the party standing on a more decisive Remain line, while Jeremy Corbyn tries to stay above the fray.
CLP delegates, union representatives, front benchers and the National Policy Forum (NPF) will thrash out the wording of the resolution to be voted on over the weekend. Ninety per cent of the party’s membership supports Remain, and the vast majority of submitted motions from the CLP call for this. But unions have a “huge huge influence”, said Michael Chessum, campaigner for Labour group Another Europe is Possible.
A Labour source close to the proceedings said: “It’s only really Unite that is the problem.”
In a statement released the day before conference, union leader Len McCluskey supported a second referendum but stopped short of calling for Labour to officially back Remain, saying neither that position or leave would take the party into government. Meanwhile, other major unions GMB, Unison and Usdaw may choose to abstain.
One of the possible tactics by Unite could be to try to uncouple those two halves of the motion: separating the promise of a second referendum – which Corbyn has committed to publicly if he wins power – from Labour declaring itself a Remain party.
Sky has reported on the first day of conference that the party NEC has put out a statement which appears to separate the motions, putting off the decision of whether or not the party should back Remain until after Labour is in government.
“The NEC believes it is right that the party decides how to campaign in such a referendum – through a one-day special conference, following the election of a Labour government,” said the statement tweeted by Sky’s Beth Rigby.
Corbyn has stated he would try to be a neutral figure in any referendum and play “honest broker”, as Chessum put it.
But the party’s institutional support for Remain is necessary for committing funds, data and messaging to referendum campaigning.
The problem last year, said the source, was a lot of new CLP delegates were inexperienced and easily befuddled by the much more experienced union representatives. “There were quite a lot of new delegates … they got totally rolled over by the unions who knew exactly what they were doing.”
The exhaustive process of argument, which can only be resolved by unanimous agreement, saw CLP delegates slowly withdraw, he said.
But, he added: “That was their first conference and it’s now their second and they understand what they’re up against … And there’s a general sense that we’re going to bring food in and we’re going to stay till three in the morning if that’s what it takes.”
Other delegates questioned a picture of a rift between factions. Rosie Newbigging, prospective parliamentary candidate for Welwyn Hatfield, has been going to conference for over 15 years. “[The debate] will be conducted in a comradely way”, she said, noting that in her view conference has become more collegiate in recent years.
READ: Momentum aim to oust Tom Watson for ‘disloyalty’ following anti-Brexit speechesChessum said the vote would be “touch and go”. But if the vote doesn’t go through, he said he believes “that’s fairly damaging for Labour”.
“We are in danger of losing a lot of votes to the Lib Dems,” he said. But, he added: “You’ve got to recognise that Labour has come a long way.”