The leadership has avoided commitment to a second referendumby Colin Talbot / September 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
A five-hour “compositing” meeting at Labour’s annual conference has produced a supposed “compromise” resolution to go to conference for voting. It has been welcomed by some on the Remain side as “movement” and by others as a betrayal of the members’ desire for a second referendum. It can’t be both hot fudge and a sugar-coated Brexit pill—so which is it, and how did it happen?
Having attended many Labour and trade union conferences I’m all too familiar with the noble art of “compositing.” The idea is simple. Far too many motions come to conferences to be debated, but many are on similar topics and similar in content. Compositing, alongside or as part of some sort of “conference arrangements committee,” decides on how to first group issues into debates—e.g. Brexit, housing, austerity, or whatever—and then to try and aggregate all the motions into a single one for debate.
If there are serious differences then quite often there will be a main composite motion and one or two composite amendments reflecting alternative views—so there can be a clear debate and vote.
Compositing is inevitable in any party that holds a range of opinions—the famous “broad church.” The only way to aggregate opinion is through something like this process. So there is nothing wrong with it in principle. But compositing, and conference arrangements, also has its dark arts. Anyone with experience knows that control of conference arrangements and compositing committees is key to power in a party conference. Whoever is running the party certainly knows it.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is no different. Last year we saw this through Labour’s conference arrangers managing to effectively keep the Brexit debate off the floor of conference altogether. This year the debate couldn’t be kept off the agenda, so it was time for different tactics.
Which brings us to THAT Brexit motion.
The first thing that strikes you about the motion is the personalisation of the issue of Brexit around Jeremy Corbyn. Its opening sentence is “conference welcomes Jeremy Corbyn’s determined efforts to hold the Tories to account for their disastrous negotiations.” (Many delegates are also wearing “Love Corbyn Hate Brexit” t-shirts, apparently). To say Corbyn has been making “determined efforts” is, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch. He has rarely mentioned Brexit at PMQs, even when the…