Corbyn, Brexit, anti-Semitism: lessons from Labour conference
FT political commentator Robert Shrimsley hears from politicians, advisers and grassroots support at the Liverpool conference to get the lowdown on Labour and its 'supreme leader' Jeremy Corbyn
Filmed, produced and edited by Joe Sinclair
On that road. Change going to come.
It's been well over 10 years since I last reported a Labour party conference. In those days they were by the seaside. Now we're in the splendours of Liverpool.
Last time I came Tony Blair was the supreme leader of the Labour party. These days it's got a new supreme leader. And I'm very keen to get a sense of how things are different and how things are still the same.
Hey, we're making a video for the FT. I wonder if we can have a word with you for a minute about Brexit.
You're a party member.
You must be disappointed with the way the party's been playing it.
Hugely disappointed. I mean, if you hear John McDonnell and Len McCluskey saying, you know, it should be the Chequers deal or no deal, you just think, well, that's the same position as the Tory party, you know? Or Theresa May.
Brexit is the big shadow that hangs over what is otherwise I think a fairly united conference. And it's clear that the members have been trying to force Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership to accept the idea of a second referendum, the so-called People's Vote.
Our first speaker is Keir Starmer, shadow secretary of state for exiting the European Union.
Thanks very much, conference. Our options must include campaigning for a public vote. And nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.
There's no doubt that in this conference the affection and the support for Jeremy Corbyn remains extremely strong and extremely real. But you are beginning to see the first challenges to his authority. And Brexit is one of those ones where the members are really saying to him: we want you to do more to stop a bad Brexit and possibly to stop Brexit.
That vote has to include a Remain option, or is it just a vote on the deals and options available?
I think that Keir was absolutely clear.
I think he was clear.
Anything that was a vote on either a bad deal or a no deal but did not include the option to remain within the European Union would be no vote at all, and it would be a betrayal of members.
So it's merely in the right direction then?
I thought Keir was clear about that. The party is clear about. And I'm confident that we're moving in the right direction.
One, two, one, two.
Behind me, you've got a place called Hinterland. And this is one of the venues of the World Transformed, which is the Momentum conference that's taking place almost alongside the Labour party conference. And it is the Hinterland - get it? See what I just did? - of the Labour party conference. Momentum is the popular grassroots movement that supports Jeremy Corbyn.
We take power to give power.
Just been here watching John McDonnell speaking in a platform shared with other people on the idea of how you control the state and don't let the state control you if you win power. We all think of Jeremy Corbyn as the absolute star turn of Labour party events and Labour conference. But John McDonnell is becoming our real star turn here.
I think Corbynism and McDonellism, or whatever it is that's going on at the moment - socialism - as we see at the moment will give people a sense of democratic control over what is going on in their lives.
And what do you think of John McDonnell?
I love John McDonnell.
I think he's great. He isn't dogmatically stuck in old paradigms about how socialism has to work. He's willing to listen to younger people and to people of different walks of life about ways in which we can create a socialist project for the 21st century that's different.
If there's not enough space at the back, please make your way behind us.
The buzz and the excitement of the Momentum festival has certainly taken some of the lustre off of the traditional conference fringe. But there's still a fair bit of action to be seen there as well.
You cannot pretend that Donald Trump is John F. Kennedy. You cannot say that this man, who is - without talking about his foreign policy - is a racist, is a misogynist, is a climate change denier, and is completely in the pocket of the most rich and corrupt elements the USA, that he is someone you want to hold hands with.
We are also going to make the people of Britain safer by Jeremy Corbyn and Number 10 being a force for peace. Thank you.
If you've come to any Labour conference in the last 20 years, it would be the same sort of event. It's very much anti-war. It's very much anti-western intervention, very pro-Palestinian, and very paranoid at times about the deep state and the military industrial complex.
The big difference is that on the platform during the course of this rally, you've had Andrew Murray, who's a special political adviser to Jeremy Corbyn. And he's talking about how Britain has to pull away from the US, move away from any kind of special relationship, abandon the transatlantic relationship, and treat the US like any other country, especially while Donald Trump's in charge.
Also, you heard Diane Abbott. She's the shadow home secretary. Interesting thing is the Stop the War coalition has got very mainstream. And that's, I think, the really important takeaway from this. It's a very respected organisation within the Labour party.
And Diane Abbott's - one of her major points was to say, listen, foreign policy is not an add-on for Jeremy Corbyn. It's fundamental to what he's about. And so the way he has put foreign policy front and centre and many of the things that matter to him up till now, you can absolutely believe it's going to be front and centre if and when he gets to Downing Street.
One person I've been very keen to talk to here is Dame Louise Ellman. She's the MP for Liverpool Riverside. She's the president of the Jewish Labour Movement and a consistent critic of Jeremy Corbyn over the issue of anti-Semitism. I want to talk to her about how it feels to be the home MP at a Labour conference and, at the same time, face the antagonism of a lot of people who really would like to see her out.
Feel uneasy. But I feel people have been warned and told they have to be very careful about how they deal with us.
What is the situation in terms of the constituency at the moment?
Well, before Jeremy Corbyn was leader, I had about 500 members and pretty active Labour party. We had lots of discussions, differing views. Got on with people very well.
And over the last couple of years, that 500 has increased to 2,700 - a bit more than that now - overwhelmingly Jeremy Corbyn supporters. Most of them are pretty united and have very clear positions. And if you don't follow the new leader 100 per cent, you're right wing. You're bad, and they want you out. And I seem to come into that category.
Do you have a size 10?
been too -
So I'm slightly surprised there's any of these T-shirts left on sale at the Labour shop because I don't think there's any doubt that this party is still with Corbyn. We're just about to go in and see the leader's speech. And I think everybody flooding into the hall to see his speech is waiting to be enraptured and enlivened.
It's been a long, long time coming. But I know change is going to come.
If you protect jobs, people's rights at work, and environmental and consumer standards, then we will support that sensible deal, a deal that would be backed by most of businesses in the world and trade unions. But if you can't negotiate that deal, then you need to make way for a party that can and will.
You've just come out the hall. What was your favourite bit of this?
There was so much here. It was such a great speech.
Well, how about one best bit?
How can you choose one moment from that?
I think just Jeremy. Jeremy is an amazing unifier.
You actually paid to buy a speech, haven't you?
It's a souvenir.
And also, is as a present for the future, just to keep it.
So that's the end of Labour conference. His speech was the most confident I've seen him give. It was coherent. It was well structured.
He was clearly enjoying it. He made an appeal for a broad church. He absolutely blamed Russia for the Skripal poisoning. He had a very strong passage about anti-Semitism. So you have that sense of him trying to clear all of the problems out of the way in one go and focus on the stuff that's important.
What you can't gainsay about this conference is the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are absolutely in control of the party. And that's one of the oddest things to come back to Labour when you remember the Blair-era conferences because they were absolutely in control of the party, too. And many of the mechanism - the things that are going on behind the scenes - seem eerily familiar, even if they were in a completely different cause. In those days, you had unions and policy officers stitching up motions to make sure that it didn't go the wrong way. And you're having that now.
What is different is that with Tony Blair there was always a grudging happiness about him. What you see here is that people in this hall at this conference overwhelmingly do love Jeremy Corbyn. But I think anybody leaving this conference is going to be leaving it with a strong sense of belief, a strong sense of optimism. And you would have to say that Labour will be feeling pretty good about this week.