One of Cheltenham Labour Party’s delegates to this year’s Labour Party conference, Joanna Hughes, has given her account of an ‘historic moment’ in the Brexit process and of seeing ‘democracy in action’.
For six hours on the night before conference began last week, a debate took place behind closed doors with the national media waiting outside in droves as delegates worked to reach consensus on Labour’s EU policy.
Joanna and fellow delegate Steve Ashley found themselves at the heart of this historic discussion which finally reached agreement around midnight on the best way forward through our country’s current Brexit crisis.
Before the meeting Cheltenham was one of 150 local parties to submit motions on EU withdrawal and shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer led the talks.
A majority of delegates were keen to see the ‘Remain’ option as the main element of policy but others argued strongly that it was important Keir and his negotiating team should not have their hands tied at this stage.
Joanna and Steve argued this latter position in line with a motion that had been passed unanimously during an All Members meeting in Cheltenham in the run-up to conference.
Steve described the drama when they arrived at their Liverpool Brexit marathon:
‘There were over 100 delegates from all over the country. It was a privilege to be there and to participate in such a crucial debate. And we emerged in unity, much to the disappointment of journalists waiting outside.’
Joanna spoke of ‘seeing at first hand how the Labour Party genuinely involves its members in important decision-making:
‘Everyone present had a chance to speak and put forward their local party’s view,’ she noted.
‘Emotions ran very high, and very soon I stopped being nervous and became involved, eager to speak and contribute to the discussion.’
The final motion, which was passed almost unanimously, concluded that in the event of Parliament voting down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks ending in no-deal, the best outcome for the country will be an immediate General Election.
The motion goes on to state that ‘[i]f we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.’
In Joanna’s view this motion shows that ‘Labour’s Brexit policy is pragmatic and serious. It allows the leadership to respond to future events which nobody, at this chaotic and embattled stage, can foresee’.
She says she will be keeping an eye on this week’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham ‘to see if there are any similar signs of a healthy democracy in action’.