“I often think to myself if Jeremy hadn’t been knifed in the back by some of our own then he would’ve been in Number 10,” Len McCluskey told a LabourList conference rally this evening.
The Unite the Union general secretary offered a strong defence of Jeremy Corbyn at the fringe event on Saturday night, describing the Labour leader as taking “us within touching distance of power” at the 2017 snap election.
“We had a number of PLP members – Labour Party members – moving a vote of no-confidence, quite disgracefully. And he hadn’t been in power for one year, forcing another election,” McCluskey protested.
The union leader also used his speech to urge conference delegates to support the national executive committee (NEC) statement on Brexit, which pro-Remain activists are expected to organise against on Sunday.
“Look at what the NEC statement on Brexit is saying. It speaks to Remainers and to Leavers. It speaks to us all. I urge you to support it,” McCluskey said. But LabourList understands that campaigners from Another Europe is Possible and similar organisations intend to bring their pro-Remain motion to the conference floor – despite the risk it would be rejected.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a founding member of the anti-Brexit Love Socialism group of MPs, took to the stage after McCluskey and argued that Labour would come “third or fourth” in a general election if it did not campaign as a whole to Remain.
“We can’t rebuild Britain with some Labour Brexit because it doesn’t exist. And it will never exist,” the Brighton MP said. “I’m afraid fantasist Lexiteers need to realise that socialism in one country starts with building borders and ends with oppressing minorities.”
On internationalism, he added “If Labour does not stand for that, we will have the same result that we had at the European election; we will be third or fourth. If this conference accepts the NEC statement… it will be a destruction.”
John McDonnell used his rally speech to defend his taste for chintz curtains, which was pointed out by LabourList editor and rally compère Sienna Rodgers, before launching a scathing attack against the Tories.
“Four million of our children are in poverty. For the first time, we have UN rapporteurs reporting on destitution in this country. That is the challenge we face,” the Shadow Chancellor told attendees.
Striking a more optimistic tone, McDonnell said: “The Tories are frightened of us because we’re ready to go into government and change the whole bloody financial system!” He argued that Labour had successfully shifted the parameters of political debate, citing the recent Tory spending pledges.
Touching on the bitter row in his own speech to the LabourList event, Jonathan Ashworth quipped: “Us politicians have got to be careful this week. I wouldn’t want Jon Lansman to try and abolish me.”
Stephen Kinnock also mentioned the moves to remove Tom Watson from his deputy leader position, saying: “I do not believe that was a helpful start to our conference”. He urged conference to pull together.
Emily Thornberry delivered a rousing speech without a microphone (“always being told I have a big mouth”), while Diane Abbott told the rally: “This country has never needed a Labour government more.”
The Shadow Home Secretary slammed the new Lib Dem leader, and her part played in implementing almost a decade of austerity in Britain: “Jo Swinson is not a new figure in politics – she is an old figure, and she shares just as much responsibility for the pain inflicted by austerity as David Cameron himself.”
Angela Rayner launched into a robust critique of of Tory austerity and aptly summed up the contrasting positions of Labour and the Conservatives, saying: “The Tories say I will spend, spend, spend. But I say we will invest, invest, invest.”
The flagship rally for LabourList, held in partnership with Unite, took place this evening with a host of popular speakers from across the movement. The full list of speakers saw John McDonnell take to the stage with Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry, Jon Ashworth, Angela Rayner, Danielle Rowley, Stephen Kinnock, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Rokhsana Fiaz, Lara McNeill and Miriam Mirwitch.