The new leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party will promise in a speech today (29 September) to make decisions by nationwide consultation – an approach critics say could cause confusion, and deepen internal divisions.
Veteran parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn was elected earlier this month on a pledge to involve general membership more closely in policy and eschew the central policy discipline of recent decades. He won over nearly 60% of members and supporters, but fewer of Labour’s more than 230 lawmakers.
While moderates in the party have said they will respect his mandate, there are several policy areas where he is at odds with many fellow lawmakers, including over the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent and membership of NATO.
“I am not imposing leadership lines,” Corbyn will say in a speech at Labour’s annual conference in the southern English city of Brighton, according to extracts released in advance.
“I don’t believe anyone has a monopoly on wisdom, we all have ideas and a vision of how things can be better. I want open debate, I will listen to everyone, I firmly believe leadership is listening.”
Some Labour lawmakers fear Corbyn’s left-wing politics could make him unelectable at 2020 elections. While many have kept silent on the subject, others are hoping the new leader will come unstuck as he struggles to overcome divisions in the party.
On Sunday (27 September), the Labour Party said it would be holding a review of how it makes policy to make it “more inclusive, open and democratic”.
“Bottom up, not top down. In every community and workplace, not just at Westminster. Real debate, not message discipline,” Corbyn will say, hailing what he has described as a “new politics”.
But some in the party worry this will leave voters confused about what Labour stands for before local and regional elections in May next year, Corbyn’s first major electoral test.
Under pressure from many in the pro-European party, Corbyn has already backtracked over Britain’s membership of the European Union. Having been ambiguous about whether he would campaign for Britain to remain in the bloc at a referendum due by the end of 2017, he has now said Labour will back staying.
“If people don’t know what the position of the Labour Party is, then we are not going to look like a party of government and people won’t know what they are voting for,” Chuka Umunna, Labour’s former business spokesman, said on the sidelines of the conference.
“It is not sustainable for different people in our leadership to be saying different things.”