British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrapped up his party’s annual conference yesterday (28 September) with a call to rebels to end the “trench warfare” that has raged since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
In his closing speech to the party conference in Liverpool, northwest England, Corbyn called for unity but risked a fresh row by rejecting calls for EU immigration curbs, a key issue in the June referendum.
Corbyn also said continued access to the European single market was one of his “red lines”, and promised “a new relationship with Europe based on cooperation and internationalism”.
The opposition party has been plagued by in-fighting following a botched attempt by centrist MPs to unseat the 67-year-old leftist, blaming him for failing to campaign hard enough against Brexit.
His re-election by party members and supporters on Saturday has raised concern that the party could permanently split or at least be consigned to years in the political wilderness.
“I ask each and every one of you to accept the decision of the members, end the trench warfare and work together to take on the Tories,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives.
But his refusal to promise curbs on immigration prompted a senior MP to accuse him of being “out of touch”, while another warned of rising community tensions.
Corbyn said he would not offer “false promises” on cutting numbers of new arrivals, despite evidence that concern over the impact on public services and wages was a key driver of the June vote to leave the European Union.
Instead he said he would revive a multi-million-pound central government fund to help local communities deal with migration and tackle exploitation of migrant labour.
“This is the Labour way to tackle social tension – investment and assistance, not racism and division,” he said.
Corbyn’s home affairs spokesman Andy Burnham earlier warned that voters disliked “unlimited, unfunded, unskilled migration which damages their own living standards”.
“They have an even bigger problem with an out-of-touch elite who don’t seem to care about it,” said the MP, who also announced he was quitting Corbyn’s team.
Prominent moderate MP Rachel Reeves also addressed the issue of immigration. “We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.”
‘Jez we can’
Corbyn’s promise of a new politics based on traditional left-wing policies have swelled Labour party ranks to more than 600,000 in the past year, and he was greeted to a standing ovation as he entered the hall, and to chants of “Jez We Can”.
But moderate MPs say his policies can never win a general election. The latest opinion poll put the Conservatives on 41%, and Labour on 26%.
Labour’s rebel MPs have largely gone to ground since his re-election, which he secured with a larger mandate than before, but left-wingers and moderates continued power plays behind the scenes in Liverpool.
Divisions resurfaced over Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, which lifelong pacificist Corbyn wants to scrap but which Labour officially supports.
Corbyn acknowledged the bitter battle for the party and said: “It’s true there is an electoral mountain to climb.”
He set out his vision for “socialism of the 21st century”, promising to nationalise the railways, invest in infrastructure, health, education and scientific research.
Corbyn also pledged to protect environmental, employment and social protections as Britain withdraws from the EU.
The rebellion against him by 80% of his MPs was sparked by claims that he failed to campaign hard enough against Brexit, which he denies.