It’s fair to say, that so far, the Labour Party Conference has been dominated by one main topic. Unsurprisingly the party’s stance on Brexit has been the main issue under the microscope with disagreement over whether or not there should be another referendum on Britain leaving the EU, and if there is such a referendum, what options should be included in the question.
At a Brexit policy seminar Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer made it clear that unless a deal satisfied Labour’s six asks, they would vote down a deal. With it looking increasingly unlikely that such a deal will be possible, it does appear that Labour will not support any deal Theresa May is likely to achieve (that is, if a deal can be reached at all) when it comes to the House of Commons for a ‘meaningful vote’.
There was widespread support in the room for a second referendum (or as Eddie Izzard pointed out at the event, a third referendum if you take into account the 1975 vote) with remain as an option. However Kier Starmer was quick to point out that the electoral commission would be unlikely to allow more than two options on the ballot paper, so the party had to be clear on the question it was asking, and what options it would seek to include.
To add to the confusion, many Labour heavyweights including Len McCluskey and John McDonnell have stated that remain should not be an option, with only a vote on the deal included in any prospective people’s vote. If it wasn’t complicated enough already, as things stand Labour couldn’t hope to get this passed through the House of Commons without a majority, meaning they would need another general election before we leave the EU. Which is why John McDonnell, and the party more broadly, has called for one. Confused? You should be. Perhaps today’s Brexit debate will clear things up, or we may need to wait until Jeremy Corbyn’s speech tomorrow. But I wouldn’t count on it. CFG favours neither position, and is neutral on a people’s vote, but do have six clear asks of what a good Brexit outcome would be for the charity sector.
Brexit aside, what of civil society? The NHS confederation hosted an important event on what local government can do to improve mental health. Luciana Berger MP, former Minister for Mental Health, made the point which was widely accepted by panelists, that these issues can’t be left to the NHS and public health commissioners alone, but that civil society had a crucial role in helping solve the mental health crisis.
A repeated theme of this event, and the fringe more broadly, is the strain local government is under due to sustained cuts to funding. Next year’s spending review will be very significant for the charity sector, with CFG continuing to make the case that local government needs a fairer funding settlement if we are to address the systemic problems faced by society.
The Charities Aid Foundation hosted an event on the value of charities in a digital future. Shadow Minister for the Industrial Strategy Chi Onwurah made the point that there needed to be a social compact on our relationship with technology, highlighting the charity sector having an important role in this and that there was also a need for a relationship of mutual dependence between the tech giants and the third sector.
Watch out for another update coming tomorrow on 26 September, summarising some of the key policies that have been proposed at Labour conference, and key announcements in Jeremy Corbyn’s leader’s speech – and for immediate updates follow me on twitter @sagarrichard.
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