POLITICS

Sadiq Khan And Andy Burnham Face Axe From Labour Conference As Corbyn Gives Members More Say

Jeremy to lead 'Fab Five' Shadow Cabinet 'stars'

17/08/2017 07:00 BST | Updated 17/08/2017 17:13 BST

Jeremy Corbyn and his closest allies are to be given “starring” roles at the Labour party conference - but city mayors Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan face being left off the speaker list, HuffPost UK has been told.

Corbyn and four Shadow Cabinet ministers will be given the prime speaking slots at the gathering in Brighton next month, while delegates will also get more time to debate key issues.

The leader, plus Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, are being pushed by senior insiders as the new face of the party.

Dubbed ‘the Fab Five’ by some supporters, Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbott, Thornberry and Starmer are expected to also be the main media voices during the conference.

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Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn on the election trail.

With more time for delegates and debates, there is expected to be less time for ‘keynote’ speeches by politicians.

As a result, senior Corbyn allies have made clear that they do not envisage conference speeches this year from either London Mayor Sadiq Khan or Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, sources told HuffPost UK.

But others in the party fear the leadership wants “revenge” for Burnham’s non-appearance at a Momentum rally event with Corbyn after his mayoral victory in May, as well as Khan’s criticism of the leader over the past year.

One ally of the London Mayor told HuffPost UK that it would be an “extraordinary” snub to Khan if he was excluded from the conference platform, particularly given the national importance of this year’s Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Thornberry in particular is being promoted strongly as one of the party’s main assets, following her stints filling in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Question time.

Other Shadow ministers will feature but are expected to have shorter speaking slots and deputy leader Tom Watson, who made two speeches last year, will get just one address to the conference.

Khan and Watson won praise from moderates - but criticism from the Left - last year when they both made conference speeches that were seen as warnings to Corbyn not to forget that Labour had to be in government to effect change.

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Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor.

Burnham would normally be expected to get a speaking slot as a newly-elected politician with one of the biggest personal mandates in the country.

He won 359,000 votes, 63% of the total cast, and led a Labour victory in nearly every single ward including in Tory areas. He also won praise for his response to the Manchester terror attack in May.

Khan has an even bigger personal mandate, with 1.3m people voting for him in the capital in 2016.

His role in the Grenfell Tower disaster and his measured response to the London Bridge and Westminster terror attacks are seen by his allies as ample grounds for a prominent speaking slot.

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Sadiq Khan, London Mayor.

Some suspect allies of Corbyn want to take “revenge” for Khan’s critical comments about the leader in the past year, and for Burnham’s absence from a pro-Corbyn Momentum rally in Manchester the day after his triumph in the mayoral race.

At the time, Burnham insisted that his absence was “not in the slightest” intended as a snub to his leader and cited other diary commitments.

Khan failed to meet Corbyn the night of his own election in London in 2016, keeping the Labour leader waiting for days to stage a photocall.

A close ally of the Mayor told HuffPost UK: “Sadiq has made conference speeches in the past few years as London spokesman, as mayoral candidate and as Mayor.

“It would be extraordinary in this year of all years - after London’s awful summer of terror attacks plus Grenfell, and with crucial London elections coming in May - if Sadiq didn’t make a conference speech.”

HuffPost UK understands that both the London City Hall and the Greater Manchester teams are still trying to secure speaking slots.

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Jeremy Corbyn at one of his summer campaign rallies in Cornwall

But Corbyn is also keen to ensure that his brand of radicalism – as well as a greater role for delegates in the hugely expanded membership – is reflected at conference.

Whereas last year’s conference in Liverpool attracted 500 delegates, some 1200 are due to attend the gathering in Brighton - packing the conference hall with numbers not seen since the 1980s.

Some Corbyn allies want to squeeze the time given to Shadow Cabinet speeches and instead spend more time on debates and conference business to give delegates more of a say. 

Under one current proposal, that means no time for Burnham and Khan on the main platform, though both could feature - as well as Liverpool City Mayor Steve Rotheram - in films praising Labour’s Metro Mayor victories.

With the party still on an election ‘war footing’, some are also arguing that the conference needs to focus on ‘national’ who can form an alternative Government, rather than ‘local’ politicians, even ones of Burnham and Khan’s stature.

The annual conference will also end earlier than usual, with Corbyn’s main speech at noon rather than 2pm on the Wednesday, removing the usual morning session for Shadow Cabinet platform speeches.

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Jeremy Corbyn addresses Momentum rally in Manchester on May 5

With London councils up for election next year, Khan had also been expected to offer a rallying cry for activists to help Labour build on its general election success in the capital and secure town halls won four years ago.

Supporters of Burnham and Khan point out that, like Labour’s First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones, they offer concrete examples of Labour in power and can help Corbyn show the difference the party could make if it formed a national government.

The annual conference in Brighton will be a chance for Corbyn to hail his 2017 election campaign, when he defied the pundits and pollsters by increasing Labour’s vote share and seats and denied Theresa May her Commons majority.

It will be the first Labour conference since 1997 where the party can hail an increase in seats after a general election.

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Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn meet after the Mayoral election in 2016

One City Hall source suggested that Labour’s conference committee hasn’t made any final decisions about conference speeches or timings “so we don’t yet know the details of Sadiq’s speech.”

However, HuffPost UK understands that the most recent meeting of the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) had no slots for either Burnham or Khan.  At one stage, some senior Shadow Cabinet ministers were not allotted speeches either, though that has since been changed.

Some within Labour believe that the party’s local government conference would be a better platform and showcase for the three Metro Mayors – Khan, Burnham and Rotheram.

Rotheram could also have star billing at next year’s annual conference in Liverpool.

Labour failed to win the West Midlands Metro Mayoralty and the Tees Valley Metro Mayoralty in May. The Tories are expected to hail both their victors in each contest at their own party conference in Manchester.

A Labour source told HuffPost UK: “Arrangements for Conference have not been finalised but there is a strong enthusiasm for opening it up more to our members, who played such a vital role in the general election campaign.

“This would mean more time for debate for members, which could reduce speaking time from the platform.”

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John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn at the party manifesto launch.

McDonnell and Abbott are both expected to be praised heavily by Corbyn at this year’s conference, having weathered media storms and scepticism.  Starmer is also seen by some on the left as a reliable and loyal ally of the leader.

Thornberry is being pushed strongly by some in the party as a possible deputy leader if Labour chooses to create a second, female-only post to help Corbyn.

Some trade unionists also see her as a possible successor to Corbyn should he decide at some point to step aside.

However, the creation of a second deputy leader would require approval by the NEC at its pre-conference meeting in September and so far no papers have been circulated with a concrete proposal.

But Corbyn does now have control of the ruling NEC and is expected to further strengthen his hand for the 2018 conference in Liverpool if leftwingers are elected to the CAC this year.

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Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson at the 2016 party conference.

Many local parties have also shifted leftwards after annual elections to local posts, as HuffPost UK has reported.

Conference organisers want to highlight Labour’s successes this year and contrast a unified government-in-waiting with the Tories’ own splits over Brexit and May’s embattled leadership.

Watson is understood to have made clear to Corbyn this summer that the conference is his chance to show he is a Prime Minister in waiting.

The deputy leader has agreed not to stand in Corbyn’s way in NEC votes, though the leader has been urged to unite the party rather than risk splitting it afresh over internal issues such as reselection.

Khan’s tussles with Corbyn over some issues echo David Cameron’s own difficulties in trying to arrange party conference slots for Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London. Johnson insisted on prominent speaking schedules and after several internal battles got his way.