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Labour has decided to scrap its usual annual party conference because of safety fears caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) agreed that the full-scale gathering that had been planned for Liverpool in September should not go ahead because of continuing uncertainty over Covid-19.
Moves towards a slimmed down virtual event are being considered as alternatives, sources said. One NEC source said an online policy event was likely to go ahead but the actual conference was “cancelled”.
“It [the online policy event] will be more of a members’ event rather than formal decision making,” another NEC member told HuffPost UK.
Although the conference will be technically only postponed, the logistical effort of booking a venue for 14,000 people and the demands of the parliamentary calendar make it uncertain whether any event could go ahead before next spring at the earliest.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Our priority is the safety of members, staff and visitors to our events and the need to protect the public’s health.
“In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we have therefore decided to postpone this year’s annual and women’s conferences.”
Labour’s decision means that the traditional party conference season will be radically different in 2020.
The Liberal Democrats are expected on Tuesday night to also cancel their own Brighton conference, which was already on hold, and replace it with some online elements.
The Conservative party told HuffPost UK it was still “planning” to hold its own gathering in Birmingham but the decision was currently under review.
Labour’s decision will cost the party a large chunk of its annual income, but it has a cushion of funds caused by the big rise in party membership seen since the party lost the last general election.
The key consideration was safety of delegates and party workers, with social distancing felt to be impossible within the conference hall as well as the highly social nature of the event.
Some insiders believe that leader Keir Starmer could do a virtual speech and that some party decisions could be carried out with online voting, but others believe that with local parties not having met for months that even that could prove too difficult.
The Lib Dems said their Federal Board would meet tonight consider the party’s options, in line with public health advice. “We are considering digital options,” a spokesperson said.
A Tory spokesperson said: “At present, planning for the party conference is continuing. We will keep this under review in light of the outbreak of Coronavirus.
“Any decisions taken will be guided by the latest science and medical advice and government guidance.”