Of all the ways round a painful conference morning-after, barefaced brazen denial is by far the most honourable and on this front Labour should be applauded.
For a second they might have thought they’d got away with the whole vote-not-to-talk-about Brexit thing but, well, the sun’s slanting in through the windows now, it’s on the front of the papers. Time to Berocca up, wipe the sick off your lanyard and just pretend none of it ever happened.
There they were, bang on time at 9.30am, cracking on with a full three hours debating Brexit, and truly in the spirit of this made up word of which no one has yet extracted anything that looks like meaning, mainly it was spent arguing over why the party was absolutely right not to be debating it.
“We did not need more time to discuss Brexit when we can discuss the NHS, the rails,” said one very young man in a red tie and white short sleeved shirt, who had evidently given up his morning tea break at Dixons to be here.
Given the young man’s opinions on the question, it would not be too unreasonable to assume he was among the many pro-Corbyn activists who acted so effectively on Sunday night to block the Brexit discussion, which in fact was specifically about whether Labour should seek to remain in the single market. It would also not be too unreasonable to assume he is unaware that, in the unlikely event that it falls to Labour to do it, taking the country out of the single market, decimating the public finances to the tune of £250bn would leave it with no NHS and no “rails” to discuss either.
A year and a half has now passed since the country decided to devote all of its energies to repeating the same very obvious arguments about leaving the European Union. “The result of the referendum has to be respected,” said one.
“I campaigned passionately for remain but…” said another.
““We will be remembered as the Opposition who let the Tories do what they want with Brexit!” said a third.
When several delegates moved the conversation on to the Israel/Palestine question, it came almost as a relief.
Though it is putting on a vaguely united front, Labour is as split on Corbyn as it is on Brexit and the fault lines are the same. Each was booed and cheered in almost equal measure.
Even the voices of moderation have to tell moderate fibs. Keir Starmer repeated his line that “constructive ambiguity” on Brexit has become “Tory party policy” when it’s his own party that still wants to “retain all the benefits of the single market” but refuses to get into the “specifics” of how this absolutely impossible thing can be done. The Conservatives can be accused of many things, but ambiguity is quite far down the list. Theresa May laid out her plans pretty clearly in March, got hammered at a general election in June, and is determinedly batting on with it even now.
In a party doing its best to paper over its gaping tectonic fault lines, the conference hall clap-o-meter is as fine a barometer as on who has their hand on the tiller.
They loved Emily Thornberry’s first rate material on Boris Johnson, “who doesn’t like paternity tests but perhaps he needs one on Brexit”. “Maybe we should take him into a studio with Jeremy Kyle,” she said. “‘Sorry, Mr Johnson, we got the results back and it looks like this one is one of yours. It must have been that wild night out you had with Michael Gove … I’ve calculated your maintenance payments and that’ll be £350m a week’.”
The political gag of 2017, this, and by a very wide margin. But greater hilarity was to come.
The hangovers, both real and political should have been clearing by the time Len McCluskey appeared. And what do you know? At least in the view of Jeremy Corbyn’s trade union enforcer, not only had they not voted to not debate Brexit, but they’d won the election too.
“Let me say this to those merchants of doom, the whingers and the whiners, who say we should have done better, we didn’t win. I say we did win!”
The crowd went wild. Why wouldn’t they? Turns out Jeremy Corbyn’s been Prime Minister for the last three months and no one knew.
What more can you ask for, in these uncertain times, than for a party that won’t discuss Brexit but will spend three hours discussing Brexit, and who can lose an election and win it three months later.
Vote Labour! Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter. No one’s going to remember in the morning.