The Supreme Court ruling has provided Jeremy Corbyn with his most positive outing at Labour conference. On hearing the news that the Prime Minister’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, Corbyn took to the stage in a dramatic point of order – to rapturous applause. He called on Boris Johnson to ‘in the historic words, consider his position’.
The Labour leader said the judgment showed the Prime Minister’s contempt for Parliament and promised to get in touch with House of Commons Speaker John Bercow immediately so that Parliament could be recalled (although the ruling suggests there is no need as in effect Parliament was never prorogued).
Speaking to members and delegates, Corbyn said:
‘A Labour government would want to be held to account. We wouldn’t bypass democracy. And I invite Boris Johnson in the historic words to consider his position. And become the shortest-serving Prime Minister there’s ever been. So, obey the law, take no deal off the table, and have an election to elect a government that respects democracy, that respects the rule of law and brings power back to the people, not usurps it in the way Boris Johnson has done. Conference, I thank you.’
This year’s Labour conference has been a difficult event for Corbyn and his team. They have been besieged by reports of infighting, shadow cabinet rows and questions over Corbyn’s leadership. Today, Corbyn seemed at his most comfortable.
Corbyn’s call for ‘an election to elect a government that respects democracy’ is curious given that so far Labour have refused Johnson’s numerous calls for an early election. The Labour line has been that they want an extension to be agreed before going into any election. Ideally, the party wants Johnson to agree an extension and then go into a general election. Johnson, however, is clear that he has no plans to do this.
If Johnson were to take Corbyn’s other piece of advice and resign, there would be attempts to form a temporary so-called government of national unity to request an extension before calling an election. However, it would not be a sure thing that it would work – there is still disagreement over who should lead it. Meanwhile, there are some Labour MPs – and members of the rebel alliance – whose ideal scenario would be to legislate for a second referendum before a general election. At present there’s a view among these advocates that they don’t yet have the numbers.
So, what happens to Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech? It was due tomorrow but the sense here in Brighton is that everything is up in the air. If John Bercow wants Prime Minister’s Questions to take place tomorrow, the mood music is that Corbyn will be there rather than on the conference stage.