The tide is turning – reports from the fringes of conference season

After months of despair, the fight against Hard Tory Brexit is back on the front foot – with major progress on free movement and the Progressive Deal

16th October 2017

Barely six months ago, the fight against Tory Brexit seemed like a long shot. Theresa May had a majority and Hard Brexit was a foregone conclusion. Even on the left and among progressives, the narrative on migration and internationalism was slipping away. The political reality coming out of the end of this year’s conference season could not be more different.

Another Europe is Possible had an official presence at four party conferences this year: Labour, Lib Dem, Green and SNP.

Labour conference took place in Brighton, and we were there throughout the event. Our presence in the official fringe – with one panel on free movement and another talking more generally about our Progressive Deal – was complimented by a number of events at The World Transformed festival.

The release of our new report on “Free movement+” was timed to coincide with the conference. We held a 300-strong debate on the issue at The World Transformed, as well as two policy briefings on the report, as part of the programme.

Our presence was allied to the efforts of the newly established Labour Campaign for Free Movement, which submitted a motion via a number of local parties and distributed thousands of leaflets making the case for defending and extending free movement. Delegates chose not to debate Brexit as a topic, so the motion wasn’t heard – but there is a real sense that the tide is turning on the issue inside labour movement, with more and more local parties and unions coming out in support after years of letting the issue slide.

A week earlier we were in Bournemouth for Liberal Democrat conference, where a packed fringe discussed the Lib Dems’ position on free movement.

And we ended our conference season last week, with a double bill of fringes a Green Party conference in Harrogate and SNP conference in Glasgow.

Both of these fringes focused on the future of the pro-European left more generally, and were an attempt to engage in a broader conversation, cutting across party lines. At Green Party conference, Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack was joined by Labour MEP Julie Ward.

And at SNP conference, our fringe – which was co-hosted by the SNP Socialists – saw Tommy Sheppard share a platform with Maggie Chapman, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party.

On every level, the prospects for achieving Another Europe’s aims have transformed in recent months. Things like a transitional deal, which seemed out of reach in May, now seem inevitable; and things which seemed impossible now seem possible.

This year’s party conference season provided a snapshot of that new landscape. Labour politicians and union leaders stood up and were counted in their support for the free movement of people. Greens noted their lower vote share but celebrated the ascendancy of many of their ideas. The SNP prepared for a fight to keep Scotland in the EU, with or without the UK in tow. The Lib Dems marshaled their pro-European agenda.

Everywhere the mood was upbeat, and everywhere defeating the Tories and their Brexit agenda seemed like a matter of  time.