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Jeremy Corbyn must not try to “damage” Keir Starmer’s conference in Brighton at the end of September, a shadow cabinet minister has said.
In an interview with HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast, Angela Smith, Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, said the party should expect a “hard-hitting” approach from Starmer in Brighton.
Corbyn is due to be in the south coast city during the conference and is set to speak at The World Transformed, a parallel event linked to the Momentum campaign group which helped elect him leader.
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As a result of the Covid pandemic, this year’s gathering of Labour members will be the first in-person conference of Starmer’s leadership.
Baroness Smith said Starmer would use it to offer a “better idea of where the Labour Party is heading” and what kind of government it would be. “Don’t be under any illusion, he wants to be in government,” she said.
The Labour peer, who also led the party in the Lords under Corbyn, said the party did not want to “look backwards” having “lost elections as badly as we have”.
Asked how Starmer should react if people in the audience start singing Corbyn’s name during his conference speech, Smith said: “If people are seen to be disrupting that, I think Labour Party members and trade unions will not be happy about that,.
“There was always a core that loved Jeremy whatever he does, there was always a core that hated him whatever he did.
“The bulk of members just wanted Labour leaders to succeed.
“If Jeremy tries to damage conference in that way, a lot of people who supported him previously will be bitterly disappointed, because that would be a very un-Labour, and in Labour Party terms, un-comradely, thing to do.”
Ahead of the conference, Labour has been given a boost by a poll that handed the party a poll lead over the Conservatives for the first time since January. The YouGov survey put the Tories on 33% and Labour on 35%.
Smith, speaking to HuffPost UK the day before the poll was released, said she believed some voters had “shifted” back to the party having previously told Labour campaigners they “hate” the party.
“Let’s face it, 2019 was a pretty horrible experience out on the doorstep, it wasn’t a great election to be campaigning on,” she said. “We have got permission to be heard from those people.
“We’ve now got to give them a reason why they should vote Labour. That’s Keir’s challenge at conference and one that, from my conversations with him, he is relishing.”
Smith, the MP for Basildon from 1997 until 2010, said the party was “never short of policies” but had to set a direction.
“Let’s be honest, you can have a list of those but unless you say what your priorities are and how you’re going to pay for them, no one is going to take you terribly seriously,” she said.
“The challenge at conference [for Starmer] is: ‘I’m serious, I can do this, this is how I am going to do it, this is why I am going to do it’ and paint that picture, as he says, in primary colours.′
Smith added: “It won’t be a soft-soap approach, I think it will be pretty hard-hitting.”
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