Welsh Labour Conference: Push to combat anti-semitism amid Brexit splits and pleas for tolerance

The fact that the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) is holding a training session at the Welsh Labour conference on dealing with antisemitism, and that Mark Drakeford is attending that session is, I think, hugely symbolic.

As Welsh Labour continue their conference in Llandudno this weekend, the party isn’t immune from the tensions affecting the party at a UK level. Nor is Welsh Labour able to shrug off some of the criticisms levelled at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, including allegations of antisemitism.

Today's session, however, suggests that Welsh Labour may be able to handle those problems more adeptly than its London-based counterpart.

Welsh Labour delegates have gathered in Llandudno for the party conference.

It’s significant that the JLM was invited to carry out the training by Welsh Labour after a similar session last year. Even more significant is that the JLM accepted the invitation after vowing to stop working with the party at a UK-level.

This is as a result of frustrations with the way the Corbyn leadership has been handling anti-semitism complaints.

Read more: Anti-semitism in Wales: Jewish leaders call for change after rise in abusive behaviour

Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone was temporarily suspended by the National Assembly’s Labour group. Credit: PA

The party in Wales has faced a number of complaints, the most high-profile of which saw the AM Jenny Rathbone apologise for her comments. She was suspended but has since been reinstated.

Others have raised concerns about messages of support to the suspended MP Chris Williamson from Welsh Labour activists close to Mark Drakeford.

Labour have suspended MP Chris Williamson over 'too apologetic' anti-Semitism claim. Credit: PA

The First Minister himself has said: "Antisemitism has no place in Welsh Labour or in Wales". But actions always speak louder than words.

Mark Drakeford's action today in attending the session himself will be welcomed by many who’ll be keeping a close eye on how he deals with any future complaints. It also shows, frankly, that he’s more sensitive to the damage such complaints can do than the leadership in London often seem to be.

The First Minister has also been criticised by some within his party for not speaking out more vocally in support of a new Brexit referendum. His position, often restated, is that a referendum is an option but wouldn’t necessarily solve the problems behind the Brexit crisis.

He’s also conscious of how it would play with Labour voters who backed leaving the EU. As the First Minister told me yesterday:

"We have to demonstrate to those many Labour voters who made that decision that if we have to go back to them to make a final decision it will be because we’ve tried everything else first."

That didn’t stop his Brexit minister Jeremy Miles speaking at a conference fringe event on Saturday organised by second referendum supporters. Nor did it stop two other ministers, Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan, attending a People’s Vote rally a few weeks ago.

Organisers said 'over a million people marched at the People's Vote rally in March. Credit: PA

I asked Mark Drakeford why he’d left any mention of a new referendum out of his conference speech, even with the caveats he usually attaches to it.

He said that he’d said "time and time again what the position on a second referendum is" and wanted to concentrate on "a broad message about the nature of the European elections."

The Welsh Government position which has been stated "time and time again" was being stated again at conference on Sunday by the same Brexit Minister who spoke at the Final Say Wales event.

Counsel General and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles AM Credit: Welsh Government

Jeremy Miles was expected to tell delegates:

"The deep sense of many people - many of our people – is that politicians are just not listening to them".

So the Welsh Government and Welsh Labour in our 2017 manifesto, has from the start set out a coherent and consistent position which tries to reconcile the instruction we were given with the overwhelming priority of shielding our society from the economic damage that a Tory Brexit could do. Damage which is already happening.

So we have concentrated on the form, not the fact of Brexit.

– Jeremy Miles AM, Counsel General and Brexit Minister

It’s been noticeable that a large number of MPs and AMs have chosen to stay away this year, although I don’t know whether to read into that much. Many of them, particularly MPs, are exhausted by the Brexit crisis.

"I’m on my knees," one MP told me last week, explaining their decision not to go to Llandudno.

They continue to face pressure and hostility too. Speaker after speaker called for calm in political debate and an end to violent language and threatening behaviour.

Protesters have become a permanent fixture outside the Houses of Parliament.

I heard about politicians faced with protestors outside their homes and family members needing police protection as well as the politicians themselves. Some suggest this sort of thing is overstated or even made up.

It’s not. It’s real and it’s having an effect on people on all sides of the debate.

'Whoops and whistles' awaited the Labour leader in Llandudno.

At his conference address on Saturday Jeremy Corbyn was warmly welcomed with cheers, whoops and whistles - a contrast to the muted response last year and the euphoria of earlier appearances.

There are still plenty of delegates who want selfies with him and some who still aren’t reconciled to his leadership. When I mentioned that I was interviewing the Labour leader one senior figure said "ask him when he’s going to go."