On the eve of Labour conference, one of the stars of the party’s 2017 intake predicts inevitable rows, but urges her colleagues to focus on Brexit to sort out the ‘mess’ in which Theresa May has left negotiations. Arj Singh reports.
The one constant of every Labour Party conference since Jeremy Corbyn became leader has been internal but very public arguments.
Many have seen it as a sign of weakness in the Labour leader and his left-wing followers - that their ideological purity means they cannot make the necessary compromises for Government.
This year there is expected to be friction over Brexit and the selection process for parliamentary candidates.
But for Emma Hardy, Hull West and Hessle’s MP for little over a year, this is simply what happens when a democratic party chooses to form its policy through open and public debate.
“It’s not a stage managed theatre show, which I feel like the Conservative conference is, you know - ‘we’re all going to smile, grit our teeth, wave our flags and pretend we’re friends’,” she says.
“Whenever you are openly deciding policy there is going to be a difference of opinions because that’s what it’s designed to do, it’s designed as a space to debate and decide and agree and move forward.”
Nevertheless, the 38 year-old does not want the conference to be dominated by an expected argument over calls from the Corbyn-backing pressure group Momentum for “open selections” of parliamentary candidates - seen by so-called moderates as an attempt to purge certain MPs and replace them with left-wingers.
Ms Hardy, who is an aide to respected Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, thinks there are far more important issues for the conference to consider.
“Conference needs to make a decision on selections and when they make that decision let’s look no more inward, let’s look outward and let’s focus on issues like Brexit,” she says.
In a week where Theresa May suffered humiliation at the hands of EU leaders, who torpedoed her Chequers plan in Salzburg, it is hard to argue.
It is difficult to see where the Prime Minister goes next, but Ms Hardy is in no mood for sympathy.
“This is of her making, she made this mess, she put her red lines down too early on, she said she wasn’t going to go back on them, she allowed the infighting, this is her mess,” she says.
Following the Salzburg debacle, the odds of a no deal Brexit, a general election and even a second referendum have surely gone up.
It may well influence delegates at Labour conference, with the party expected to come under sustained pressure from the grassroots to back a so-called People’s Vote on any final deal.
Ms Hardy insists the option has always been “on the table”, an attempt by Labour not to box itself in like the PM.
“This idea that you can, as Theresa May did, rule things out and say I’m never going to do this and I’m never going to do that and then have to backtrack on them and roll back on them is really bad - it’s really bad political management and it’s really bad indecision for the whole of the country. She’s put together a proposal to try and heal the rift in her own party which has managed somehow brilliantly to alienate everybody, including Europe who she’s trying to negotiate with.
“She needs to get a grip and try and sort this out and put together something which is going to be accepted.”
Labour has been accused of failing to set out a real alternative and was yesterday criticised by Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell for not putting anyone forward to criticise the Prime Minister on morning broadcast shows.
But Ms Hardy defends Labour’s Brexit policy, insisting Sir Keir’s “six tests”, which include delivering the “exact same benefits” of being in the single market, “are not a political gimmick”.
Ms Hardy says the negotiation so far has shown it is “absolutely right” to keep options open as “things change and develop you don’t want to be in a situation where you’ve red-lined so many things”.
At Labour conference, the mother-of-two is also reflecting on a highly successful first year as an MP in which she has become something of a spokesperson for women’s health issues “because there still is, in Parliament, a dominance of men and a dominance of men who find it quite difficult to say the word vagina”.
A successful campaign to halt the use of vaginal mesh has led to floods of women coming forward to talk about other taboo issues.
She pays tribute to the “bravery of the women who spoke out” and stresses that they have helped transform the lives of those who will no longer have to go through the “Russian roulette” of the procedure, risking “horrific injuries”.
She is now set to launch a campaign on endometriosis, which she says affects one in ten women of childbearing age, causes infertility and significant pain, but takes seven and a half years on average to diagnose.
She never intended to focus on women’s issues but since the mesh campaign she has had “floods” of messages from people in similar positions.
“The thing that seems to link every single one is not being taken seriously, not being listened to, having to fight to get the treatment they deserve, that seems to be the case throughout.
“As I’ve been reading through these, I suppose I just found it more motivating.
“I never started off thinking this is what I’m going to end up campaigning on.”