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Jousting, but no insurrection at UK Labour conference

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Jeremy Corbyn's debut conference as British Labour leader began with dark warnings that the party was on the brink of civil war, but potential mutineers have so far kept their swords sheathed.

[BRIGHTON] Jeremy Corbyn's debut conference as British Labour leader began with dark warnings that the party was on the brink of civil war, but potential mutineers have so far kept their swords sheathed.

The 66-year-old swept to victory after almost 60 per cent of party members voted for his leftist agenda, which is opposed by many of the party's more centrist senior parliamentarians.

His main critics have been loyalists of former prime minister Tony Blair's "New Labour" project, but aside from some sniping from the sidelines they have refrained from any open challenge.

Former shadow minister Rachel Reeves told centrists that "we will be back" while Richard Angell, the deputy director of reformist group Progress, was cheered as he said "we need to rally against the Trots (Trotskyite leftists)".

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But Peter Mandelson, a top Blair ally, urged potential anti-Corbyn rebels to settle in for the "long haul", hinting that this could happen following regional elections in May 2016.

"Nobody will replace him... until he demonstrates to the party his unelectability at the polls," he reportedly said in a private paper sent to political associates.

Danger also looms within his own shadow cabinet, where there is opposition to his leftist policies on key issues.

Mr Corbyn insisted during his keynote speech on Tuesday that he was open to debate within the party, saying he was "not imposing leadership lines".

"All of us have to share our ideas and contributions," he told members. "It's you who will have the final say in deciding polices for our party. Not me as leader, not the shadow cabinet, nor the Parliamentary Labour Party."

But Mr Corbyn hinted he would be prepared to wield his public mandate over the totemic issue of Britain's nuclear deterrent system, to which he is opposed, setting the scene for a potential showdown.

"There's one thing I want to make my own position on absolutely clear, and I believe I have a mandate from my election on it," he said.

"I don't believe £100 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons taking up a quarter of our defence budget is the right way forward." Supporters filing out after the speech backed him to maintain unity.

"He seems to manage it with ease, he's one of nature's tightrope walkers," said Dave Griffiths, 62.

'WISHFUL THINKING'

While the leader remained serene, other rifts were on show during the party conference.

One of the battle lines could be the air campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria, which Prime Minister David Cameron's government and many Labour MPs have said they want Britain to join.

Caroline Flint, a minister under Blair, also contradicted shadow finance minister John McDonnell's plan to use receipts from a tax-avoidance clampdown to fund new policies.

The European Union is another issue that potentially divides the party, with most Blairites ardent supporters, while Corbyn and other leftist harbour doubts.

"He's surrounded by the Parliamentary Labour Party which is still dominated by people who did not support Jeremy," eurosceptic MP Kelvin Hopkins told AFP.

Far-left factions, including the Labour Party Marxists, have called for a purge of Blairites, and said that the refusal of some members to serve in Corbyn's cabinet was "an act of civil war".

Meanwhile, Scottish MP Neil Findlay told parliamentarians "to get their toys back in their prams," during an anti-austerity event.

Despite the jousting, the mood at the conference has been upbeat.

"There's a bit of a buzz... but it doesn't feel to me like a party on the brink of civil war," political commentator Owen Jones said.

AFP

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