The row over whether London Mayor Sadiq Khan is permitted a speech at Labour’s conference has deepened after a key committee backed him being allowed to address the party faithful.
The decision taken at a meeting on Wednesday means it is an open question over whether Mr Khan will be given a slot, with two of the party’s most powerful bodies apparently at loggerheads over the issue.
Mr Khan, arguably Labour’s most powerful politician holding office, had been left off the schedule after last year angering Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters with a speech widely seen as a critique of the leader’s performance.
This year’s event beginning on Sunday in Brighton, is expected to be one of the biggest ever, with some 13,000 people attending following a huge surge in the party’s membership.
On Wednesday, a meeting of the Conference Arrangements Committee, which shapes the structure of the party’s annual gathering, backed Mr Khan having a slot as long as delegates approve the move in a vote on the conference floor on Sunday morning.
The decision runs contrary to the conclusion of a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee the day before, which supported a conference plan that did not include Mr Khan.
Following the decision a spokesman for Mr Corbyn told, The Independent: “We are a democratic party and respect the procedures of conference.”
Explaining the earlier decision to leave the Mayor off the agenda, a source told The Independent: “There were some concerns over whether giving [Khan] a speech would make Labour seem more London-centric.
“If you give Sadiq a speech, then you also have to let the other mayors talk, and the stage begins to look very male too.”
As it stands, none of Labour’s mayors, Andy Burnham from Manchester, Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram and Bristol’s Marvin Rees have been permitted a speech.
Mr Khan had appeared to blame Mr Corbyn for blocking him from speaking. Asked two weeks ago if he had been “snubbed”, the London Mayor said: “That’s a question you’ve got to ask the leadership.”
He won the mayoral nomination with the support of Mr Corbyn’s backers but infuriated them by criticising the leader during last year’s leadership contest, in which he backed rival Owen Smith.
Mr Khan said at the time: “Jeremy has already proved that he is unable to organise an effective team, and has failed to win the trust and respect of the British people.”
He also claimed Mr Corbyn was “extremely unlikely” to lead Labour back into No 10.
Then in his 2016 conference speech he stressed the importance of Labour being back in power more than two dozen times, something seen as a veiled swipe at the leader and which came amid speculation about the Mayor’s own future leadership ambitions.
Since then, Mr Corbyn performed far better than expected at the ballot box, increasing the party’s Commons seats at the June general election and holding Theresa May to a hung parliament.
The conference is being seen as a key first test of Mr Corbyn’s power in the wake of the election, with his supporters pushing plans for party reform that would help secure members a greater role in decision making.
Recent victories for Corbyn supporters include having two of their number elected to the Conference Arrangements Committee, though they are yet to take up their seats.