Labour’s annual autumn conference in Liverpool has been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, with an online event planned to replace it.
The party conference, which would have been the first with Sir Keir Starmer as leader, was to be held at the ACC convention venue in mid-September. The Liberal Democrats are also expected to replace their conference with a virtual version.
A Labour spokesperson said: “Our priority is the safety of members, staff and visitors to our events and the need to protect the public’s health. In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we have therefore decided to postpone this year’s annual and women’s conferences.”
Plans for the online conference would be released at a later date, the party said. The decision was made by members of Labour’s national executive committee during an online meeting on Tuesday.
Members had told the Guardian they were anticipating friction between Starmer’s supporters and those loyal to his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, on the party’s left.
One Labour source said Starmer had a lot to lose if the conference did not take place. “It’s the first time for him to rally and show he’s the members’ choice,” they said.
“It’s also a place where there’s things that could revive [unsuccessful deputy leader candidate] Richard Burgon … all those leftwing events. With no conference there’s fewer opportunities for the social campaign group. You’d also have the media looking for disgruntled members asking: ‘What does the new leader stand for?’”
One MP said cancelling the conference meant a loss of income for the party and a missed “opportunity for our new leader and shadow cabinet to present a fresh start to the country”.
The Conservatives say planning for their conference is still under way but is being regularly reviewed.
A report by the Lib Dem federal conference committee to be presented to the party’s board suggests the event in Brighton from 26-29 September be cancelled and plans made for an online format instead.
The pandemic has thrown the annual political fixtures, which attract thousands of people, into doubt owing to the current ban on mass gatherings and suggestions from the government to prepare for physical distancing to be in place for some time.
The Lib Dems have investigated various software packages to make a virtual conference work. Current advice to members is to not book accommodation or transport for the event, and registration is closed.
As well as being a focal point for developing policy with rounds of voting and speeches by senior party members, the Lib Dem conference hosts niche events, such as its popular Glee Club, and generates between £400,000 and £500,000 a year.
A Conservative party spokesperson said its event, scheduled for 4-7 October at the Birmingham International Convention Centre, was still going ahead.
“At present, planning for the party conference is continuing. We will keep this under review in light of the outbreak of coronavirus. Any decisions taken will be guided by the latest science and medical advice and government guidance,” the spokesperson said.