Don’t Mistake Labour’s Party Conference Triumphalism For Complacency

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Don’t waste time laughing at over-enthusiastic Labour activists who claim that their party “won” the 2017 general election despite falling 56 seats short of the Conservatives. Labour will soon be celebrating for real unless the Tories can close the enthusiasm deficit with Corbyn’s motivated activists

Abi Wilkinson makes an important point in Total Politics today, refuting the growing accusations that the ebullient and positive Labour Party conference in Brighton is somehow a sign of derangement or complacency on the part of left-wing activists:

To dismiss the jubilance on display at the party’s recent conference as hubris is to misunderstand what’s going on. The MPs who claimed, at fringe events and on the main conference stage, that they believe Labour will win the next election were not, on the whole, complacent about what such a victory might require. Nor were any of the smiling, energetic young activists I met at Momentum’s The World Transformed parties and panel discussions naive about the challenge the party faces.

These are individuals who’ve spent the past couple of years campaigning and persuading, as the majority of the mainstream media and parts of their own party screamed that they were idiots, wreckers and dangerous hardliners. They’re people who were determined enough to drag themselves out door-knocking even when the polling gap appeared uncloseable. They built apps, organised car pools and slept on sofas to ensure that key marginals were flooded with volunteers. Many of them donated their time and skills to outmatch Tory efforts on a fraction of the budget.

This is absolutely true. Politics is an expectations game just as much as it is a net results game. Surpassing expectations can inject unstoppable momentum into a political party or movement, while failing to meet expectations can drain energy and enthusiasm faster than air escapes a burst balloon. That’s why Theresa May’s Conservative Party has the unmistakable pallor of death about it; grey-skinned, dead-eyed and utterly bereft of purpose, it shuffles forward to its party conference in Manchester like a zombie.

But even more than expectations, politics is about narratives and ideas. This was seemingly forgotten in the centrist, technocratic age ushered in under Tony Blair and growing to full fruition under David Cameron. For a long time, political elites have professed bland managerialism, aiming to do just enough to keep the population quiet with “good enough” public services and not much more. There was certainly no soaring national ambition or optimism for a different future preached the whole time that I grew up under Tony Blair and came of age under Brown, Cameron and Clegg. And the people miss it. You can explain Brexit and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn a million different ways, but one absolutely irrefutable component is the fact that people responded to politicians who offered something more than to hire a few more nurses and make the trains run on time.

Jeremy Corbyn has a compelling narrative because he actually believes in something, and people know he believes in something because he has been banging on about the same things for thirty-odd years, and doesn’t have to consult a focus group before he opens his mouth to respond to a question. So Labour’s confidence comes from a combination of new-found charisma at the top (say what you will about any of Corbyn’s centrist leadership competitors, but none of them could be described as charismatic) and huge energy and enthusiasm within the base. This is a potent combination, not to be sniffed at by cynical journalists and arrogant Tories who utterly failed to predict the 2017 general election result.

Wilkinson continues:

Enthusiasm is one of the most important resources Labour has. A party pursuing an agenda of increased tax and redistribution, regulation and nationalisation is never going to have a cosy relationship with media barons and big business in general (though it’s worth noting that the corporate lobbyists who stayed away from last year’s conference came flooding back this time) but it can reach people in other ways. Keeping activists’ spirits up ensures they’ll keep doing the work that’s necessary to maximise the likelihood of a Labour win.

Maybe it’s possible the current mood could tip over into slack triumphalism, but I’ve seen little sign of it yet. Many of the conference fringe events I attended involved smart discussions about what the party’s strategy going forward should consist of. Is it realistic to think that youth turnout could be increased further? Are the Tories capable of coming up with a decent answer to the housing crisis, and if they do so how will that impact our vote? What can we do to win over pensioners? What about self-employed tradespeople, a demographic we performed comparatively poorly with?

Does this sound like complacency? Hell no – it is determination. Labour might not be measuring the curtains in 10 Downing Street, but they have certainly tapped the address into their GPS and turned towards Whitehall.

This should be enormously worrying for conservatives, not least because the Conservative Party conference in Manchester promises to be a constant parade of recriminations and mediocrity, with Theresa May’s vacuous Labour Lite conference speech the rotting cherry on a very stale cake. The only enthusiasm on display will be among the cheerleaders and acolytes for the various potential Tory leadership challengers, waiting in the wings lest the prime minister make one more fatal error of judgment or messaging.

And if the government falls or the country otherwise gets dragged to the polls again before the Tories have had a chance to get their act together, what then? Corbyn is already on the brink of becoming prime minister, and increasing numbers of Britons are swallowing his story. The Conservatives, meanwhile are organisationally, intellectually and ideologically exhausted after seven years of being in office, but never really in power.

This blog has already warned how Labour’s hard left wing spent their summer busily plotting and organising for the next election to get them over the finish line, not licking their wounds, sunning themselves in Italy or plotting future leadership challenges. Momentum has been actively learning from the surprisingly viable presidential primary campaign of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who fought Hillary Clinton nearly all the way to the Democratic convention. And now groups of Momentum activists from sixteen to sixty years old are gathering in meeting rooms to learn how to make better use of online campaigning coordination and voter turnout software, while others are learning how to run a viral video campaign on social media even more successful than the 2017 effort.

Unfortunately, aside from last week’s Big Tent Ideas Festival and a series of articles in Conservative Home, the Tories have been engaged in no introspection and no reorganising of any kind.

As I recently fumed:

Meanwhile, what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us.

Abi Wilkinson and I obviously come at this from opposite angles – she does not want Labour complacency and is reassured because she sees the frenetic organisation efforts taking place on the ground, while I would love to see a bit more Labour complacency and am disheartened by the fact that left-wing activism and organisation so utterly outstrips any efforts on the Right.

I campaigned for the Tories in 2010. God only knows why, in retrospect, but I pounded the pavements in my hometown of Harlow, Essex to help unseat Labour incumbent MP and minister Bill Rammell and elect Tory Rob Halfon in his place. But today you couldn’t pay me enough money to slap on a blue rosette and stump for Theresa May’s Conservative Party, which has somehow managed to blend barking authoritarianism, a statist, centre-left approach to the economy and the general incompetence of Frank Spencer. And if the Tories can no longer get enthusiastic conservatives like me to actively support them at the constituency level, then there’s a real problem.

Abi Wilkinson is right – there is no general complacency within the Labour Party, only a frightening seriousness of purpose. The only complacency for the past seven years has been on the Right, and specifically within the Conservative Party.

And now that complacency is metastasising into something even more deadly and hard to eradicate – resignation and defeatism.

 

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Live Blog: Jeremy Corbyn Elected Leader Of The Labour Party (Again)

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Jeremy Corbyn destroys Owen Smith’s pathetic candidacy, is re-elected leader of the Labour Party – Live Blog

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13:26

At this point I’m not sure what more there is to say. All of the arguments about how the Labour Party ended up in this position have been stated and restated over and over.

Inglorious defeat was long predicted by this blog – not least here, here and here.

One can only think that the restless, self-entitled centrists have shot themselves (and their party) in the foot with this reckless and doomed leadership challenge – and for what? Corbynism, however misguided, has earned the right to be tested at a general election. And all of these furious attempts by the PLP to circumvent that process and disenfranchise Jeremy Corbyn’s base have only hardened his support – and strengthened the impression that the centrist Westminster establishment do not trust the British electorate to choose from a full palette of political shades, insisting on artificially limiting our choice beforehand lest we make the “wrong” choices.

As this blog recently noted:

One way or another, the establishment seems determined not to give the quaintly antiquated socialism of Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to fail on its own. Labour’s centrist MPs do so because they are hungry to pursue what they see as the quickest route back to power (and some fear losing their seats in a 2020 anti-Corbyn landslide), and the rest of the political and media establishment do so because they are alarmed by Corbyn’s views on NATO, Trident and other issues, and do not trust the British people to likewise see the flaws in these ideas and reject them.

Of course, the sad irony is that by going to such extreme lengths to prevent Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist ideas being tested in a general election, the establishment is doing more than anyone else – more even than Corbyn himself – to harden support for those failed ideas, ensuring that they live on even longer past their “sell by” date.

Furthermore, the idea of centrist MPs enforcing what is essentially a de facto ideological test for any politician seeking high national office is grossly offensive to our democracy, revealing the establishment’s contempt for the people in all its hateful glory. We the people are more than capable of determining which political ideas are good, bad, offensive, dangerous or otherwise, and we have no need for a sanctimonious elite to pre-screen our choices for us.

The only things necessary to defeat Corbynism are Jeremy Corbyn himself and the British electorate. It’s sad that Labour MPs and the political / media establishment are simultaneously too selfish and too distrustful of the British people to realise this obvious truth.

This failed coup against Jeremy Corbyn has also revealed the utter dearth of talent among Labour’s centrist MPs. Even the supposed “big beasts” are little more than field mice – none of them had the courage to put their own political careers and future leadership ambitions on the line by challenging Jeremy Corbyn, leaving it to the underwhelming Owen Smith to carry their banner.

But worse than failing to field a serious candidate, the centrists had no vision to offer. Like Jeremy Corbyn or loathe him, he has a vision for a different Britain and principles which he has stuck to for decades, not bending and shapeshifting in an attempt to flatter different interest groups. The centrists offered no vision at all, other than their naked hunger for power. But if you cannot articulate in an inspiring way what you choose to do with that power, it will not be granted to you.

Will the Labour centrists finally learn this lesson? I have absolutely zero confidence that they will.

12:40

Submission.

See my “submission” series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

12:29

Good question from Norman Smith to Diane Abbott – “why shouldn’t local parties deselect local MPs who continue to be vocally critical of a popularly elected leader?”

Abbott deflects, choosing to be polite and magnanimous today – but Norman Smith’s question is a fair one. Why should pro-Corbyn CLPs continue to tolerate Labour MPs who do not share their beliefs and actively seek to undermine Corbyn’s leadership?

In fact – mandatory reselection for all!

12:24

To do otherwise would have required competence and vision, qualities with which the angry, self-entitled centrists are not exactly brimming over.

12:22

Thinking of starting an “it’s time for the Labour Party to come together” counter on this blog. Nearly everybody interviewed on the BBC so far has used that phrase, however unconvincingly.

12:16

Interesting report from Huffington Post – apparently Owen Smith “won” among under 24s (and pre-2015 members) according to an exit poll:

Owen Smith beat Jeremy Corbyn among Labour party members who joined the party before 2015, a new exit poll has revealed.

Although he was defeated in the overall election, the YouGov/ElectionData poll found that Smith also won among 18-24 year-olds and Scottish party members.

The survey found that 63% of pre-2015 party members had backed the Pontypridd MP, to just 37% for Corbyn.

But the current leader had a huge lead among the tens of thousands who have joined the party since Ed Miliband quit, with 74% of them backing him to just 24% for Smith.

Among those who had joined since Corbyn became leader, a massive 83% said they had voted for him in the 2016 leader election, and 15% voted Smith.

While this sounds quite surprising at face value, digging a little deeper I’m not so sure that it is unexpected. Look at the young people who typically get into politics – a significant number of them tend to be university Labour/Conservative types, people who entertain either vague or determined ambitions to one day climb up the greasy pole and launch political careers of their own. Young Labour activists such as these likely want to taste political power one day rather than dwell in permanent opposition, and since prevailing wisdom (right or wrong) is that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable is it really surprising that many of them fell into line behind the candidate who looked the part of the typical, professional political candidate? I don’t think so.

12:14

Yeah, I picked up on this too:

12:11

Not a whole lot of sympathy for Owen Smith from the Left:

Good. Owen Smith is an awful politician and was a terrible leadership candidate. He deserves neither consolation nor sympathy.

12:06

Chuka Umunna on the BBC, on the defensive against the potential deselection of “good, hardworking and popular” local Labour MPs.

Newsflash, Chuka – if they were so tremendously “popular” among the party activists who sweat blood to get them elected to Parliament in the first place, they wouldn’t be at risk of deselection. But since they have openly defied the wishes of their own local party members, they must now steel themselves to face the consequences.

12:02

Hilarious watching sulking centrists stalking out of the conference hall and refusing to even talk to the BBC reporter (Norman Smith) stationed outside. They have only themselves to blame for pitching the biggest hissy fit in the world against Corbyn’s leadership while utterly failing to come up with a compelling vision of their own for the future of the Labour Party and Britain.

12:00

Well, that wasn’t a bad victory speech from Jeremy Corbyn – far more magnanimous than I would have been under the circumstances. He congratulated the supporters and activists of both leadership campaigns in a general paean to political activism, and tried to immediately move the focus forward by plugging some big campaign for education (basically against grammar schools) next week.

I’m not sure if that will be enough to glue the warring Labour Party back together – however many times the phrase “we all need to come together” are uttered by different Labour MPs and officials over the course of the day. But for Jeremy Corbyn, it is clearly now business as usual.

11:50

And it’s Jeremy Corbyn (naturally), with 313,209 votes of 506,428 cast, meaning a breakdown of Corbyn 61.8% / Smith 38.2%.

 

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Jeremy Corbyn, His Place Confirmed On The Leadership Ballot Paper, Declares War On The Centrists

Jeremy Corbyn taunts centrist Labour MPs with a subtle repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech denouncing Militant Tendency

After avoiding a party stitch-up to prevent him from automatically going forward into the Labour leadership ballot, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been taking something of a victory lap.

The Labour NEC’s decision prompted the valedictory video shown above, hosted on the official Jeremy Corbyn YouTube channel and promoted on the Labour leader’s social media accounts.

In the video, Corbyn concludes his remarks:

Our party is determined that the next government will meet the needs of all of the people of this country. That will invest in health, in housing, in education, in jobs, in infrastructure.

The next government will be a Labour government – a Labour government– committed to ending the injustice and inequality that exists in Britain today.

My emphasis in bold.

I highlight this phrase because I do not believe it was accidental. In fact, I believe it was a direct and very deliberate reference to former party leader Neil Kinnock’s 1985 speech to the Labour Party conference, in which Kinnock (in a bid to make his party more electable) denounced the far-left Liverpool city council and the Militant tendency wing of the party.

Here’s what Kinnock said in 1985:

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.  You start with far-fetched resolutions.  They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of repetition (“a Labour government – a Labour government”) in his address today is, I am certain, not coincidental. On the contrary, it is a direct reference to Neil Kinnock’s speech and a repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s work in the 1980s to drag the Labour Party closer to the political centre (Corbyn himself was part of an effort to depose Neil Kinnock from the leadership in 1988).

By flagrantly co-opting Kinnock’s turn of phrase, Corbyn is defiantly stamping his own authority on the Labour Party. Corbyn is making clear that he is the Labour Party now, for all intents and purposes, and that the party of Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband has passed away.

Anybody entertaining any lingering wistful belief that Jeremy Corbyn will “do the right thing” and slink away “for the good of the party”, letting the centrists resume their rule without a fight, should now abandon all hope.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. And he is here to stay.

 

Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech – highlight:

 

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Labour Party Fails To Find Its Soul In Manchester

 

The 2014 Labour Party conference may be a rapidly receding memory, brushed aside in the news cycle by UKIP’s conference and Parliament’s vote to authorise military action in Iraq (again) – but it will take months for the stench of misplaced smugness, moral superiority and directionless, crusading fervour left in Labour’s wake to fully dissipate from the Manchester Central Convention Complex.

The bland, ambitious, vaguely telegenic personalities were the same.

The toe-curlingly bad speeches were the same.

The policy announcements (where they existed) were the same.

The delegates milled around, congratulating themselves for being the only ones in Britain who care about the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. So much the same.

They called themselves “brother” and “sister”, and talked about “solidarity” as though they were still engaged in some kind of real, urgent, principled struggle.

But it was all an act.

Today’s Labour Party, increasingly under the New Labour era of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – and now reaching its dismal nadir under Ed Miliband – is nothing but an orchestrated pretence, an amateur dramatic society production of Labour’s Glory Days, with Ed Miliband playing the part of Clement Attlee and introducing Andy Burnham, in his first dramatic role, as Nye Bevan.

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With Constitutional Reform, Labour Puts Politics Before Country

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The idea that Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs should no longer be able to vote on matters affecting only England when devolution prevents any English reciprocity is the only reasonable, logical viewpoint for a British citizen to hold – particularly in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum.

One might expect that a political party so self-avowedly obsessed with promoting “fairness” would recognise this universal truth, and work swiftly to ensure that the new reality comes to pass.

But Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has many priorities, and advancing this most fundamental form of constitutional fairness is very far down the list. Indeed, it is almost universally viewed as a threat.

The status quo keeps alive the possibility of a future Labour government in Westminster, while ensuring that a Conservative UK government is prevented as much as possible from interfering with any left-wing policies that take shape in the devolved assemblies.

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