Friday, 25 August 2017

Labour’s life-support conference approaches

It does not take a Nostradamus to predict that this year’s will have to be the craziest Labour conference since 1985 or, quite possibly, ever.

On the one hand you will have hubris: bright-eyed young Corbynite new recruits, feeling buoyed and excited by the party’s “success” in the general election (i.e. we did not lose too badly). The old-fashioned Trots, to their surprise finding themselves back in the party and with their day in the sun. And some of the long-time, idealistic soft left, not yet jaded by the disingenuousness of their leader’s position on Europe.

On the other you will have something approaching despair: the party’s centrists, Blairites, Brownites (as if those labels mean anything any more) and perhaps some old-time trade unionists and working-class members, seeking out each others’ company for warmth, in the party’s long, cold, dark night of the soul.

But the polls, the Corbynites will say, glowingly.

It is not, patently, about how Labour is doing in the polls against a terrible government. It is about the structural carnage it is wreaking on itself and whether that is sustainable in the long run. Or whether it has reached the tipping point of irreparable damage.

One day, it will not be up against a useless government grappling hopelessly with Brexit. Indeed, Theresa May might even – as Michael Heseltine has implied – dump her current Brexit ministers to draw the sting, then renew her premiership with a more workable approach and new people, in the process dodging the numerous bullets currently being aimed at her. It could happen.

No matter: one day there will be a half-decent Tory leader who will mercilessly take apart their bearded opponent. But at the moment this is not happening, because (a) it’s clearly better for the Tories he stays where he is, and (b) on Brexit, the main issue of the day, he pretty much supports their policies. Why fix what ain’t broke?

But this year’s conference is also interesting because it is the first one where Corbyn’s supporters, and the “parallel party” that is Momentum, have come back with some measure of confidence in themselves.

A major question is whether they can secure the rule-changes being requested and try, like Presidents Erdogan and Corbyn’s friend Maduro, to lock themselves in power by tinkering with the constitution. (The man himself thinks a bit smaller, though: he’s not really bothered about running the country, only the party.) Though Uncut’s spies say it looks a tall order to get the necessary votes from here, it could happen.

For those who rather liked the party as it was in the old days, when it won elections, these changes are rather dangerous. Success with constitutional changes – for example, lowering the MP nominations threshold for leadership elections – would consolidate the Corbynites’ grip.

Either way, there are a couple things that are likely, sooner or later, to follow this conference in terms of the plan to “change the party” (subtext: take it over).

One: the deselections of centrist MPs. This is not an exaggeration and neither should it be treated as one. The easiest way to clear the way to hegemonic leadership is to remove his internal opposition (we might just remind ourselves that he has no less than two Stalin-revisionists on his staff). Momentum has already taken over a number of local parties and this trend looks set to continue.

Two: once that deselections program has been kicked off and MPs sidelined or silenced, it is only a matter of time that Labour produces a policy document or manifesto, as Neil Kinnock would have it, “pickled in dogma”. The party’s political strategy would be set.

Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto was fairly vague and useless, yet largely inoffensive: that is because it was a messy compromise, the ballast of moderate MPs limiting the effect of Corbynite loyalists. Next time it will not be so. Apart from anything else, Corbyn has often made clear his desire to revert to the “good old days” when Labour’s policy was made by conference delegates. If Policy Forums were to be scrapped, the party would go back a quarter-century in terms of the process, let alone the result.

Once you have a truly hard-left manifesto, the journey of Labour to unelectability would be complete.

It seems clear that Labour needs to get through this conference and start to see a change in its direction of travel, if it is to have a hope of recovery as a political force.

But like a very ill person on very strong drugs, Labour barely even realises it is on life-support.


This post first published at Labour Uncut

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