Brighton Rock: A tale of two Labour conferences

by Pete Bowyer 

On the surface all seemed well. Or as well as could be, given the circumstances. There was no vote on Trident. John McDonnell pretended that the overthrow of capitalism was no longer one of his leisure pursuits. The Leader downplayed his leftist credentials, whilst the rest of the Shadow Cabinet played up theirs.

True, Owen Jones, the Dear Leader’s unofficial mouthpiece, was unusually demure, but at least Tom Watson was on hand to ebulliantly paper over any cracks. And nobody died, just remember that folks, nobody died. Not yet, anyway.

However, you didn’t have to scratch the surface too much to reveal deep fissures. A brief sojourn to any of the many conference bars and the murmurings were there for all those who wanted to hear them.

Former Cabinet Ministers were already drawing up a shortlist of five potential candidates who could replace Corbyn within the next eighteen months, fancifully in my view.

Members of Parliament – many with shadow ministerial responsibilities – were devising their own leadership in exile to oppose the worst excesses of the current leadership.

London councillors, increasingly nervous about the prospect of a Tory victory in the capital in eight months’ time, were desperately distancing the London party from the national party just as obviously as Sadiq Khan, the party’s own nominee for Mayor, was.

Think Tank chiefs who had supported various of the other leadership candidates were now uniting to create a common policy framework as a mainstream alternative to Corbynism.

More mischievously, former senior advisers to the shadow cabinet were looking at ways they could quickly hang John McDonnell by his own petard, way before George Osborne, sensibly playing a longer game, could get his own dirty hands on him.

Wiser heads acknowledged that, despite the heady, bar-room talk of fomenting revolution, a swift de-capitation is not on the cards. After all, the leader has a mandate, and a huge one at that.

Yes, he will make his own mistakes and mis-steps, as he has many times already in just the last two, short weeks since becoming leader. But whilst these need to be encouraged and promoted, they will not be the end of him in themselves.

They are a necessary, but not sufficient, criteria for his regime to fall.

The modernisers see themselves less as catalysts in bringing down the leader in the immediate future, but more as petrifiers, ensuring that when the inevitable disaffection comes, it lingers over the next three years and sets as hard as stone.

The easy part is encouraging the far left activists, who swelled Labour’s ranks in the midst of Corbynmania, to become disillusioned by the necessary compromises the party will have to make whether on tuition fees, unilateralism or the magic money tree.

They are likely to simply march away, as briskly as they came, and retreat back to groupings on the very fringes of the political spectrum whence they are from.

But a more challenging and substantial group is to be found amongst the ‘soft left’ who tolerate Corbyn and have been excited by the support he has generated in new members to the party.

Unlike the ‘hard left’, who are merely content with being right, the soft left ultimately want to win too. Deep in their hearts, they recognise that Labour is not simply a debating society, or a pressure group, but a political party with the objective of winning power and transforming the country.

Once this group gets to experience the dialectical confrontation between the electorate and Corbyn’s doctrine of refusing to compromise with the electorate, time and time again, whether in London, in Scotland & Wales, in local elections or – potentially disastrously for the country – in the European referendum, they are likely to drift rightwards, just as the generation before them did in the 1980s, and want to elect a leader with, at least, an outside chance of victory in 2020.

History repeating itself, first as tragedy then as farce.

None of this is on the cards for now. So, in the meantime, the right and more mainstream elements in the party, currently subdued, are actively organising behind the scenes, drawing up their own policy platforms that can be produced when the inevitable happens, and starting to communicate a vision of what a future, centrist Labour government would look like.

They are interested in understanding why Labour actually lost the last election and learning from that humiliating defeat by engaging with the middle ground where elections are won.

By contrast, the current leader, a 5/7 denier who refused to acknowledge that defeat at any point during his one-hour leadership speech, simply believes in the myth of the non-voter flocking to Labour in their droves when everyone else knows that non-voters do as they say on the tin and don’t vote (and, even if they did, research from the ‘Tory-Lite’ TUC showed they would be just as right-wing as the rest of the electorate, perhaps even more so on issues like immigration, welfare and spending – in Corbyn’s mentor, Karl Marx’s terminology, this represents ‘false consciousness’).

At some point, the kissing will have to stop and the fantasy politics come to an end. But, just as in Brighton Rock, which begins with calm, but sinister, overtones and ends in Pinky’s body parts being splattered everywhere, the same fate faces the Labour party before a new dawn breaks once again.

Pete Bowyer is a Labour activist

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “Brighton Rock: A tale of two Labour conferences”

  1. Daniel Sutton says:

    I’m very puzzled why many people on the Blairite wing of the party are obsessed with both Victorian policies and fighting the last election all over again for the next five years. Labour need to reconnect with aspiration and I don’t believe that they can do that by pretending that the world is how it is and will never change.

    In 2005 the party was vulnerable on the left because of Lib Dem retoric and wiped out in 2010 by a faux left leaning SNP. If the drift rightwards were to continue UKIP or the Tory’s with a non-sensical talking left campaign could pull the rug out from under us.

    I wonder if that is what the Blairites want so that they can create a centrist coalition with ‘wet’ conservatives and what remains of the Lib Dem’s.

  2. Russ says:

    Just to point out that the so-called modernisers, Blairites et al, have just lost the last two elections. And it’s typical of the patronising, dismissive, we-know-best attitude of the Labour Establishment, as exemplified in this article, that is encouraging more and more people like myself to join Labour, who for once see an opportunity to have a real say in the formation of socialist policies that will hopefully form the bedrock of Labour’s manifesto come 2020.

  3. paul barker says:

    Labour centrists are continuing to underestimate The Far Left & overestimate themselves. Having got themselves in a position they have been working for since the 1920s The Far Left are not going to give up & go away. Part of the reason Labour Conference went so smoothly was because The Far Left handled it so intelligently, they are still running rings round the Centrists.

  4. Richard says:

    I wish I could say I was shocked by the revelations by Mr Bowyer above in the plotting and fightback! (to use the name of the old book promoted by Progress) he witnessed at conference, unfortunately I am not. However, I am surprised that a spin doctor who owns the public relations firm, Maitland, who have the slogan trusted advice, discretion, influence has revealed the Machavellian machinations of his friends and our erstwhile leaders.

    Mr Bowyer reveals there are elements on the right of the party who, self evidently, would sooner Labour imploded rather than support a left of the party leader by taking the decision to abide by the result of the leadership election and attempt to nurture the enthusiasm of the influx of support.

    No point asking them to pipe down, they are hell bent on destruction or forcing Corbyn to accept their agenda wholesale.

    No point attempting to include them in a ‘pluralistic’ approach, because, as far as they are concerned, pluralism means they can say what they believe, but Corbyn is not allowed to (E.U., Trident, Peoples’s QE). What is more they use this pluralism to propose policies diametrically opposed to Corbyn and not even a nod at the mandate.

    No point trying to win them over, to give Corbyn a chance, for apriori they have decided the futility of the venture, which is daft because it is the same people who decided back in May that Corbyn’s bid for the leadership was futile, and look how wrong they were there. I was unable to find evidence of Mr Bowyer’s offerings, but I am sure he as a supporter of Liz was shocked and appalled by the result.

    I am honestly quickly reaching the conclusion that there is no point trying to do anything with these people, much as it would be futile in trying to promote immigration to a racist.

    I could hope they’d do the honourable thing and resign form the party to leave us to us rather then undermine, but they believe the party is rightfully theirs so there is little chance of that.

    So what can us on the left do?

    Deselection and mandatory reselection would corner those engaged in fightback! in the PLP and in probability cause them to split, with the undoubted support of the press all the way across the spectrum and on to the BBC. However, carrying on like this we will lose various elections, the ‘petrifiers’ will nurture and ossify disaffection, the ‘kissing’ will stop and a coup will be attempted or Corbyn limps, shackled and bound to 2020, self fulfilling prophecy comes true and he is unceremoniously removed after the election when Labour lose seemingly divided as a parliamentary ‘rump’ low ball us the whole time.

    Well, as far as I can see it we’re dammed whatever we do so I for one am reaching the conclusion that we need to get rid of bad rubbish and persuade CLP’s to deselect and then select left radical candidates in every safe seat and as many as others as possible. At least then we have control of the party rather than giving it back to the Blairites with barely a fight as they wont make the mistake of putting up a left candidate in the next leadership election. We can change the rules, we can embed our victory in the way that Blairites did so that we can fight 2025 on our terms, unshackled by an enemy within.

  5. Will says:

    why not make the best of things now he’s won with a huge majority, he shown he can be reigned in when necessary, he may not even be the electoral liability you expect.

  6. Tafia says:

    The Parliamentary Labour Party need to start understanding something and understanding it damn quick.

    The balance of power within the Constituency partoes is now Corbynite and increasingly Corbynite by the day. Any defeats – even GE 2020 , are not going to be blamed on Corbyn – they are going to be blamed on the PLP. So they better start getting behind him and backing him, otherwise the CLPs will carry out the ‘Night of The Long Knives’, not Corbyn, and Corbyn almost certainly won’t attempt to stop them. On the contrary, it’s his policy that the CLPs wield far more power and influence so he will almost certainly smole and look the other way.

    At the moment, the PLP is bringing about it’s own deserved downfall – and nobody really cares. Some find it fascinating, some find it amusing, most couldn’t give a toss. For some bizarre reason, the PLP seem to think they are still important – they aren’t anymore.

  7. james says:

    As a Lib Dem and as the fast food slogan goes `I’m loving it!`

  8. Nick Wall says:

    According to Pete Bowyer’s own biography, he has “worked at the heart of public affairs campaigns for some of the world’s largest brands including Nestlé, McDonalds, DHL International, Kingfisher plc, Unilever, Viacom, Lilly, Abbott, bmi british midland, Zurich Financial Services and Johnson & Johnson.” I think this tells us all we need to know about his real agenda, and the reason why he’s not interested in fighting the Tories, his only interest is in using any means possible to undermine Labour’s democratically elected leader.

    This kind of behaviour is intolerable to the thousands of hardworking activists who are doing so much to get Labour elected. Labour has always been, and always will be, a party where open disagreement is a part of its culture, but this crosses a line.

  9. swatantra says:

    The fallacy is that Labour can win back the Tory voters!. Not on your life! Once they’ve switched most will stay with the Tories. No, Labour has to go for the undecideds and floating voters and those that don’t care abut politics and politicians. Maybe JC can convince them that he is indeed different from the grubby politicians that parade before us on the telly. If he can tack into that section of the electorate, then we’ve got a winner. But do give him 2 years, and if he proves a flop, then ditch him for Lisa Nandy.
    On the while the Conference went well and the boy done good. No disasters or foul ups, and people left in an upbeat mode. Look on the bright side: the odds are that we aren’t going to win the 2020 anyway, whichever leader you had in place JC s as good as any other.

  10. john says:

    russ, Ed Miliband spent the last 5 years denouncing Blair, we’ve our party back, i’m not Tony Blair, to booes for blairs name, I’m moral unlike New labour, and there was nothing in modernisation in Ed milibands views where going back to old union bosses like Mcklusky calling the shot’s ,telling him what to do

  11. john P Reid says:

    paul barker, to Quote the bloke who replied to foot, when foot pointed out her was getting standing ovations in halls, yes but what about the people outside

  12. Peter says:

    Liz Kendall pointing out the Tories will latch on to former labour voters,by portraying Corbyn as too left wing,arguing that although we in is our perceive the Tories as on the right, they’re not that far from the centre ground,as we don’t recognize the centre ground is closer to them,then too us,even 7years ago.

  13. Sean says:

    What Peter’s Blairite contribution clearly reveals is that the PLP and the Party machine is out-of-sync with the CLPs. Democracy in the LP at the CLP level means we must make sure that the PLP and the Party machine fall in line with the desires of the broad membership. And NOT remain subservient to the media-manufactured so-called public opinion which is always presented as “Moderate” or “Right wing”. What this capitalist media (and its LP devotees) forget is the radical tradition in this land from the Peasants Revolt to the Poll Tax which brought Thatcher to her knees.

  14. TC says:

    Some excellent comments above.

    What all these carpers, moaners, spinners and plotters need to realise is that Corbyn has a big mandate from the membership; if the MPs are out of touch with that, then it is they who must change. This change can happen either through them adopting positions more in line with those of the membership or through deselection.

    What Corbyn wants to do is to make the Labour party more democratic, to give more power to the members, to make it into a mass movement. As the membership is considerably to the left of the parliamentary party, more internal democracy means that Labour and all its structural units will move to the left, which in turn means that British politics will move to the left as more left-wing ideas enter the mainstream of debate and discussion. This perhaps explains the anguish on the right of the Labour party recently; the Blairites know that the game is almost up.

Leave a Reply