Labour’s life-support conference approaches

by Rob Marchant

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.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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17 Responses to “Labour’s life-support conference approaches”

  1. Henrik says:


    I positively *live* for the day Labour produces – and fights an election on – a proper red-blooded, socialist, collectivist and revolutionary manifesto. Can’t wait, that will truly be a day of glory and triumph.

    Of course, I’m decidedly not a Labour voter, so my enthusiastic approval may not signify huge confidence that such a manifesto would see a Labour landslide resulting.

  2. John p Reid says:

    So you going to conference Rob, the 1986! one despite the end of the GLC was spurred on by a fake opinion poll lead ans rheidea wapping would be won, 1987 was full of people genuinely thinking it didn’t matter we’d lost as the revelution was imminent and they’d kill police to do it,and 1988 was us kicking our wounds,it wasn’t till 1989 conference,and we’d ditched support for renationalistation, the closed shop, unilateralism, and the poll tax that saw us ahead in the polls again

    Still it’s good you’re still clinging on to the idea that the party can be saved from the far left, and next years conference will bill Hayes running it, calling for momentum groups to have their own stalls with slanderous quotes about everyone lawfully killedbinbpolice custody was really murdered, still ,when the deselections kick in, then we’ll see the real civil war and the poll collapse

  3. John p Reid says:

    Licking our wounds(lol)

  4. Dave K says:

    No-one seems to be interested in Blairite politics these days. Progress have run out of money. Most New Labour MPs seem to be leaving.

  5. gx says:

    Henrik, keep dreaming.
    Labour was never a party of revolutionaries.

  6. John P Reid says:

    defenition taking power of a country by direct action without using a vote to over throw a government
    Labou Party definition A DEMOCRATIC socialist party
    I didn’t know you were gonna out your comment when I put mine,as I aid I recall the 1986,1987 and 1988 party conferences we thought it didn’t matter we lost a third time, the revelution was around the corner

    The only way the Tories will be over thrown, the way you want is a fascist sharia law coup

  7. anosrep says:

    Every time Marchant makes a new blog post I think it can’t possibly be more estranged from reality than the last one. Yet again he has proved me wrong.

  8. paul barker says:

    I come from a position to Rob Marchants “Right”. As an ex Labour, ex Trot (AWL) & now Libdem, I loathe the Authoritarian, Leninist Left but….
    Whats wrong with Conference having the final say on Policy ? Whats wrong with expecting most MPs to be broadly in agreement with The Membership ?
    The problem for Labour Centrists is that more Members agree with Momentum than you. Every time you go out Leafletting for Labour MPs ( even Centrist ones ) you are working for Momentum in the long run.
    When will you admit that you will never get “Your” Party back ?

  9. buttley says:

    “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”

    But you were advocating for this Rob, & now you are denigrating it.

    This is what you said in September 2013,

    “There is no reason why members of the party, including the new affiliate members joined from unions, cannot be the sole arbiters of both leadership elections and conference.”

    Page 22

    then you assert,

    “If Policy Forums were to be scrapped, the party would go back a quarter-century in terms of the process, let alone the result.”

    The documents below represent a whole years worth of work from the National Policy Forum.

    I would assert based on this evidence alone they should be scrapped, urgently.

  10. thomas says:

    I come from an ex-Lib Dem position, voted Leave and sort of position myself as on the `progressive right`.

    The problem Labour have is that it is speaking to two opposing audiences with completely different assumptions. I know many people who voted Labour in May who did so because it was the `worst of three evils` and wanted to put two fingers up to a rigged system.

    The problem Corbyn has is that these very same people want very managed migration, tame globalism and really get a handle on our unequal society especially for those at the bottom who are genuinely disabled, the aspirational jobseeker and those at the bottom of the labour market. To get over the top he needs to prove he can make tough decisions, intervene in his own prejudices and DELIVER the change they want.

    It’s pretty clear – mass migration has undermined wages, terms and conditions and life aspirations. Many people have a job but are `stuck` in one that fails to meet their potential with poor training.

    One way would be to reform the JCP and JSA – twin track it. Actually make JCP part of the community championing jobseekers with outreach to employers instead of being passive aggressive `signposters`.

  11. steve says:

    “Corbyn has often made clear his desire to revert to the “good old days” when Labour’s policy was made by conference delegates.

    Quite right, Rob. As I have pointed out before – the only thing wrong with democracy is the voters.

    5 million voters abandoned New Labour during the Blairite era, voters kicked Jim Murphy’s Scottish Labour into touch and they rejected the immeasurably talented Owen Smith as Labour leader. And now, adding insult to injury, there is a very strong possibility of these ballot paper waving inadequates electing Jeremy Corby as PM.

    What on earth can we do to stop them?

    I offer two solutions: join the Tories and campaign for the alternative or instead: become a furtive Tory supporter by remaining within the LP while running a campaign of sabotage against Labour.

    The danger with the sabotage option is that it is, in effect, a camaign against democracy – it becomes a form of electoral terrorism – and that, if we are clear-sighted and honest enough to admit it, would be a campaign driven by bitterness and nihilism.

    Far better to offer an alternative. Of course, for you Rob, initially at least, this would be difficult. But in your heart of hearts you must already know that you will find a far more comfortable home beneath the Blue Banner singing Land of Hope and Glory than you would find beneath Labour’s banner singing the Red Flag.

  12. Tafia says:

    not yet jaded by the disingenuousness of their leader’s position on Europe.

    Corbyn was here in North Wales last week in Bangor addressing a public rally. Some of the crowd waved EU flags. Corbyn scolded them and told them the result must be accepted, we are leaving and we are not having a second vote on it. I think that was fairly unambiguous. I think it’s other people (such as Umanna) that are creating the disingenuousness of which you speak.

  13. John O Reid says:

    Momentum just don’t accept the voters don’t hold their convictions, with the Libdem collapse in 2015 and Ukip collapse in 2017 plus austerity meaning the public were always going to want to protest again the Tory government, all 3 have ao led in our favour, but while the left congratulate themselves on Ed M and Jez getting more votes than Gordon, they ignore that the Tory vote has gone up to

    All this labour lost 5m votes under new labour ignores that it increased by 5.2m from 1983-1997 and fell by 5.6m from 1951-1983

  14. Dave Roberts says:

    The situation is that after seven years of austerity and a disastrous Tory campaign Labour didn’t win. May is totally lacking in personality and interviewed badly. The Tory campaign was mismanaged and yet Labour didn’t win. The Labour increase in voters and members came from the volatile youth of the country and while they are the future are notoriously unreliable.

  15. Tafia says:

    Dave, there has been no austerity (cue howls of indignation).

    Under austerity government spending falls, all public services have their funding cut, public sector pay is cut, pensions and benefits are cut.

    Greece has had austerity (and will have more yet), austerity-in-progress and wil be seeing it increase, Italy will be having it soon. Macron seems to want to take France down an austerity path. We haven’t.

  16. Tafia says:

    austerity-in-progres Should read Spain and Portugal are a ‘lite’ version and are austerity-in-progres

  17. Sean Connor says:

    It is time that the author of the article and Labour Uncut’s staff joined the Tory Party where the belong. Labour has had enough of you, clear off.

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