The most surreal of experiences
occur in the most unlikely of places. I have had that sort of day. Fabian
Conferences are always a political highlight for me and, much as I enjoyed the
summer conference, I couldn’t help but feel that I was caught up in a parallel
universe. To cut to the chase, anyone from another planet or, why go that far,
from another political party would have been rather more jubilant at their
party’s election performance if Labour’s results had been theirs.
The Conservative party who have the
ability to spin without feeling giddy would, if the roles had been reversed,
have been swigging Dom Perignon and thumping tables. The Lib Dems would have
had members crying into their Guardian newspaper which always seems wedded to
their hands by the way. The Labour Party? You should have been at the Fabian
Conference to believe it. Even the 1922 Backbench scary as hell committee were more
jubilant about the Tory Party’s dismal performance at the election.
By stark contrast the Labour MPs
(not all) who graced the stage in the auditorium at the Fabian conference were a few steps away
from being lachrymose. The sense of elation felt by voters over the party’s
success had clearly not transferred itself over to the party’s MPs. By the end
of the conference I was utterly confused and wondered if my usual political
instincts had reached its’ sell by date.
Not so. I looked at Twitter on the
way out and a new YouGov poll for The Times has put Labour 8 points ahead of
the Conservative Party. To add to the confusion Corbyn had been making
headlines today for his visit to the Durham Miners’ parade.
This is the reality of the two
halves of the Labour Party. One celebrates Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the
party and fully recognises his ability to win voters over. The other treats
Corbyn as if he were the elephant OUT of the room. Any hopes of the party
coming together with a shared plan to beat the Tory party were not evident at
the conference. Yes, there is a shared will to win the next election but
a will has to be converted into action and it is clear that some factions of
the party are as determined as they were before to not play ball.
The most disappointing bit of the
conference for me was Yvette Cooper’s keynote address. While she did speak
about Labour’s “strong and stable leadership” there was no overt
acknowledgement or even a nod in the direction of Corbyn’s rise to success. There
was something missing from her speech and it was this, a failure to capture
where Labour stands with the electorate. How does a party move forward when it
seems to have disdain for its’ own success?
This is a party comprised of one
half willing the leader to reach greater heights and the other half stubbornly
clinging to a centrist position because, regardless of the evidence, it has
artificially constructed a narrative that assumes victory is for the taking if
only the party could replicate its’ path to power under Blair.
Come to think of it Blair was the
elephant in the room while Corbyn was the elephant out of the room.
I attended the panel session on
‘Future Left: What next for Labour?’ which featured Owen Jones. As usual Owen
was spot on with his analysis: “Labour gave people a vision. That is why people
voted for them.” He went on to say that what the Labour party offered in 2015
was not good enough but that Corbyn understands the “spirit of the times in the
way Thatcher did”.
Ann Pettifor, Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics,
who was a speaker on a different panel set some context around voter’s
intentions when she said that the electorate was ahead of politicians in
setting the political agenda. She cited tuition fees as one example of what
worries the electorate. Clearly then Corbyn was right to offer huge concessions
on tuition fees.
All said and done I fear that the
two halves of the Labour Party will not be converging in the way that it was hoped they would. I can’t think of a reality that would summarise the Blairites stance
and can only make up an analogy with, say, the Rotary Club suddenly being
besieged by people wanting to join it but turning them all away because they
weren’t the ‘right types’; or a local cricket club winning the season and
returning the cup because the players who played well weren’t their cup of tea.
I don’t think I am wrong in saying that Labour voters will not be forgiving if internal division chips away at the party’s electoral success.