Progress director Richard Angell shares his analysis of the latest developments at Labour party conference 2016 | First published on Progressonline
Friday 30 September
Not what I expected
Well, that was not the Labour party conference I was expecting. Maggie Cosin won a resounding victory in the election to the National Constitutional Committee – which will gain significantly more powers when the Chakrabarti report is implemented in full; the leaders of Scottish and Welsh Labour now each get to appoint spokespeople to the National Executive Committee – Kezia Dugdale and Alun Davies respectively (remember, Jeremy Corbyn gets his own place and to appoint three others); those who do not want to follow the law by advocating ‘illegal budgets’ can no longer stand for public office; and Tom Watson gave the performance of his life. It is nice to be on the winning side of at least one or two arguments!
A lot of work went into making all of this happen. My staff here at Progress did me proud. We all worked hand in glove with Labour First and other activists who believe in those ‘Clause One socialist’ principles – that Labour was created to replace the government, not just oppose it. To every delegate, leafleteer and persuasive activist, you should know you did something special this week and have our gratitude. For those who want help with next year’s effort – get in touch now.
Corbyn – it is fair to say – gave his best conference performance yet. If only clapping made it so. It was a clever speech. It moves Labour further from the electorate on immigration and public spending but will firm up his position with the membership. This in turn will shut down internal debate. Immigration – to use one example – is a hard issue to debate in the Labour party, but it is vital there is space to do so. Lots of working- and middle-class people do not agree with the recipe of ‘open borders and a little financial compensation’ – and they cannot be turned away from Labour forever. Now, I bow to no one in my liberal pro-immigration views – I wrote about this for the latest Progress magazine – but to suggest that to have any policy other than recreating the Migration Impact Fund is the politics of ‘racism and division’ is a cul-de-sac for Labour. Cue the trolls having said this, but it is true. In reality, this was another way of calling a lot of the public racist.
The biggest problem with Corbyn’s speech, however, was not its content, but what was not in it. To shout shrill demands for unity from a podium while providing nothing to unite around is not leadership. Everyone wants followers, but leaders have a responsibility to be both shepherd and sheep dog. Yes, lead from the front but do not forget those who lag behind. There were rightly kind words about new members – who should be made to feel welcome – but nothing to those who have been members for years, who work hard and will be the backbone in any coming general election. An honouring of other political traditions would have done more for our @StayInLabour campaign than any Twitter account. But alas. Equally, Corbyn could have ruled out deselections of members of parliament or ruled in the shadow cabinet elected by MPs. He did neither. Finally he could have announced action, not trumpeted a code of conduct, on tacking abuse and explained why he broke his promise – made only a fortnight ago – to the Jewish Labour Movement about supporting its rule change on racism and antisemitism. Nothing emerged.
There are two ways the party can have unity. The leadership either builds agreement around something shared, or it removes those who dissent and share its disagreement. It seems the current leader favours the latter. This lack of generosity from Corbyn when at his most powerful – re-elected just days before – is a worrying sign. The fact that there was no mention of the great stuff Kezia Dugdale and Carwyn Jones are doing in Scotland and Wales respectively suggests he is bitter and annoyed that they got their rightful voting places on the NEC. Even John McDonnell found it in himself to praise the likes of Caroline Flint. Corbyn, you can do better.
On Tuesday, I called on Progress readers to not ‘accept the new normal’. Like me, many were disappointed but not surprised when JLM vice-chair Mike Katz‘s amazing speech on antisemitism was booed by fellow Labour members. Listen to his interview with LBC, watch chair of Progress Alison McGovern moved to tears as antisemitism is broadcast live on the radio, and read the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Karen Pollock despair that, in 2016, some appear unable to remember the Holocaust ‘as a tragedy in its own right’. But in an organisation where Jackie Walker is important, it is sadly the case. It looks like Momentum is taking this one seriously and that Walker will be out by Monday. Adding muscle to the forces of good in Momentum, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has said that he ‘will seriously reconsider [his] union’s support for Momentum if she is still in post by this time next week’. This is both welcome and a relief for all those who have continually been told they are ‘weaponising’ antisemitism. This is homemade and very real. The question now for Corbyn is: will his actions meet with his words?
Tuesday 27 September
Today, Labour party democracy righted a historic wrong and made our party reflect the devolution Labour created in our country. It has not been announced yet but it has been confirmed that Unite have abstained. From the debate in the halls it seems union delegates and representatives from constituency parties have voted through the package of measures negotiated by Tom Watson. Congratulations to all involved.
This morning, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan inspired the conference hall by reminding the party that only by winning can Labour change people’s lives. Tom Watson and Jonathan Ashworth showed that there are some on the front bench who are showing serious interest in winning a future election. Yesterday, Clive Lewis tried to heal the divides in the party by referring to Nato as a ‘socialist organisation’ and pledged that he ‘would not seek to change’ Labour’s policy on renewing Trident but has since been slapped down. Stephen Bush says the finger is pointed a Seumas Milne, acting on behalf of the leader. One step forward, two steps back.
The delegate speech that stood out this morning was from Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement. He spoke brilliantly about how disappointed JLM are that Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to back the JLM rule change was not honoured, but kicked into the long grass. I, for one, am not prepared to accept the ‘new normal’ in the Labour party that delegates, especially Jewish ones, speaking out against antisemitism are to be heckled on conference floor. I was there and I was appalled. When will this hate within our party be rooted out?
Finally, the #StayInLabour continues to get traction and we know that while small numbers are leaving the solidarity showed among party members is vital in keeping this party a broad church. Tomorrow, Corbyn will give his second speech tp conference. Will he take this opportunity to show leadership that people might be able to unite behind or will he again make a hollow call for followership? He is the leader and he needs to start acting like it. We wait with bated breath …
Monday 26 September
Tomorrow is vital
Last night’s Progress rally was our best yet. Full and defiant – the home of the ‘straight talking, honest politics’ the Labour party embraced last summer. Over 600 people attended and lots joined.
Now to the important stuff. Tomorrow is vital. If you are a delegate, tomorrow morning is when it counts.
At 9.30am (be there at 9am to avoid the queues) the Momentum crowd are going to try (again) their best to break open the National Executive Committee’s unity package of reforms. The so-called Campaign for Labour party Democracy like ‘democracy’ so much they want you to vote and vote and vote again until you give them the answer they were looking for.
When they are done debating how to change the rules, the rule changes will be put to delegates. There is a lot in the package and something for everyone. That is Tom Watson showing the kind of unity that Jeremy Corbyn should be emulating.
Throughout the day the vote for the National Constitutional Committee is on. Maggie Cosin is the incumbent and has been the member’s choice at previous conferences. Do not forget to vote. If you need a reason to vote for her, check out her opponent’s (Chris Williamson’s) twitter feed: @ChriswMP. It would be uncomradely to point out that he is no longer a member of parliament so I won’t …
If you are at conference, but not a delegate, promise your friends who are delegates that if they have fewer drinks this evening and arrive at conference on time tomorrow you will buy them double the drinks tomorrow evening!!!!
Finally, both Sadiq Khan (12.30pm) and Tom Watson (2pm) are speaking tomorrow. They deserve our support, cheers and whooping. Fill the balconies if you are not a delegate. Solidarity is always appreciated in these heart-breaking times.
Thanks to everyone who has been to our events and written for our site this week. Keep it up and#StayInLabour.
Sunday 25 September
#StayInLabour was the message of the day yesterday – Nicola Murphy and Lewis Parker put it better than I can. Join the solidarity moderate and modernising members are showing to each other on social media (Facebook | Twitter). 12 months of the hard-left in charge does not negate 120 years and three Labour governments. We stay, we fight for what we believe in.
The priories ballot has just closed, today Labour party conference delegates overturned Momentum’s attempts to unwrap the NEC’s rule changes and Iain McNicol made a barnstorming speech. He concluded by saying, ‘I stand in solidarity with Labour party whenever they come under attack’. Ayesha Hazarika has a similar message in her piece for Progress.
I wrote for LabourList this morning expressing my utter disappointment that Jeremy Corbyn’s acceptance speech ‘demanded followership, rather than commanding leadership’. He is the leader and has a responsibility to build a position to unite behind – ruling out deselections and ruling in parliamentary party elections to the shadow cabinet, for example – and he did nothing of the sort. This was a ‘failure of the first mover’.
Finally, some good news. Iain McNicol is creating, in partnership with the Labour Women’s Network, a mentoring programme for 600 women over five years in memory of Jo Cox MP.
The Labour First rally was a huge success (again). Our rally starts at 6pm at PanAm and the Jewish Labour Movement starts at 7.15 at the Liverpool pub. Information on the rest of our events can be found here.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell