CONFERENCE SKETCH: Something has changed in British politics in the past year, and it was palpable at the Labour Party conference. Party veteran DAVID WHITE reports from Brighton
Transformed. I think that would be the word to describe the Labour Party at its Brighton Conference which finished with Jeremy Corbyn’s speech this lunchtime.
Corbyn now leads a party of 570,000 members – the largest political party in western Europe. More than two-thirds of them have joined since the 2015 General Election. In an assured conference speech today, Corbyn sounded Prime Ministerial and said the party is ready for government.
Naomi Klein, the acclaimed Canadian writer and political theorist had addressed conference on Tuesday. Referring to Labour’s policies and Corbyn’s approach to politics she said, “That’s why I’m proud to be standing with you today – with a newly transformed Labour Party.”
This year’s conference was far bigger even than last year’s in Liverpool. Alongside the main conference there was “The World Transformed”. This Momentum-backed event is like a huge series of fringe meetings – scores of debates, discussions and other events in half a dozen different locations. It was so popular that there were often queues round the block to get in.
There was some development of policy in the main conference debates, though the rigid structure of long composite motions and platform speakers replying to debates, often with more of an eye on enhancing their own positions than developing policy, somewhat restricted things.
I was pleased to see during the week the emergence of a new non-Zionist Jewish group, called “Jewish Voice for Labour”. This launched at a meeting on Monday evening attended by 400 people. It challenges the claims of the increasingly right-wing Jewish Labour Movement to be the voice for all Jews in the party.
Not everything in the party has been transformed.
There are still some SPADs in suits wandering around trying to look important, especially in and around the main Conference hotel. And there are still some unreconstructed Blairites, now calling themselves “moderates” and sniping from the sidelines or in groups like Labour First.
However many who might be described as “in the centre” or to the right of the party see now that left-wing policies like those of Corbyn are popular with the electorate and have revised their views.
In his speech today, Corbyn said that the General Election campaign had had two stars. He excluded himself – despite the audience’s chants of “Oooo, Jeremy Corbyn” – and attributed the largest increase in the Labour vote since 1945 to the manifesto and the party’s activists and supporters. The left, right and centre of politics had shifted, Corbyn said. “We are now the political mainstream.”
All in all it was a very inspiring conference. Provided it can remain relatively united, engage its hundreds of thousands of new members and project forward to the public, things look bright for this transformed party.
- David White is a former member of the Greater London Council and is secretary of the Croydon Central CLP. He has written this column in a personal capacity
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