CROYDON COMMENTARY: The Labour Party’s annual conference ended in Liverpool with progress being made, writes DAVID WHITE
“I am a socialist and one day so will the Labour Party be.”
Those were the words of Donald Soper, the Methodist minister, socialist and pacifist. If he were around today, I think he would have enjoyed Labour’s 2018 Conference in the great city of Liverpool.
Jeremy Corbyn’s standing among Labour Party activists is stronger than ever. His ideas of “commonsense socialism” and his honesty and decency have struck a chord with many voters.
His detractors in the Labour Party, the Chuka Umunnas and the Margaret Hodges, mostly didn’t show their faces in Liverpool. They have declining support in the party, despite what the right-wing media would have us believe.
Corbyn’s end-of-conference speech was received rapturously. The speech lasted 59 minutes, of which approximately 16 minutes was taken up by standing ovations.
By way of contrast, and to get an idea of what the right of the party is saying and thinking, I went to a rally of the Progress organisation on Sunday. It was held in a museum.
It was an odd meeting. At one stage the lights went out. Another time there were loud ghostly noises, which I think came from museum staff trying out a sound system in another part of the building. Most significantly, Progress had virtually no new policy ideas.
Croydon was well-represented at the Liverpool Conference. Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central, was name-checked by Corbyn in his speech. He said be looked forward to her being Housing Minister in a Labour Government.
Referencing the 200-year anniversary of he Peterloo massacre of 1819 and the fight for workers’ rights, he noted that a Sarah Jones was among those martyred. He promised the Croydon MP wouldn’t suffer the same fate!
The chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party, Joyce Reid, spoke in the education debate. It was a passionate call for society not to neglect young people.
Croydon resident Marc Wadsworth, who has been expelled from the Labour Party in what many regard as unfair circumstances, spoke at a meeting on combating racism. He received strong support for his cause from MPs Clive Lewis and Chris Williamson, and others.
From my point of view there were some disappointments at the conference. The National Executive Committee had watered down proposals for MPs to face a selection process in every Parliament, and reducing the hurdles which future leadership candidates have to overcome to get on the ballot. Proposals for reform of local government matters, including proposals for election of leaders of Labour groups by the members of the party in the area concerned, were deferred until next year. Nevertheless, progress has been made.
When this conference is looked at in a few years’ time, what will be seen as the most significant development? I think it might be Keir Starmer’s statement about Brexit. He said that if Theresa May doesn’t achieve a Brexit deal that satisfies Labour’s six tests, and if we can’t secure a General Election, there should be a public vote and, “Nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.” Whether this will turn out to be a wise reflection of changing public mood on Brexit, or something which leads millions of voters to feel they’ve been betrayed, remains to be seen.
Next week we’ll see the Tories wrestling with Brexit at their conference in Birmingham. If Theresa May comes out of that with as much support and affection as Corbyn now enjoys in his party, she will have done well.
- David White, pictured right, is the secretary of Croydon Central CLP, and is writing in a personal capacity
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