Party conference speech flags

Four reasons why Labour’s civil war is over (and one why it’s not)

Labour’s better-than-expected election result, and the relative disarray of the Conservatives, have left party members at this week’s conference increasingly confident that they can form the next government. Here are four signs that organisations need to take Jeremy Corbyn and his left agenda seriously.

Energised conference

The mood in Brighton is buoyant, more akin to a music festival than a political event. The World Transformed, which is running alongside the main conference and features everything from “clay-modelling, DJ sets, experimental clothing design, and a pub quiz hosted by former Labour leader Ed Miliband”, has generated real buzz, and drawn in a huge number of young activists to the Labour ranks and policy discussions.

Increasing organisation and discipline 

This energy and enthusiasm is also being applied in an increasingly controlled manner to strengthen Corbyn and help side-step difficult issues. With major divisions existing between the leadership’s deliberately ambiguous position on Brexit and the pro-Remain views of many moderate MPs and activists, some canny manoeuvring and use of internal party rules helped limit discussion and avoid a damaging vote.

Proud of their left-wing credentials

From a policy perspective, Labour frontbenchers have put forward a host of policies which a short time ago would have been thought beyond the pale. From nationalising the railways, water and energy suppliers, and Royal Mail, to ending the Private Finance Initiative in the NHS, and implementing rent controls and new taxes on property developers, Labour is making a conscious effort to shift the centre of political gravity towards the left.

They are all Corbynistas now

The contrast with last year’s conference, which took place in the aftermath of a botched coup, couldn’t be starker. Previously outspoken moderates and critics have been cowed: London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who 12 months ago suggested Labour could never win under Corbyn, this week said, “We made huge progress. And credit must go to the leader of our party”. Deputy Leader Tom Watson even attempted to lead delegates in a rendition of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn…”.

BUT…

Underlying problems still exist

Corbyn is undoubtedly enjoying a post-election honeymoon, but significant divisions still exist within Labour. Accusations of antisemitism have swirled around the conference, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell admitted to ‘war gaming’ doomsday scenarios, such as a run on the pound if Labour comes into government. The ‘cult of Corbyn’ – an amusing point of jest currently – has the potential to one day become a major turn-off for swing voters.

And that is the crux of the issue – does the feel-good factor on display this week extend beyond Labour’s highly motivated, and enlarged, activist base? Corbyn has made the Labour Party his own, but can he now persuade the rest of the country?

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