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American TPM Editor Attends Labour Party Conference, Writes a Thing

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This piece in TPM, Afterthoughts On Corbyn, Labour, And Its Prospects For Winning The Next Election, was brought to my attention via the crack communications team here at LGM, as a loyal long time reader wants the viewpoint from the British desk. My observations on conference are informed by friends who attended, as well as my partner, who served as the elected voting delegate for our Constituency Labour Party. As such, she attended compositing meetings and hung out on the voting floor for most of conference, which sounds . . . like a three day endless meeting to me.

The article is . . . to me, pretty anodyne stuff, and I’ll go through it with some quick reaction. First, on Labour Party policy as announced at conference, it’s claimed to be “the closest thing to a real socialist program that I know of.” While it’s certainly more radical than the rather tepid 2017 Labour Party manifesto (which united the party, and I personally did not think went far enough) surely Labour UK’s 2019 positioning is still not as radical as Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain, among European political parties that have a chance at governing? The internal influence of the Co-operative Party (which I’m also a member) is seen in the bits about workers having a 10% share of the companies that they work for and a third of the boards of directors. (The Co-op party is sort of a sister party to Labour, predates it by around 20 years, and since 1927 has an electoral pact with Labour; hence some Labour politicians will be tagged as “Labour and Cooperative”).

“I went to an opening forum held by Momentum, the key activist group within the Labour Party.” First, I’m sorry. Second, while “key activist group” is more or less accurate, it does not come close to describing the totality that is Momentum. They’re effectively a party within a party, and actively campaign internally against other sects of the Labour Party, real and imagined. They have a fee-paying membership, a hierarchical structure, elected officers, the whole lot. They are perhaps best described as the Praetorian Guard for Jeremy Corbyn. In other words, when I speak of The Cult, Momentum is to some degree the core. And often, they can come across as hating the Labour Party itself more than the real opposition, as I wrote about here in July.

The following observation from that Momentum fringe meeting doesn’t surprise me at all. The leadership, and the cult, want to fight the last election again, and that was an election where Brexit wasn’t really an issue (on the surface; it was in voting patterns). They’d really rather people stopped banging on about Brexit, and (this view was not rare at Conference according to my partner) some even argue that remainers are simply Blairite neo-liberals looking for a way to separate the membership from the Messiah.

Four British speakers were to address “How We Win the Next Election.” The session was to last ninety minutes, and the speakers’ opening talks lasted an hour. None of the speakers discussed Brexit in the first hour. The word itself was only mentioned twice in passing. At the one hour and eleven minute mark — I was taping the session, so I had a tally — one of the audience finally questioned the speakers, “When I ask people to vote for Labour, they don’t want to because they say Corbyn is so anti-Europe. What should I tell them?” One of the speakers then gave the official Labour line.

Sticking our heads in the sand as electoral strategy. We could have offset this had conference (as was widely assumed and expected) adopted what became known as Composite Resolution 13. In the composite meeting a night or two before (held to iron out the differences in numerous motions passed by CLPs up and down the country and sent on to conference) 13 had a bit of a majority, at 52 to 8. Yet, when they got to the floor, it was the latter that carried the day. On the floor, it was a classic stitch-up, but what the current Labour Party leadership don’t seem to get is that these are supposed to be worked out behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms, not on full display in public broadcast on national TV. My partner, on the floor, believed that support for the remain resolution barely carried; watching video clips indicates that it barely carried; the bloody chair of the proceedings stated that it carried. Then this happened:

When the conference voted by a show of hands, the meeting’s chair declared that resolution 13 had won, but was then advised by the party’s general secretary, who was seated next to her, that the leadership resolution had won. She then declared resolution 14 the victor. A motion to actually count the votes was rejected. The vote was a farce that betrayed the party’s gaping divisions over the issue.

Ordinarily, and as was often done at conference itself, the delegates would be instructed to vote by card, which would more accurately compile the views of the delegates (and hence, to some degree, the wider membership). This was rejected. Clearly, the leadership did not want the party to come out in favour of remain.

The author of the TPM piece writes, hopefully, that “Labour’s official position, backed by Corbyn and much of the union leadership, makes a certain amount of sense.” The problem is, it doesn’t. During the campaign for the European Parliament elections this past May, both the Liberal Democrats, with their clear remain position, and the Brexit Party, with their hard leave position, surged in the polls. Indeed, on polling day for the Euros, as I believe I’ve written elsewhere here on LGM, over 25% of the Labour Party members we spoke to admitted having not voted for Labour in that election (the direction of travel was mostly to the Liberal Democrats, with a smattering of Greens. Notably, we didn’t speak to a single LP member who voted for the Brexit Party in that election). Let that sink in a bit: paying members of the party did not vote for the party. It’s enough to get one expelled from the party.

While the tactics and doctrine of the Johnson / Cummings approach to Brexit and governing the Conservative Party may backfire on a regular basis, the overall strategy is sound: they’ve blunted, and rolled back, the advances that the Brexit Party made against the Tories’ right flank. By staking out their own hard Brexit position, they’ve regained most (not all) of the support that they lost (link here; wikipedia is doing a good job at present in tracking polling for the next UK general election):

Labour hasn’t done the same with the Liberal Democrats, and it’s not rocket science to understand why not (indeed, in most polls in the past two weeks, they’re only a couple to several points behind us, and more than one even have them in second place). While the leadership and attendant cult would very much like to refight the last war, and will Brexit away, delusional wishful thinking is not a sound electoral strategy. Of course, given Jeremy Corbyn himself is a committed leaver, it’s not surprising that our strategy is what it is.

And how is the entire fighting the last war thing going anyway? Aside from the above polling data, we are also losing on messaging (from an LP member, not me):

We all hate Johnson but the messaging from the Tories is what really resonates with voters, even if their party is responsible ;
Higher minimum wage
More police
More hospitals 
More spent on buses
Tougher sentences 
Instead we’re looking like we want to abolish primary schools, setting up a pharmaceutical company (Which is a good idea but not an everyday concern) and deselecting our own MPs.

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