A look back at the 2016 Labour Party Conference, Speri, 9 October 2015

Labour’s Conference in Brighton wasn’t quite a tale of two nations between whom, to borrow from Disraeli, ‘there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.’  But it wasn’t far off.

You can cut it and call it however you like – left vs right, Corbynistas vs Blairites, whatever.  But the main divide down by the seaside at the end of September was mood. Either you were despairing or you were delusional, with the majority of delegates seemingly in the latter camp.

Certainly the lovely people I was lucky enough to sit next to during the Labour leader’s speech lapped it up, with one of them at the end excitedly comparing the experience to being in a revivalist meeting.

The commentariat – one of Corbyn’s top targets during a stunningly self-indulgent speech – was rather less impressed, as were those Labour MPs who simply couldn’t bear to stay to listen to him and a fair few (maybe even one or two members of the Shadow Cabinet) who did. But for his fans the media’s verdict was simply proof – if proof were needed – of the ongoing neoliberal conspiracy against St Jeremy, a big part of which is maintaining the false consciousness of a working class who would otherwise have been rushing to join the trade union protests at the Conservative Party Conference the following week.

Interestingly, the self-same commentariat turned out to be slightly more taken with the speech given by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell – and not just because, unlike his boss, he made no pretence that it would be anything other than, in his words, ‘stupefyingly dull’.  Partly as a result, but also because he had a stab at supposedly dialling down the ambition as well as the rhetoric, it could make a fair claim to being interesting.

But was it really?  As predicted, Labour has jumped – and jumped joyfully – into George Osborne’s elephant traps on spending and welfare. Academic economists may be celebrating McDonnell’s news that he’ll be taking advice from a number of their colleagues.  But the rest of his announcements were things we’d already heard before – shaking the magic money tree that is corporate tax avoidance, bringing in a ‘Robin Hood’ tax, and leaning on the Bank of England to introduce ‘the people’s QE’.

These are wish-lists unlikely ever to be fulfilled in the real world.  But, for the moment anyway, the latter isn’t something Labour – especially its delusional faction – seems to be worrying too much about.

Originally published at http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2015/10/09/the-lib-dem-labour-conservative-conferences-2015-a-look-back/


About tpbale

I teach politics at Queen Mary University of London.
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