Unexpected Angels: report from the Labour conference

A packed Fringe can be a source of warmth
A packed Fringe can be a source of warmth

I returned from Liverpool with a miserable cold, so I’ll be brief.

I didn’t want to go to Labour Conference this year. The idea of watching things fall apart did not appeal. But it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to be that kind of conference. On leaving my hotel, I heard some terrible-sounding chants. Here we go, I thought. They turned out to be a bunch of stags attempting to sing Angels.

The much-reported showdown about NEC composition aside, this was not a conference of open warfare. Labour’s wings talked unity but each walked alone.

The Right of the party appears to have learned nothing. Its people are very good at saying that they will not abandon the party, and that the party must listen to voters, and that only they can do it, and that the Left are meanies. They are also good at saying that there needs be a new analysis of what is wrong with the country. They are bad at fleshing out that analysis.

The Left of the party appears to have learned nothing. It continues to delight in conspiracy theories about stitch-ups and power grabs. One – which can have come only from someone who knows nothing about how Conference works – was about some alleged boycott of the Leader’s Speech. Following Clive Lewis’s speech, my Twitter feed was full of condemnations of a man who is suddenly a careerist traitor. When the Left turns on Mr Lewis, you know its game is up; it won’t be long until it has torn itself apart.

The party has still not yet come to terms with its past. (The only murmur of dissent while I was in the hall came when USDAW’s John Hannett mentioned Labour’s three general election victories.) But the past can get dumped pretty unceremoniously. The Guardian booked a huge hall for an interview with Ed Balls, and only quarter-filled it.

Last year’s conference was full of curiosity, as people seemed to genuinely consider what a Corbyn leadership would be like. This year, people have made up their mind. As a result the conference was less a thrashing out of policy differences than like minded people clinging to those of their own faction, huddling together for comradeship and warmth as winter approaches. A source of strength, no doubt, and I’m very glad to have gone, but I returned home unclear as to whether there’d be any long term effects at all.

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