A Labour conference for activists – while Corbyn works out what to do

时间:2019-11-16  作者:吕骞  来源:美高梅  浏览:26次  评论:183条

Burly , the union apparatchik unexpectedly tasked with keeping Labour’s feet on the ground as Jeremy Corbyn’s new deputy, rounded off this week’s Brighton conference at lunchtime on Wednesday in the rousing John “send ’em home cheerful” Prescott spot.

There was Prescottian Tory-bashing knockabout and some rousing passages. But it was a thoughtful and inclusive speech that embraced the imperatives of a digital economy, small businesses and hard-pressed dairy farmers, as well as women, minorities and even the traditional working class.

“Born poor, die poor. Born rich, die rich. That’s not fair,” Watson said, adding: “For the first time since the war, people in their 20s and 30s are now worse off than their parents’ generation. Unless things change, they always will be.” The activist audience loved it.

Say what you like about Corbyn (), the weather is better since he has been Labour leader. Like some other parts of the country, the Sussex coast has enjoyed bright autumn sunshine and flawless blue skies.

The political weather has been pretty stable too, an unnatural calm of the kind that sometimes signals a coming storm. Both the vanquished elements of the party, resoundingly , and the conquering forces of Corbynism, have behaved with courteous restraint.

The conciliatory new leader has set the tone. Even his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, self-styled “Mr Angry”, told a Guardian fringe meeting that he has been .

Is this conciliatory tone real or merely tactical? Patrick Wintour . John Crace , while .

But it can’t last, can it? Kinder, gentler Jeremy has won himself a breathing space and the “right to be heard”, as Wednesday’s .

But to govern, even to shadow govern, is to choose between disadvantages, as a French politician put it long ago. Consultations, working parties and mass participation in policymaking can only take Team Corbyn so far. A leader has to lead. The clue is in the name.

So on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday he declared he would not push the nuclear button. At least that is better than saying he would consulton the issue as those missiles headed towards Islington.

But it was a decision, taken on the hoof by the sound of it. The last time a Labour leader offered a similar answer – in 1987 – the electorate rejected it and by 1992 Kinnock had modified his position. Too late. No wonder Gentle Jez has caused a stir.

Times change. Britain’s military position, like its economic position, is weaker now (at least in relative terms now that communist China has given up communism), and the electorate’s war-weariness may be closer to Corbyn’s lifelong peace-mongering. We shall see.

Even to pose the question in such terms is to invite accusations of cynicism or worse. Shadow cabinet sceptics have mostly kept their doubts for private conversations in Brighton this week, cowed by defeat, humbled by the realisation of how much the party drifted away from its grassroots while Blair and Brown’s New was in office.

“Tory MPs are on the same page as their activists, ours are not,” a frustrated Labour councillor told me on Tuesday night. “Not really,” I replied, “they are deeply split too.”

The political mould has been broken, but it’s been broken by the SNP and Ukip, not by progressive forces. Liberal Democrat hopes that their own revival lies in the vacated centre ground may be wishful thinking.

Yet it would be mean-spirited as well as foolish not to acknowledge the sheer pleasure of so many conference delegates in Brighton this week. They sat there purring at most of what they heard and the leadership did not disturb their comfort zone. captures it very well.

Rafael Behr asks hard questions about what it really means – a growing party that is actually shrinking, .

Polls, as well as history, suggests Behr’s gloom may prove justified. But it feels too dismissive of the genuine excitement among the activists, old lags and newcomers alike, like pouring lager on a birthday cake. , by which he meant the Labour electorate, not the wider one that will decide his fate.

Thus his perspective and priorities, sincerely rooted in his 32-year apprenticeship as activist backbencher, command impassioned support, albeit deeper than it is wide.

Social media will spread the message – – and expand the movement, he told the conference. Well, yes. Corbyn’s leadership campaign used it astutely. But how far will it spread?

Anywhere but Westminster at the Labour conference: Don’t mention the election – video

It has been widely noted that the conference has not dwelled at length on the causes of its 7 May defeat, at least not in plenary session. , part of the grieving process along with misplaced euphoria.

What has struck me this week is something different. Outward-looking and internationalist in its self-definition, Labour at ease with itself again (at last!) has more usually sounded introverted, less than nimble footed in the age of 24/7 global connectivity than it needs to be to impress potential converts. Despite nods to the tech revolution and the self-employed (repeated more loudly by Watson), it has sounded old-fashioned.

In the closing session on Wednesday the conference tripped nimbly through its international agenda with motions on the grisly civil war in . As the sight of Jeremy clapping people clapping him reminded TV viewers, Latin America and its experience and outlook (magical realism?), is very Corbynista. But the speeches were very one-sided, as they were on Syria’s rival version.

No mention of the Farc’s bloody record alongside the rightwing death squads in Colombia, no mention of Vladimir Putin’s military intervention to prop up the Assad regime. No, it was all about the failures of western intervention in the Middle East (not much of that in Syria) and “Cameron’s war”.

As for Europe’s refugees – much mentioned this week in emotive rather than analytical terms – did they come up with any tangible new proposal to ease the crisis? No, though unqualified appeals to solidarity with the tragically dispossessed must sit uneasily with voter disquiet at the scale of net immigration from anywhere. It isn’t easy. Ask gentler, kinder (but they don’t).

Nearer to home this week, the conference passed an emergency motion condemning the with the loss of 1,700 jobs. Newspapers that once would have made it page-one news put it inside. Labour seemed to endorse their fatalistic verdict.

Delegates try to get a chance to speak at the Labour conference. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

None of the conference rhetoric lacked for passion, anger even, with so much of it focused on society’s poorest. What it did seem to lack was creative energy. In the “bad old days” those protesting over unfashionable causes would have been raging against the party leadership at fringe meetings or even from behind the “ring of steel” and police officers guarding Labour and Tory conferences when the IRA was stalking them.

Now they are all inside the conference hall, indeed they are the leadership of the party. It is a leadership in cautious, consensual mode as it tries to decide exactly what to do with its powerful party mandate of 60% of the vote ( by the way).

Despite talk of “People’s QE” and other novelties, the Corbynite holding position seemed to amount to a restatement of past beliefs and convictions. So McDonnell’s assertion of “the entrepreneurial state” reminded old lags of similar visions in the 1960s and again the 80s (the 40s too?).

Picking winners and investing public money in them is always a risky business. Is HS2 a winner or a white elephant in 2015? Ditto that . Strong views are held on both sides, certainly by Heathrow’s local MP – John McDonnell. Jeremy will soon have to make up his mind.

But the world races on at a giddy pace. The conference rightly condemned the government’s foolish, shortsighted housing “policy”. Yet last week ministers made what may (or may not) be in response to near-universal condemnation of its right-to-buy plans for housing associations (a policy of doubtful legality).

It was either a U-turn or a fresh bit of chicanery, which should have been both welcomed and mocked or condemned. I may have missed it, but I did not hear a verdict from the housing spokesman, , or from the floor.

This week’s ? I didn’t hear that barn door of a fiasco come up either. Labour admires the kinder and gentler aspects of Germany capitalism, with its green habits and supervisory boards where workers have a voice, though VW’s own supervisory board seems to have failed here in the face of a messianic chief executive (the model too often does). Surely Labour must have views on VW? So silence in a week when busy voters may be watching is a missed opportunity.

also took place as Labour met. It also raises all sorts of important questions about the divisive impact of inner-city gentrification, which is recognisable in major conurbations all over Britain and the world.

Surely, it was worth injecting it into the mix? Were the Corbynite New Model Army part of the problem, part of the anti-gentrifying demo – or a bit of both?

I’d like to know. Come to think of it, what does Labour think of last weekend. “Greek democracy crushed, austerity imposed,” declared the flyers being handed out outside the conference hall. Was it a triumph that Alexis Tsipras won his election despite the concessions he was forced to make? Was the ditching of his left flank worth the price or an ominous sell-out that Corbynites should rightly fear?

Syriza’s anti-austerity government is the nearest thing Europe has to a Corbynite canary in the cage. You’d think they’d be monitoring it closely, but I’m not sure they are. An enjoyable week, but also an eerie one.