East Anglian Labour MPs say 'party is united' ahead of party conference
PUBLISHED: 18:33 22 September 2017
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It is some time since the Labour Party went into a conference season with swagger and confidence - this year they very much do.
But there remains danger ahead for Jeremy Corbyn and his comrades.
Most MPs and delegates are desperate to show that there is a united front within the Labour ranks. But an unease remains over the leader and, of course, Brexit.
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis is loyal to Mr Corbyn on everything – except Brexit. In a turbulent two years as a Labour MP he has already held three front bench posts but walked away from his last after disagreeing with leadership. But he is adamant Mr Corbyn is the man for the job.
“This is the first conference in two years where we haven’t entered conference recess with a leadership race under way,” he said. “With minor exceptions all wings of the party now understand Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly and decisively won the right to lead our party through these turbulent times.
“That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreement, but disagreement over tactics, strategy, positions and politics direction is not ‘division’. It’s part of a healthy democratic debate inside a party that is both vibrant and growing.”
New Ipswich MP Sandy Martin said he believes disagreement and debate should be at the heart of how the Labour Party grows and becomes fit for Government.
“If I was a member of a political party that did not have any disagreements internally I would think I was in the wrong one,” he said. “It is healthy to have debates and have disagreements about issues that really matter.
“But what the Labour Party has always been very good at is having those disagreements, working through them and then moving on once we have agreement. I think it is absolutely fine for people to have backed other candidates in the leadership election aside from the one who one. But when a leadership election is not being fought we should all come together behind our leader.”
The McDonnell rule – a lowering of the threshold of backers any leadership candidate most meet – will be passed by delegates. And although it is significant it will be seen as a compromise by many on the left of the party who battled for hopefuls to only have to garner 5% of their peers’ support to get on the ballot.
The thinking behind the move is simple: the membership, swollen by support for Mr Corbyn, is increasingly left wing but the MPs are not. For that reason Mr Corbyn will never truly unite his party until the old Blairites and Brownites have either left or been deselected.
But in Brighton Mr Corbyn is untouchable. His re-election at party conference last year made him perhaps the most legitimate leader the party has ever had – two elections in a year and two landslides. The grumbles remained though because Mr Corbyn’s approval ratings with the general public were poor.
That all changed at the general election of course and spiked the guns of the centre and right of the party.
So this is a big moment for Mr Corbyn. For once his whole party is listening – although many still smile through gritted teeth.
The test is whether Labour can take those votes they gained in June and win even more. And this conference needs to be the first step towards that. When Labour have been successful in the past it has not been with an outwardly radical agenda. Tony Blair’s victories were a shift towards Tory territory.
So will Mr Corbyn soften his socialism for a broader appeal? No, expect a speech crammed with socialist ideals from re-nationalisation to wealth re-distribution.
But maybe there will be a sniff of something thrown in for the centrists. Launching Labour’s new business campaign he said his party wanted to “work together” with businesses to create “the kind of economy we want”. Expect business to be dubious about that.
Which begs the question “have we reached peaked Corbyn already?” In total 12,877,869 people voted Labour at the general election and 13,636,690 Conservative – these are impressive numbers for a left-wing agenda.
But where will the extra votes come from? It seems unlikely many more Tories to jump ship and Lib Dem voters are too pro-EU to back a shy Eurosceptic like Mr Corbyn. With that in mind this is a not just a celebratory conference for Mr Corbyn but a vital one.