Kevin Maguire: Peace could yet break out at Labour conference

Written by Kevin Maguire on 20 September 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

There are signs that Jeremy Corbyn and his allies want to calm things down.

Whisper it quietly but Labour's conference in Brighton next week might emerge more united than the Conservatives in Manchester the week after.

That isn't to predict Labour will be a vicar's tea party. Simmering divisions over Brexit will come to the boil. Militant moderates in the parliamentary party organising their own fringe meetings is the defiance of Westminster's marginalised. And a few vocal Corbynistas will never forget or forgive.

But what a turnaround on 12 months ago when Labour's ill-tempered gathering started with the announcement of Corbyn's re-election followed by days of recriminations before an adulatory Tory faithful lay prostrate before a revered Theresa May who could do no wrong...until she gambled on that General Election and lost their majority and her authority.

The May-Boris Johnson Brexit feud guarantees fireworks in Manchester. In Brighton, Labour's disagreements and manoeuvrings may prove significantly muted in comparison.

Corbyn and Tom Watson regularly texting each other, Labour's leader and deputy exchanging pleasantries as well as discussing politics and strategy, is a sign of improving relations.

Agreeing to reduce MP nominations needed in future to stand for leader, cutting it to 10% from 15%, was backed by Watson and it's undoubtedly smart politics to sort the change ahead of Brighton to avoid a row.

The same's true with three extra seats on the govering NEC for a membership that's soared to 569,000(more than every other British political party combined) though an additional union place going to an Usdaw shopworkers on the Right of the party translates into a net gain of two in Corbyn's slim majority.

These reforms aren't just the leader taking control over the party machinery but the Left preparing for life after chants of Oh Je-rem-y Cor-byn.

Even some of his closest disciples don't expect the Islington messiah to fight the next election if it's as late as June 2022. Lowering the threshold to one-in-10 MPs(and MEPs for as long as they exist) guarantees Corbyn's Campaign Group comrades will permanently be in the mix after John McDonnell twice failed to make the cut and Jezza needed to beg and borrow nominations.

Labour's popular Left-wing manifesto, with its commitments to a £10 minimum wage and renationalisation of the great train robbers and rip-off water companies, enjoys significant support across a rejuvenated party.

On Trident, the other landmark policy with the explosive power of Brexit to destroy the peace, a tactic adopted by many on both sides of the argument is to try and ignore the nuclear elephant in the room.

The desire for calm is also propelling the leadership to calm calls for the mandatory reselection of MPs with Corbyn's office wrestling over how to persuade Derby North MP Chris Williamson, a noisy champion of the procedure, to turn down the volume.

Resentment among MPs angry they'd be forever looking over their shoulders is only half the reason Corbyn, a natural conciliator, would like it dropped. The other is the law of unintended consequences.

In a precarious Parliament, in which a £1-billion bung to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists gives May a fragile 13-seat majority, Labour whips losing authority over anything up to a dozen dumped MPs is viewed as the purity of defeat.

Beating the Tory Government in the House of Commons would be considerably harder if a gang was created of embittered MPs, kicking their heels and causing trouble for years after their party dropped them.

Early deselections would be an absolute nightmare,” a Shadow Cabinet Minister loyal to Corbyn told me. “Whatever you think of them, and there are some MPs I detest for their miserable disloyalty, it's got to be easier having them in the tent pissing out than out pissing in.”

A similar fear applies over Unite general secretary Len McCluskey's public calls for a second, female deputy to ostensibly improve gender balance but in reality weaken Watson's position since these old flat mates fell out spectacularly.

Any contest would be unpredictable. Favoured sister Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and the leader's Islington neighbour, would very likely face a Northern challenge with MPs on the Left already talking of exerting pressure to run on Angela Rayner, a working class Shadow Education Secretary with a Greater Manchester seat and accent.

Predictions when politics is ferociously volatile are a mug's game but Labour's sweetest of defeats last June and Tories' bitterest of victories switched moods.

The Labour weather on the South Coast may prove the calm before the Tory North West storm.

 

 

Kevin Maguire is associate editor(politics) of the Daily Mirror.

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