The first Labour Party conference under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has to be considered a resounding success. In fact considering the circumstances in which it took place Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonell, played a blinder.
After just two weeks in post the newly elected Labour leader, whose election on an unprecedented mandate has been followed by a surge of new members joining the party, immediately found himself faced with a difficult political conundrum. The bulk of support for his leadership, albeit massive, is located outwith the PLP, while the bulk of opposition to it is located within the PLP.
Navigating this conundrum will be key to Corbyn’s success over the coming months, and will involve him utilising his base to bring pressure to bear on the PLP and shadow cabinet when the time is right. For despite his views on having an open debate and being willing to listen, there will have to come a point where the platform upon which he was elected must be reflected in party policy. Just as a ship cannot have a hundred captains, else it will merely sail round in circles, a potential party of government cannot be led from behind.
That said, though Jeremy is undoubtedly sincere in his intention of changing the style of leadership we have become accustomed to in our political leaders, it is hard to escape the feeling that his approach thus far is at least partly driven by his understanding that within the shadow cabinet and the PLP his authority remains weak at present. Placing a positive spin on this fact until it can be changed is therefore essential.
John McDonnell’s conference speech was a game changer. In it the new shadow chancellor planted Labour’s flag firmly on the side of working people and their long neglected needs. In so doing he announced a new and welcome chapter in the history of the party, ending the years in which it has been mired in triangulation and ideology-neutral spin.
Clamping down on corporate welfare and tax avoidance is not only eminently just, it ends the ignoble kowtowing to big business that has become entrenched in our culture. Rebooting the economy from the bottom up on the understanding that a lack of aggregate demand, measured in a crisis of under consumption among working people and the poor, is the only route to sustainable economic growth, is another essential departure from the status quo. When it comes to his intention to embark on borrowing for investment with a view to ending years of economic stagnation due to Tory austerity, this makes impeccable economic sense.
Borrowing for investment and borrowing for consumption are two entirely different things, which the shadow chancellor outlined.
A fantastic development is the creation of an economic advisory committee, consisting of some serious intellectual muscle, which will add credibility to Labour’s economic plans. The highlight of McDonnell’s speech came at the end, when he wrapped up with the words, “Another world is possible… solidarity.”
Hearing those words from a British shadow chancellor was something most of us would never have imagined. What a wonderful antidote to a tradition in which the economy has been viewed as a tyrant of the many in the interests of the few instead of a servant of the many instead of the few. It represents a truly remarkable step-change.
Jeremy’s speech was likewise immense. His core humanity and decency shone through with his reaffirmation of his determination to bring about change in the country’s political culture. Reasoned debate and argument rather than invective and personal abuse is his credo and judging by the response both within the hall and throughout the country, it is being welcomed rather than scorned.
The part of his speech which confirmed he will be no pushover was the rebuke he delivered to those who blocked the debate on Trident. In reminding conference that he has a mandate for his views on scrapping Trident, and in reaffirming his view that there is no moral or economic case for spending £100billion on renewing weapons of mass destruction, he set down a marker for a future struggle within the party.
Trident is not a deterrent to war it is a deterrent to peace. It is not about insuring Britain’s national security it is about wielding power. The money it will cost represents a horrendous waste and could be much better invested elsewhere. In addition, with his pledge to ensure that the jobs concerned will be replaced, it was disappointing to see jobs being used as a reason to oppose him on it. Politically, unless Labour falls into line with progressive opinion on Trident it will be a gift to the SNP in Scotland, ensuring that the party’s ability to regain the huge ground lost to the nationalists will be an even more difficult task than it already is.
There is no moral, ethical, or economic case for nuclear weapons in 2015. On this Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely correct.
Overall, though, it is a case of so far so good with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour. He has been personally impressive, dealing with the inordinate pressure, scrutiny, and expectation over these past few months with grace, dignity, and strength. The right wing media’s relentless attempts to undermine and smear him have rebounded. While decency in a political leader is clearly something they have trouble dealing with, thankfully the tens of thousands flocking to the party have no problem dealing with it.
On the contrary, they represent a country that is desperate for it.