Corbyn’s first conference as leader proves Labour has entered a new chapter

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.

7 comments on “Corbyn’s first conference as leader proves Labour has entered a new chapter

  1. We had an excellent CLP meeting in Chippenham last night, and it was great to see how many new members there are and how many have rejoined.

    It was my first meeting as CLP secretary, and I did say how impressed I have been with JOhn McDonnell

    Generally very positive and united behind Jeremy, but I made the point that we do need to ensure that we take the whole of the party with us, and also that while Corby has certainly enthused a large minority of the electorate, it is not enough to win. Those hard conversations about immigration, those who don’t trust Labour on the economy, or defence, those who have bought the Tory arguents about “welfare shirkers”, in the wider electroate those are the arguments we still need to relate to.

  2. Andy Newman,

    This is spot on. The real difference is that with the new team (at the top) politics can be structured around arguments on these themes – why neo liberal economics means migration, why an anarchic labour market means people can’t live on wages, cannot find work, why our military is geared to foreign intervention rather than homeland defence.
    Under previous Labour regimes so much was handed to the Tories before the argument started, and Labour’s leaders shared so much of the Tory thinking that constructing a narrative around the clash of class interests embedded in each of these controversies was impossible.

  3. Andy Newman on said:

    Nick Wright: Under previous Labour regimes so much was handed to the Tories before the argument started, and Labour’s leaders shared so much of the Tory thinking that constructing a narrative around the clash of class interests embedded in each of these controversies was impossible.

    Yes, the experience of doing a number of hustings as a Labour candidate in May, and working with the materials at hand the – 2015 Labour Party manifesto and policy guide – were revealing.

    I at least had the advantage of having a socialist frame of reference, and a wealth of trade union experience to flesh out the policy. Migrant workers are abused to drive down wages by many employers, but the framework that allows this to happen is not “immigration”, but the loose unregulated abuse of zero hours contracts, posted workers directive, swedish derogation, letterbox and umbrella companies, bogus self employment, casualisation, etc. There was actually some good policy in the 2015 manifesto about this stuff, but what was really needed was candidates who had real world experience of them, but more than that an unapologetic commitment by the Labour Party towards workers rights.

    A lot of the concerns about immigration are deflected concerns about inadequate housing, and other infrastructure. The problem is not new people coming into an area, but an unplanned economy where population movements are not linked with increasing housing and facilities.

  4. “There is no moral, ethical, or economic case for nuclear weapons in 2015. On this Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely correct.”

    Absolutely right. Let us all now do what we can to persuade Labour MPs to get behind Corbyn.

  5. Tony: Let us all now do what we can to persuade Labour MPs to get behind Corbyn.

    Perhaps by quoting that sainted-in-death Cold Warrior Denis Healey who understood the idiocy of possessing nuclear weapons when the only consequence of their effective use is self immolation.
    Unlike the present bunch of NATO enthusiasts lining up to stab Corbyn in the front Healey had an intelligent grasp of military strategy and a better than usual insight into the workings of the US military industrial complex.

  6. Even if Corbyn does stick to his opposition to Trident, he seems to have no idea how to defend such a policy from the resistance of the military establishment.

    When a senior general said that the British military will ‘use whatever mean possible, fair or foul’ to prevent Corbyn from ‘emasculating’ their power, Corbyn’s response was merely to suggest that it didn’t matter because the general had now been ‘told off’ by his superiors!

    In terms of economics, a likely trajectory of any Corbyn-led government will be to end up imposing austerity – just as Syriza are now doing in Greece.

    Labour already say they support the Tory idea of a ‘welfare cap of £120 billion’. Indeed, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, sounds more like Thatcher than Marx when he says: ‘We are going to have to live within our means and we always will’.

    Like Ken Livingstone, who he worked with in the 1980s, McDonnell is very good at sometimes sounding radical. But, once in power, McDonnell may well repeat Livingstone’s trajectory as London’s Mayor, i.e. he’ll just end up running capitalism. It is significant that Corbyn’s top advisers used to advise Livingstone when he was Mayor.

    This is not to say that Labour’s new leaders do not have other, more ‘radical’, tendencies. Both Corbyn and McDonnell, for instance, believe that ‘we can learn a lot’ from Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba and its ‘amazing success story’[sic] . Furthermore, back in 1991, when even official Communists were giving up on the Soviet Union, Corbyn still saw the Soviet Union as an important part of the leadership of the international left, at one point saying that he was ‘concerned at the break-up of the Soviet Union and the leadership it gave.’ (Morning Star, 24/9/91)

    Right-wingers may use such facts to claim that Labour’s leaders are secret revolutionaries. But anyone who knows the history of Stalinism knows that people with Stalinist illusions are often opposed to revolutionary change.

    One obvious example is Socialist Action, an ex-Trotskyist group who have been accused of having influence over Corbyn’s leadership. Socialist Action, for instance, say that in a war between the US and China they would defend China on the grounds that the ‘Chinese capitalist class … do not hold power’. Such pro-Chinese views may worry a pro-US military establishment. But all these views really show is how Socialist Action are more Stalinist fantasists than any sort of genuine revolutionaries.

    For more arguments against the Labour Party see: Arguments against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party