24 Sep 2017

Politics turned upside down at Labour’s conference amid frustrations at ‘gagged’ MPs

Politics is turned upside down here. The old elite of the Labour Party are barely to be seen. Retired party officials complain of not recognising anyone they know and feeling like they’ve turned up at the wrong gathering.

Down the seafront in Hove, a senior aide to Tony Blair was actually seen busking in the street.

Well, it was Alastair Campbell playing Ode to Joy on the bagpipes at a pro-Europe rally.

That was intended to shift a Labour position which has already shifted around quite a bit this summer. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell repeated in interviews this morning that they are wary of signing up to the Single Market after a transition. Keir Starmer has regularly been making warmer noises to Labour’s pro-EU grassroots and it wouldn’t be surprising if he does a bit more of that this week.

There aren’t many Labour MPs here. I’ve told some have actually gone over to the EU for some Autumn sunshine. But amongst those who have turned up, John Spellar was cross at being banned from the Conference floor.

Labour MPs who aren’t in the Shadow Cabinet or the NEC are restricted to the upper balcony area with visitors and foreign delegations. It means they can’t be called to speak in debates and, Mr Spellar feels, are effectively gagged.

The Party says it’s all because of lack of space but prioritising activist voices over the elites is part of the Corbyn mission and there were big cheers for one delegate who spoke nostalgically of the 1976 conference when Denis Healey was shouted down by trade union and constituency delegates.

Along with Parliamentary group there is one other seam of dissident activity in the Labour Party left. Many roles in the party hierarchy are falling. The Shadow Cabinet was long since secured. The National Executive Committee and the Conference Arrangements Committee are for the first time ever in the control of the Left.

The last big redoubt for the dissidents outside Westminster is the party’s councillors. You find quite a few in England who are still resistant to Jeremy Corbyn’s charms. His supporters protest at Momentum supporters regularly being “screened out” from councillor selection processes. That, Mr Corbyn’s supporters say, is something that is going to change in the coming 12 months or so.

There were two spontaneous choruses of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” in the hall today. Maybe we are in for quite a few more in the days to come.



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