‘It’s like the mods against rockers in Brighton’ but left is sidelined at conference ahead of council elections

Keir Starmer loyalists take command

Friday, 1st October 2021 — By Richard Osley in Brightom

Labour party conference_corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn delivering a speech aboard a fire engine

AT the first full Labour conference since Sir Keir Starmer became leader, hardly any of the left-wing figures that worked with Jeremy Corbyn could be found on the fringe meeting listings.

Some supporters of the party’s former leader were seen at the front gates, protesting against the suspension of members who allowed local motions demanding he is reinstated; some held up red cards to Mr Starmer as he delivered his main stage speech  this week.

The World Transformed, a festival of left-wing thought, carried on in bell tents away from the conference centre on the Brighton seafront too.

But the thumping speeches were mainly sidelined to a fire truck parked on the Hove lawns from which Shami Chakrabarti told a gathering that they should join the “People’s Assembly”, fight against the police Bill which threatens to curb protests and take the fight for human rights straight to the Tories.

Sir Keir Starmer delivered his speech on Wednesday

At one stage on Sunday evening, Ian Hodson, president of the bakers union, said from this stage: “It’s like the mods and rockers having a fight down in Brighton again. And we’ve got to win.”

The union disaffiliated from the party the next day, claiming debates over internal rules had been prioritised over minimum wage policies.

It’s not clear which side are the mods, and which are the rockers, but those possibly described as centrists – a sort of catch-all “not Corbyn” label – are ahead.

Not just in the party as a whole, where general secretary David Evans, a hate figure for many on the left over auto-exclusions, was retained in post and rule changes which are likely to stop a repeat of a candidate like Mr Corbyn becoming leader again were passed, albeit by a close margin.

But in Camden too, the Starmerites are stronger than ever before.

At a council level, they always had the numbers in their favour and dominate the decision-making cabinet, but with the next borough-wide Town Hall elections now just over six months away, any new candidates are expected to come from this “side” of the party.

New contenders who were enthusiastic about the Corbyn leadership have yet to emerge, while a queue is forming for possible openings from the “Starmer” wing.

A quick glance at the annual conference photo and you will struggle to find many that openly voted for the Corbyn leadership.

Camden members listen to Sadiq Khan at the London reception

Instead, they are mainly  Mr Starmer’s loyalists, who back the idea that this week was about “getting the house in order” rather than publishing a full manifesto.

The Camden contingent then helped to fill up the Brighton Centre auditorium for Mr Starmer’s speech; council leader Georgia Gould could be seen chanting “go Keir, go Keir”. The national press responded warmly to the speech too –

Corbynites always compare how the two leaders are characterised –  with pundits variously suggesting Mr Starmer now looked more like a possible prime minister.

But for all the excitement, there were reasons to be cautious that did not get so much airtime.

At a fringe meeting on electoral reform, for example, Sir John Curtice, the election night polls guru, something of a cult figure among political anoraks, appeared on a video link and  read out just how much Labour needs to make up to win.

“Just sticking to the current parliamentary boundaries, Labour needs a 12 per cent swing and thus almost a 12 point lead just to get an overall majority of one,” he said.

“So on the current electoral geography at least, and with the current dispositions of the third parties, winning an overall majority does look like a very  tall order.”

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould’s assessment of the conference

He was speaking at a meeting in which Labour MPs and activists were discussing whether they would have to work with the Liberal Democrats, or Greens or even the SNP to remove the Conservatives – although it was agreed that new referendums on PR and independence could be the pricetag.

Discussions similar to those held by Tony Blair and Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown in 1997 were also suggested.

Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake joked that the party would “have to work with itself first”.

Protesters outside the conference gates

Mr Starmer had already said that he regarded winning an election more important than stitching together party unity.

“In a way the more we expose the inadequacy of this government the more it presses the question back on us: If they are so bad, what does it say about us?”, he said in his speech.

“Because after all in 2019 we lost to them, and we lost badly.  So, let’s get totally serious about this – we can win the next election.

“This government can’t keep the fuel flowing, it can’t keep the shelves stocked and you’ve seen what happens when Boris Johnson wants more money – he goes straight for the wallets of working people.”

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