Got back from Brighton yesterday, having experienced a Labour conference that wasn’t really all that different to ones I’d experienced in the past (as I wrote yesterday). It felt like a simple continuation of the Ed Miliband years in most respects: a feeling that the Labour Party is getting smaller each year it is out of power. Perhaps next year really will feel different; when all of the new, young members make the trek to Liverpool. But somehow, I think it will just be a continuation of the same air of shrinkage.
In one of his TV interviews this morning, Jeremy Corbyn said this about Labour:
“It’s not a divided party. I received 60% of the votes of all party members and supporters, it’s the biggest mandate any leader has ever been given in the Labour Party and I respect that mandate and I respect the people that voted for me.”
Problem for him is that he’s wrong about this. He either can’t see it or doesn’t want to talk about it, but the Labour Party is divided in a way it hasn’t been for some time. To be fair here, almost all political parties are divided these days (even UKIP, after the Farage-Carswell clashes at their own conference). I saw it and felt it on the ground in Brighton in an unmistakable way, but I’ll rely instead on hard evidence. Take this quote from Michael Meacher, Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton and a former Minister of State for the Environment in the early years of the Blair government:
“The Labour party has a rule, introduced by Blair himself, that anyone who brings the party into disrepute can be expelled. Many would think that Mandelson, who no doubt was deeply involved in the machinations behind the new rule designed to get rid of inconvenient left-wing activists, has now put himself in a position to be hoist on his own petard.”
Think about it: a Labour MP of long standing has said that Lord Mandelson should be expelled from the Labour Party. We are less than three weeks into the age of Corbyn and already something of that magnitude is being openly called for. Some of us thought the all out war between the left and right of the Labour Party was going to start in style in Brighton. It didn’t because the Left feels like it has time on its hands via Corbyn’s huge internal mandate and the Right doesn’t feel up to it just yet given the recent setback. But have no doubt it is coming. Because Jeremy Corbyn is wrong: Labour is a divided party. Speaking to any Labour person at their conference, even if you didn’t know already which side of the divide on which they stood you would have known within ten seconds of speaking to them, about any topic at all; the line is that thick already. The worst thing for Labour about this is that the divide does seem truly unbridgeable this time round.