I arrived in Liverpool late yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but what I found was definitely not it. Instead of open civil war, a strange placidity has set in, like one imagines a city after a nuclear bomb attack. The remnants of a once great society are all that’s left, and everyone is past the anger stage of grief.
If a split in the PLP is announced today, it sure will come from nowhere. Amongst the Corbynistas there isn’t even smugness on display – they’ve won so handily now there is no need. The party is theirs and everyone knows it. If anything, the Corbyn crew were treading on egg shells last night, sort of like when you’ve beaten your mate in straight sets in tennis and the need to be all “everyone gets lucky sometimes” trumps any need to lord it over given the crushing margin of victory.
However, no one who didn’t like Corbyn before within Labour has been converted; at least not on present evidence. The great leader spoke at a London Labour reception last night and I have never seen a speech by so senior a figure in British politics so roundly ignored by those present. I stood about ten feet from him, gathering canapés, as he shouted about housing injustice to a room that acted as if he genuinely wasn’t there at all. Even Ed Miliband at his lowest would have commanded more respect when he spoke. It was totally surreal – it really was like only I could see and hear him and everyone else in the room was oblivious to the leader of their party giving oratory mere centimetres away.
Far from bar fights and political assassinations, the one thing Labour conference reminds me of thus far is…….Lib Dem conference. An aging membership rattling around large buildings, the vastness of them mocking the whole event; an insular feel to the thing, with the idea of governing the country a mere abstraction; the conference almost ending up being an exercise in demonstrating the sheer impossibility of the challenge facing them against the Conservative Party. Lib Dem conference is just several years ahead of Labour conference in this respect. Given Jeremy Corbyn seems to want to turn Labour into the Liberal Democrats – a protest group with a small parliamentary wing – his plan, in all respects, seems to be working out beautifully.
Labour conference used to be something that was almost intimidating in its ability to impress. Pre-2010, every year it screamed of its unbreakable hold on power behind a massive security apparatus. If Labour has now become the largest party in Europe, you would never know it from Liverpool. They feel smaller than the Lib Dems did in 2010. I suppose that’s what government does for you.