Every year prior to arriving at Labour conference, I feel a weird sense of dread; that somehow this year, everything will turn openly ugly. Then I get to the conference and remember how much fun I have at Labour’s annual national get together each and every year.
This edition is no different. I was nervous about an event I was speaking at around my book, “Apocalypse Delayed: Why the Left is Still in Trouble”; worried that I might have created a nest of Corbynistas to howl at me. Yet the crowd at the event was great – a lot of moderates and soft left folk, some of them pro-Corbyn but wanting to avoid being complacent about the party’s electoral future. The proper Corbynistas who were there were a little scary, however. Not in a visceral way; just that up close you really see the cult of personality around Corbyn is very much religious in nature. To all of the ideas discussed on the panel, the faithful could only answer with something along the lines of “But the problem is you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your saviour”. To the psephological data introduced demonstrating some of Labour’s contining electoral problems in parts of the north of England, one woman in the crowd told me I had to “get my nose out of books and feel politics with my heart”.
In spite of these theological raptures for JC, this year’s conference is very flat. Not flat in the same way that 2014 was, when most people in Labour realised that the party was very unlikely to be in government after the 2015 general election; no, this is more of a total, existential inertia. At least in 2014 there were options, and even a bad general election result that was less than a year away at the time offered hope of renewal with a new leader. Now, everyone knows Corbyn cannot be defenestrated regardless of what happens over the next few years. The left of the party is obviously happy with this state of affairs while the moderates and soft left have no will to fight at the moment. They are more guarded than ever in their criticisms of the leadership, which only makes a sad sort of sense.
Labour are stuck, basically. Given the Tories are in a pickle themselves, Labour could still win the next election. It weirdly feels a bit like Brexit: even though I’m incredibly concerned about where it’s all going, I get to have fun and go to lovely parties and not bear any of the negative consequences that are coming our way. In other words, even though I want to try and help avoid catastrophe with everything I’ve got, ultimately it’s not my funeral.
I end on this: why are Brighton hotels so bad? The three things I most closely associate with Brighton are great restaurants, a huge gay scene and really crappy hotels. The one I had this year wasn’t bad – by Brighton standards. In other words, although there was no wifi and I had to climb four sets of stairs to get up to my room, at least there was a functioning toilet and I never once had the urge to run to a shop to buy a sheet of tarpaulin for basic shelter.