Labour Party Conference 2016 had the potential to be a miserable affair for moderates but I feel energised and excited about what lies ahead.
We’re all a bit bruised after the second leadership contest. Some of us are angry and confused. Moderates have heard, over and over again, that if we don’t like the current direction of the party we should set up on our own.
I spent a lot of time at conference talking to folk about why they shouldn’t leave the party. People told me that with Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election perhaps now is the time to bow out gracefully. But now, for the sake of the people we seek to serve, it is critical for moderates to stay, bringing every ounce of skill, passion and commitment to the party’s renewal and survival.
In May 1997 we wept and cheered with joy at the dawn of the New Labour government. We went on to truly transform the lives of ordinary people. It was brilliant.
But nothing lasts forever. Ideas that aren’t revised, tested and challenged yellow pretty quickly. When the core of New Labour began to hollow out, we didn’t respond quickly or decisively enough. As the vacuum of ideas grew, the Left filled it in the party and the Right filled it in the country. We relied on our track record to win the continued support of the electorate but we forgot that there is no such thing as common sense or an indisputable truth.
300,000 of our members believe Corbyn’s Labour is what the electorate have all been waiting for; that the only thing preventing the public voting Labour in droves so far has been a lack of a true Socialist alternative. If Corbyn is carried into Downing Street on a tidal wave of a Socialism, good on him. If that doesn’t happen, however, and we haemorrhage council and parliamentary seats and become an electoral irrelevance, we’re going to need a plan B.
In his speech to conference, Corbyn said that, under a Labour government, “when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committeed, British arms sales will be suspended, starting with Saudi Arabia”.
If we ever get a chance to put that apparently laudable plan into action it would be celebrated as a great achievement – until we realised that it would achieve absolutely nothing at all. Someone else would sell Saudi Arabia weapons. Whilst we would be able to sleep better at night, and hold our hands up and say “Nothing to do with me, G’vnor”, it would not actually end terror and war. We would assuage our guilt but little else.
The same goes for moderates stepping back or stepping out of the party. “It wasn’t me” will be no defence. If we sit back and let others get on with it, our lack of commitment will be blamed for the crushing electoral defeat that could follow. If we attempt to build a new party, our splitting of the vote will be blamed for a Labour defeat.
But blame aside, when the country is weeping at the onslaught of Tory policies and let down by an inward-looking Labour Party, we must have more than apology or an embryonic party to stand on; we must have a viable, ready-to-go alternative.
Corbyn euphoria won’t last forever. There won’t be 300,000 members cheering when we have 100 MPs and barely two councils to rub together. And when it all comes crumbling down, I want the majority of Corbyn’s supporters – who are not diehard Trots or Communists or Marxists but just people who want to make a difference – to know that they still can. I want to be ready to engage all of the party with new, challenging and exciting ideas that expose the 20-year-old ideas – rehashed to fit into 140 characters – for what they are.
We need the brightest and the best to lead the renewal of our party and ambition for our country (yes, Jon Cruddas MP, I’m looking at you). We must ensure that when the scales fall from the eyes of the devoted, we have more to offer them than a shrugged “I told you so”. Working together to come up with intelligent, radical ideas is a really exciting prospect. So don’t leave; roll up your sleeves. There’s work to be done.