The Conservative party is in disarray. Its lack of unity, its continued Brexit bemusement and its uncertainty over leadership came to a crescendo at their conference in Manchester last week. By contrast, the Labour party is inexplicably in the ascendency: a strong and stable leader in Jeremy Corbyn, a vibrant and unified atmosphere, appearances for notable intellectuals and social progressives and even an increasingly coherent approach to Brexit, outlined at the Labour conference in Brighton. The two conferences represented a decisive shift of the centre ground in politics, towards the left.
Theresa May and the Conservatives recognise this convergence. It was almost pitiful to see the Conservatives borrow the language of the left, with ‘a country that works for everyone’ emblazoned on every wall. It appears the Conservatives are also desperate enough to reprise a Labour policy from the past promising an energy price freeze (Mason,2017). Conservative efforts to remedy their estrangement with the young was symbolised by an increase to the threshold at which students would have to pay back their debts and a planned freeze on tuition fees increasing again. In a further effort to detoxify Tory perceptions among the youth, there was a promise of a £9bn boost for affordable housing to help younger generations get on the housing ladder (Bush,2017).
As Theresa May coughed and spluttered her way through a painfully unconvincing speech, (disrupted by Simon Brodkin brandishing a P45), Jeremy Corbyn delivered a commanding speech with an unexpectedly clear position on membership of the customs union and the single market, the protection of EU citizens, and a more predictable commitment to a national education service, pledges to control rents and regenerate council housing (The Guardian,2017) – policies proven to be popular with the electorate (Curtis,2017). Corbyn had the confidence of a man aware that he had conquered the mainstream media, dirty Conservative politics, an embittered Blairite coup and two landslide leadership elections. He seemed aware that he has more than earnt his place.
The most exciting and busiest Labour conference for years stood in stark contrast to the anxious and half-hearted proceedings at the Conservative conference. Despite the demonization of Momentum, it has rejuvenated the Labour party, which now has over half a million members (Waugh,2017). With the overwhelming support of young people and ethnic minorities, Momentum has provided a platform for the apathetic and the hopeless to believe in politics once again. Furthermore, its social media campaigning has revolutionised Labour’s communication capabilities. Be in no doubt, that with a return to its grass roots, full support from the unions and with honest, principled politics informing policy, the Labour party could win the next election.
The pinnacle of excitement at the Conservative conference came from the adoring fans of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Ruth Davidson, those extolled as possible successors to Theresa May. They were relentlessly quizzed on their respective positions on leadership. Boris Johnson, another potential leadership candidate accused of destabilising the party, gave a hopelessly jingoistic speech about the lion of Britain roaring despite occupying an isolated and economically impotent place in world politics. He was also sharply reprimanded by Amber Rudd for not applauding the ailing Prime Minister during her speech. Johnson even had just enough time to describe his vision for Libya; he predicted that it could become the new Dubai, as long as we ‘clear the dead bodies away’ (Elgot & Mason, 2017).
Only days later, everyone’s favourite Grant Shapps claimed that an internal plot calling for May to stand down was imminent, and it had the support of over 30 MPs and ‘one or two’ frontbenchers (Bush,2017). It seems that May has been granted her wish of emulating Thatcher, but sadly it may only be in the way she is forced out by a dispute over the EU, by members of her own party. Corbyn, on the other hand, is busy preparing for the future and busy digging graves: one for Theresa, one for austerity and one for New Labour. And over the clear and aerated soil, he has planted a red rose with stronger grassroots, ready to blossom once again.
Bush, Stephen, ‘Five thoughts on Conservative party conference’, The New Statesmen (2017) https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/10/five-thoughts-conservative-party-conference
Bush, Stephen, ‘Could Grant Shapps’ plot to bring down Theresa May succeed?’, The New Statesmen (2017) https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/10/could-grant-shapps-plot-bring-down-theresa-may-succeed
Curtis, Chris, ‘Corbyn’s policies really are popular with centrist voters. But he still isn’t’, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/28/jeremy-corbyn-policies-yougov-centre-ground-labour
Elgot, Jessica & Mason, Rowena, ‘Theresa May faces calls to sack Boris Johnson over Libya comments’, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/03/sirte-can-become-a-holiday-destination-if-it-clears-the-dead-bodies-says-johnson
Mason, Rowena, ‘Theresa May’s speech to Conservative party conference: key points’, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/04/theresa-may-speech-conservative-party-conference-key-points
Waugh, Paul, ‘Labour Party Membership Soars By 35,000 In Just Four Days – After ‘Corbyn Surge’ In 2017 General Election’, The Huffington Post (2017) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/labour-party-membership-soars-by-
The Guardian, ‘Corbyn’s conference speech: the verdict’ (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/27/jeremy-corbyn-conference-speech-verdict-panel-guardian
Article by Felix Nobles
Photograph – The Telegraph