POLITICS

Labour Moderates: Corbynites Must Be Allowed To Crash The Bus Before Anything Will Change

'Unfortunately the party and the country will suffer the consequences.'

23/09/2017 12:01 BST | Updated 23/09/2017 12:01 BST
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With conference season upon us, many Labour activists who were once at the heart of their party are finding themselves pushed to the fringes. 

The battle for control of Labour’s internal “machine” has been all but won by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and those who are less than enthused by the leader are facing their own new battle: What comes next?

Candidates from the left slate stormed to victory in the recent election of members of the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), which will decide on the agendas at the party’s flagship gathering from 2018 onwards.

And rule changes expected to be given the green light at this year’s conference in Brighton - which gets underway on Saturday - will see future candidates for the party leadership able to secure a place on the ballot with the support of just 10% of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Cutting the threshold from the current 15% requirement will pave the way for future leftwing candidates to enter the running when Corbyn, who is 68, stands down.

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TSSA General secretary Manuel Cortes.

Richard Angell, chair of the internal centrist group Progress, said the best course of action for so-called moderate Labour members and politicians was to focus on holding the government to account on Brexit.

“I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone going into conference that this is the state of play we find ourselves in,” he told HuffPost UK.

“Hopefully the one thing everyone can agree on now is that Brexit has to be discussed at conference.

“Momentum managed to keep it off the agenda last year, but it is now absolutely crucial and we are seeing people from across the field talking about it, including Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA.

“Unless we see some high level jiggery pokery on a scale that would make the fixers of New Labour blush, it is inevitable that Brexit will be on the conference agenda. 

“While the rule changes may not go our way, I’m hopeful we will be given the chance to focus on what we really care about, which is demonstrating to people, particularly young people, that we will be making the case fully to safeguard their future.”

Angell said a proposed rule change which will see a more robust approach taken to tackling antisemitism within the party would be welcomed by members across the board.

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He added: “One positive we have to take is that we will hopefully see a real change regarding the problems with anti-semitism that the party has seen in recent history.  

“The leadership appears to be behind drawing a line in the sand under that horrible period, and those who spoke out against it and put their heads above the parapet should feel rightly proud of themselves.”

But one Labour insider said despite Corbyn’s better-than-expected election performance, the same problems still remain.

They told HuffPost UK: “There’s not much anybody can do now.  Moderates just have to suck it up.

“People will come round in the end, understand that it’s not going to work and acknowledge it - unless you have a rock solid economic foundation to build upon, you don’t have a way forward.  

“But in terms of running the country, Labour could be in Number 10 soon, as Theresa May is bloody hopeless and the government is making a right pig’s ear of Brexit. 

“But the party has only just got to grips with being in opposition.  Running the country is a completely different thing.

“In order for this experiment to be disproved, it has to be completed and go through every stage right to the very end.  Corbyn and Momentum have to be able to crash the bus and have their fingerprints all over the steering wheel.

“What’s unfortunate is that the party and the country will have to suffer consequences.”

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Labour MP John Spellar said Momentum was staging an “attack on social democracy”.

Another senior source said: “I think what we might see is a sense of boredom coming through from many of those who got behind Corbyn because it was exciting, because there was an election.

“I think as time goes on and there isn’t an election - and there probably won’t be for another five years - we will see some of that enthusiasm begin to wane. 

“As a general rule, it’s always the same people you see out on the doorstep and delivering leaflets - and it’s the activists who have been doing so for years.”

Labour MP John Spellar told a recent gathering of moderate MPs and activists in Parliament that Momentum - the campaign group behind Corbyn - was staging an “attack on social democracy”.

He added: “One of the things we have to be absolutely clear about with Momentum is winning an election is not their first priority. Control of the party is their fundamental ideological objective.”

He said Momentum wanted to “create an atmosphere of disillusion in the party” so its critics would give up and go home.

Several Labour MPs decided to throw in the towel of the 2017 election, including former shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, 2015 election campaign chief Michael Dugher, Copeland MP Jamie Reed and Tom Blenkinsop, who stood down from his Middlesbrough constituency to work for Community.

Blenkinsop, who is now operations director for the steelworkers’ union, said he did not regret his decision.

“I look after all the regions and make sure things are well-organised and properly run.  We are hiring new staff, we have a great leadership team and I feel like I am making a difference to people’s lives still. 

“I don’t regret it.  I am much more relaxed, I’m not getting regular death threats or abuse on social media and I am able to speak my mind more freely.”

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Tom Blenkinsop stood down as an MP and now works for the union Community.

Former Durham MP Pat Glass announced she would stand down in 2016, after what she described as a “bruising” EU referendum campaign.

She said she had made the decision for personal reasons, but was worried about Labour’s future.

“I stood down because my mother was seriously ill and did not have long left,” she said.

“I didn’t want to be up and down to London and I was really glad I was able to be around for her final few months.  

“I don’t regret it, but nor did I stand down for reasons that were anything to do with the party.  It was very personal for me.

“My mum, who has died now, was a Labour member for 60 years.  She knew that the important thing was working together.

“I am feeling quite despondent about where the party is going.  I don’t think it will be until we’ve been out of power for a very long time -  and I fear that we are going to be out of power for a long time - that we will realise that what really matters is winning for the people we are supposed to stand up for and support.

“I find myself looking on Twitter and wondering when we stopped putting our energy into fighting the Tories and started fighting each other instead.”