1. BROKEN BRITAIN
When Jeremy Corbyn stands up at around 12.15pm to deliver his conference speech, he will look out at a party that has altered beyond recognition in the past two years.
A massive influx of new members (who have driven the Momentum arm-lock on events this week) has obviously changed the nature of Labour. But Corbyn thinks that he can change the nature of politics too and that the radical manifesto of the summer is a springboard to even more bold policies. We are told he has at least one big policy reveal today.
That Corbynite mix of empathy (Tom Watson praised him yesterday for showing it was better to be ‘loved’ than ‘feared’) and break-with-the-past policies is certainly his unique selling point. And in the overnight trail of his speech, we learned he will put the Grenfell disaster at the heart of his pitch, claiming it was a “tragic monument” to the failures of governments of the past three decades.
“The disregard for rampant inequality, the hollowing out of our public services, the disdain for the powerless and the poor have made our society more brutal and less caring,” he’ll say. Aides said this is a critique of the neoliberal economic model introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s, and continued by Blair and Brown on issues like privatisation and housing.
Yet there are dangers in saying that ‘society’, rather than those who govern it, has become more cruel and uncaring. I remember when David Cameron made ‘broken society’ his big theme in Opposition, a claim that sparked anger from Labour and was described by even Boris Johnson as ‘piffle’. Leading a party more united and more leftwing than it has been in years, Corbyn is undoubtedly in a strong position today. Yet as this week’s PFI ‘clarifications’ showed, building more radical policy on top of a radical manifesto isn’t going to be easy.
We’ll have a full WaughZone Special analysing the Corbyn speech this evening.
2. LEFT TURN
One of the big achievements of this week for Corbyn has been the way Momentum has managed to deliver unity on the conference floor, despite cracks under the surface on Brexit and other issues. And the power of the grassroots group was shown in spades overnight as its supporters won a landslide in the elections to the National Constitutional Committee (NCC).
This is the body that oversees disciplinary matters and with outstanding cases like Ken Livingstone’s unresolved, the ousting of its ‘moderate’ chair could be decisive. The NCC this morning chooses its new chair and centrists hope GMB veteran Maggie Cosin will get it, but she too is now set to be voted off at next year’s conference. The body known for ‘purges’ of leftwingers may not be doing much purging after that.
Just as significant was the election in a private National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting yesterday of Unite’s Jennie Formby as vice chair. Centrists had hoped Margaret Beckett would get the slot but Formby won the day. This matters because the chair and vice chair are automatically on the NEC officers’ group that decides all important committees and decisions. Unite now has all four of its reps on the group, plus Corbyn-supporting Andy Kerr. With the rule changes passed yesterday to expand the NEC with more local party reps, the state of play at the top of the party has shifted hugely. The slender ‘Corbyn-sceptic’ majority that existed on Labour’s ruling body only a year ago is now replaced by a Left majority that looks impregnable.
For more evidence of the changed nature of this year’s conference, see our long read today on Momentum’s The World Transformed festival in Brighton. The Indy’s Ash Cowburn even got into an ‘Acid Corbynism’ event. We interviewed the bloke who has been waving his Xmas lights portrait of Jezza in the conference hall. And last night it was striking just how utterly uninterested young Momentum types were at attending the Mirror party and its traditional mix of karaoke and MPs. Just two doors down, they rammed a nightclub with their own event. The old order looked very far away indeed.
3. GAME CHANGER
It’s a measure of the self-confidence of John McDonnell that he thinks he can actively discuss “a run on the pound” under Labour and not worry about the backlash. His words at the World Transformed fringe on Monday reverberated throughout yesterday. As I said in yesterday’s WZ, his aides tried to clarify (via a text at 4am, even early for me) that Big Mac’s team were not doing the ‘war gaming’ scenarios, and it was just party members planning contingencies for capital flight if Corbyn got into No10. Jeremy Corbyn was as chilled as McDonnell when he told the BBC that it was sensible to ‘look at all scenarios’.
But PoliticsHome have another scoop, revealing that the chief wargamer, Richard Barbrook, believes he will get a job advising McDonnell’s team in coming months. And the FT also reveals that Barbrook is being hired as an adviser on digital strategy and is waiting for NEC approval of his appointment.
But Barbrook also made a key point: he doesn’t expect a run on the pound because it is in fact so low already following the Brexit vote. It’s the Tories that crashed the pound, not Labour. Will Corbyn be bold enough to include that in his speech today, or will that sound too Remainy for some Lexiteers around him?
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Watch Jonathan Ashworth and Angela Rayner sing Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ at the Mirror party last night. Both won even longer ovations yesterday in the conference hall.
4. FRIENDS OF ISRAEL?
The row within Labour over allegations of anti-semitism just won’t go away. Last night, there was a very vocal demo (“Israel! Terrorists!” was the chant) outside a conference hotel after activists heard Israeli ambassador Mark Regev was inside.
Len McCluskey reignited the controversy on Newsnight by declaring it was all “mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Corbyn”. After which Labour MP Jess Phillips Tweeted: “No it was created by anti-Semites. We have got to find a way to be critical friends without everything being about JC. He is not prism of all.”
But some on the Left really do take the McCluskey line. Ken Loach told the BBC that in his time in Labour (though of course he was out of Labour when he backed a rival party) “I have never heard a single anti-Semitic word or racist world. I’m not saying it does not happen”. Asked about the inflammatory fringe meeting that heard calls for Holocaust deniers to be allowed free speech, Loach added: “History is for all of us to discuss.”
Corbyn himself told Channel 4 News “this is not a nasty party”, thus falling into the age-old trap of repeating your opponents’ main attack lines, and gifting the Daily Mail their front page splash. But those who worry about Corbyn’s commitment on the issue were dismayed that he didn’t turn up to the Labour Friends of Israel event last night. Emily Thornberry said “Jeremy is not attending any of these receptions this evening because he has a big speech tomorrow”. Unfortunately, footage later appeared showing him at the Mirror party.
The real battle here is within the Left and within Momentum. Founder Jon Lansman, who is Jewish, has been firm in condemning Ken Livingstone and activist Jackie Walker. And with his group’s backing, Labour conference passed new anti-semitism disciplinary rules yesterday. The problem is that others continue to turn a blind eye to the awful abuse, share McCluskey’s ‘defend Jez’ view or simply don’t distinguish between vile anti-Jewish propaganda and criticism of Israel.
Not for nothing did the Labour council leader in Brighton Warren Morgan warn he would not allow the party to stage future conferences unless it prevented fringes like this week’s. And the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said yesterday: “The Labour Party needs to do more to establish that it is not a racist party.” Those are words that ought to make Corbyn wince. And I’d be amazed if the Tories didn’t quote them in full next week.
5. RIGHT ROYAL ROW
Labour’s Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad is certainly uncompromising in her Republicanism. HuffPost UK first reported her fringe meeting where she said “I am the Royal Family’s worst nightmare” and revealed she had turned down a meeting with The Queen soon after the Grenfell fire.
And later in the meeting, she went further, ridiculing Prince Harry’s military skills, suggesting he and William were “not very bright” and even declaring Prince Philipp was “not a faithful husband”. Labour’s backbench defence chair John Woodcock condemned her remarks, and the Sun has splashed its front page with the full detail.
Dent Coad has now hit back, telling HuffPost that: “This front page coverage from The Sun response proves my point about the right-wing press running the narrative in relation to the Royals…We should be allowed to have an opinion. Let’s have a proper debate about the Royal Family.” Jeremy Corbyn told Paxo in the election that he was relaxed about keeping the Royals, but he may have to put out a strong statement distancing himself from any attacks on Harry’s war record.
Speaking of being radical, Angela Rayner told a fringe yesterday that she was in favour of quotas for the number of BAME teachers in schools.