The 2016 Labour Party Conference in Liverpool validated that last year's in-fighting resulted in a bruised and divided party that will take time to come together again. It was a year wasted and should not be repeated. Thankfully, there was a glimmer of hope for the future.
The rash decision of some Labour MPsto resign from the shadow cabinet following the shock of Brexit and to force a leadership election in the hope of undermining Corbyn's mandate, had the opposite effect. Offering Owen Smith as the Corbyn alternative was a profound misunderstanding of the type of politics the influx of new members want. Resulting n Corbyn achieving an even greater mandate than 2015 and solidifying his position; the complete opposite effect the Corbyn-sceptic MPs wanted. Furthermore, the behaviours of the last year were destructive and self-serving and took Labour further away from power. Criticism of the leadership is welcomed, and indeed required. Unwarranted subterfuge that undermines the whole of the Labour movement it is not.
The Conference this week was an opportunity to put things right. Sadly, there were two good opportunities to start uniting the party that were missed.
Sadiq Khan, Labour's current star, had a very good, very stark and clear speech. He said, in no uncertain terms, that only in power you change things. He had the chance to show that he could rise above the in-fighting and solidify his position and standing with both new and old members. He chose not to. He did not mention or call for unity once. It was his moment to show what a united Labour party can achieve and become a rallying point for all Labour's political wings . Unfortunately he did not. The same for Tom Watson, the deputy leader, who had a barn-storming speech that celebrated Labour's many achievements. Yet, the only time he mentioned unity was when he addressed ironically a heckler by telling 'Jeremy, she didn't get the unity memo'. Both men's speeches demonstrated an unwillingness to compromise for the greater good, preferring an act of defiance and borderline patronising Jeremy Corbyn.
There were however, glimmers of hope for the future.
Both John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn offered with words an olive branch that rose above the tensions offering a way forward. Their actions now have to match their words to heal the rifts. Words without action are empty rhetoric. They have to take on board the valid criticisms and address them.
The fringe events reaffirmed that there are excellent MPs within the Labour party that can form a strong opposition. They need to come back to the frontbenches and show what they are best at. One MP stood out: Angela Rayner.
Angela Rayner is a rising, bright star for the party and the country. She stepped up to become the Shadow Education Secretary post-Brexit resignations. A teenage mum that rose to become an MP thanks to Labour's SureStart centres is a glowing example of what can be achieved by government support. She is an excellent role-model for meritocracy and how government's actions can elevate people that find themselves in difficult situations. She is a living, breathing reminder that Labour is the party of meritocracy and it will help people from all walks of life to advance based on merit, in deirect contrast to the Conservatives who closed the SureStart centres are only interested in a segregated society where only the privileged few should get ahead.
John McDonnell's £500 billion investment bank is a game-changer. It will unlock the potential of many local businesses and can provide growth that is built on solid community and small business foundations. The best part of it is that its conception is firmly rooted in neo-liberal and free market principles. It is universally accepted that you need to spend to invest and that investment generates growth. In addition, neoliberal economics support borrowing when interest rates are low as the money can be used to invest and generate bigger and better returns. Borrowing to invest in an era of historically low interest rates will change Britain for the best. This will mark Labour firmly as the party of wealth creation and in support of small businesses and enterprises.
Finally, Corbyn is now looking more Prime Ministerial than ever. His speech showed that he is now more confident and has accepted his role as leader of the Party and what this means. He took on board a lot of the criticisms levied against him and addressed them. It is a shame that his speech was aimed mainly at the divided Labour party and not the country but this is unavoidable considering the year he had. He has a mountain to climb and he showed he has the mantle for it. He offered a genuine alternative to the neoliberal status quo.
The year ahead is promising. If Labour unites, it will be unstoppable and it will win the general election whenever it may come. If the divisions remain, it will have its worst election defeat in decades. Labour is the party of opportunity, meritocracy and equality.
The 2016 Labour conference showed that divisions are firmly in place but also that there is willingness for compromise from both MPs and the leadership for the greater good.
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