Walking off the train at Liverpool Lime Street last Saturday morning I like many members was not sure what to expect from this year's Labour Party conference. But by Tuesday it felt like we had reached a turning point.
We all know about the breakdown of the leadership vote and divide between pre and post 2015 members, which is clear to see with the latter being in the majority. But balance is being restored and opportunities to build bridges are being formed after a period of strained growth. With the new members of the NEC, the new NEC chair and Tom Watson's barnstorming speech we have started a slow shift.
After watching in horror on Sunday as a member of Momentum outside a bar shouted at a Labour councillor to "f*** off and join the tories" I despaired. The simplistic insult is the worst you can throw at someone who is working hard for their constituents. Credit where it is due the people with the Momentum member were embarrassed by his behaviour and apologised. We are all better than that and people like him need to leave if members new and old will ever merge.
We have had a tale of two conferences; one on the docks and one (not quite conference) in China town. There is a divide and not much is bridging it right now.
We need to build those bridges, not more walls.
What we see is an almost dehumanisation from both sides of the divide with supporters of Corbyn called 'Trots' and everyone else a 'Blairite' or 'Red Tory'. The whole debate over the future of the party and of the membership has been consumed by sweeping opinions and quick judgements that are too easily dispatched.
With the membership of the party more divided than since the days of militant I went out on Saturday for the national campaign day. Alongside pre-Corbyn member's I met with five new activists to go out with on the door step, and they were lovely. Even more than that they cared when talking to people about the issues that affect the local area and they wanted to help.
It is when you approach the question of whether you are with Corbyn or not that people shy away and are afraid to answer for fear of backlash on both sides. One of the new activists upon realising I was open to listening to her remarked that she had been warned not to tell people as they may react badly. Far from it, although we agreed to disagree, the conversation turned to the local hospital, campaign sessions and how to deal with the case work we picked up and it was enjoyable and insightful.
It is hard enough to get people involved actively and even harder to get people to attend a local ward meeting when people fear abuse from those who aren't interested in unity and just division. When it is there it must be confronted and ejected from our party. But it is not just the factors which push people away; we need to be better at communicating our local events and our meetings beyond just an email and we need more socials to get people talking.
As the new wave of post-2015 activists and members become more involved locally and see how the party helps people day in and day out they will be inspired again. The positive change that can be created through well thought out and progressive approaches to the problems that are faced at a local level can inspire. Its the different choices made at a locally between a Labour versus a Conservative Council that show people how important it is that we put Labour values into action at all levels of government.
The reason the Labour Party exists is to take elected office so that we can make those different choices that help those that need us most. We are not just there for those who shout the loudest, or just those who protest the most - we are here for the victim of domestic violence who needs the councils to help re-house them, we are here for the retired shop worker who needs help around the house but has no family to call on, and we should be there for any one of the thousands of people affected by the bedroom tax - but we are not
The path we find ourselves on is not towards the election of a Labour Government whether that's early next year or in 2020. But what we do have is a large and growing base of activists who in part are looking for friendship and guidance with a desire to create positive change. They want to make a difference in their communities, they are inspired and they want to change the world.
Corbyn is not going anywhere anytime soon unless there is a defeat at a general election at the earliest. But even after Corbyn leaves his supporters will stay and they will remain active, so what needs to be done is not fight with them and add to the wall brick by brick but to try and reach out to them. I count as some of my closest friends those I disagree profoundly with about the leadership team of our party but we talk about it, we discuss it and you know what we will stay friends.
The situation we find ourselves in after conference is more balanced than before and that gives me hope that a split is becoming less and less likely. With the changes to the NEC, campaigns being constructed we can all get behind, movement on Trident and NATO and with the possibility of Shadow Cabinet elections to boot. What is needed to complement this is members from all sides reaching out to each other and building those bridges across the divide, whether that's a campaign session, a social down the local or even just a quick beer or even a day out at the football. It is too easy to dehumanise the people you haven't met or spoken to.
We have reach a turning point, now it's time to try and work together.