Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Labour Party Conference 2016 - Momentum and the alternative debate

Since writing the last two BelperStuff blog posts about Conference Sunday I have stumbled upon this article:

The interior of the Black E. Christopher Furlong/Getty images

I was disappointed that we could not gain access to the Momentum event as I was keen to understand what this alternative vision for the left was all about. So far all I have managed to see are the negatives but as is the way of all things, there must be positives; nothing's all bad.

I am posting the link to John Harris's Thursday article in the Guardian not because I necessarily believe his assertion that we were witnessing the birth of a new Labour Party .......... that is far too glib and an assertion based upon very scant evidence but he did point out the positive side of the Momentum alternative conference. There was really no joy in witnessing the sadness of the 38% who attended the conference proper in the ACC on Albert Dock and if there was fresh and relevant debate going on just half a mile away in the city then I am sad that I missed it. For many at the main conference there really was a feeling of being the unwanted embarrassment, like ballroom dancers at a disco (yes I did see Ed Balls arriving at conference on Sunday) and they would have benefited from participation in a genuine debate.

It was striking how conversations with the 38% turned towards the activism of local politics and the problems of delivering social care, housing and transport in specific towns or regions. It was almost as if those who did not vote for Jeremy had realised that they were now excluded from the national debate but that they still had some relevance at borough, city or county level. In that they are probably correct because there are an awful lot of activists numbered in that 38%. It is such a shame that they now feel excluded from the national debate because I witnessed many discussions about how the party was evolving with many making similar comments to those described by John Harris in the Black E. 

Time will tell but I think it is far too early for John Harris to claim that a new Labour Party is emerging. Sadly there is still some way to go but I do genuinely take heart that issues of party identity were discussed at the  Momentum alternative conference. What concerns me is that there is a large section of the party that feels disenfranchised from the debate.

In Liverpool I balanced the navel gazing within the conference with the views of ordinary voters. Liverpool is a Labour city and as such a good barometer of the current health of the party. I spoke with bar staff, hotel staff, passengers on trains, policemen, taxi and bus drivers ............ well just about anyone who I shared a couple or more minutes with outside the conference hall, conversation being easy because they were keen to talk with someone wearing a conference pass around their neck. I have to say that not one of those people were happy with the Labour Party in its present state or confident that there will be any improvement in the short term. When I asked if they would still be voting Labour many said that there is no real alternative but rather than a positive vote for Labour it would be a negative vote to ensure that the Tories or worse do not get in.

Policy rather than personality

I welcome any optimism towards Labour's future but I feel that John Harris may be a little bit premature with his article. By the end of conference I started to detect a level of disquiet amongst a few of the 62% at the fudging of Labour's position on Trident. Similarly I detected some soul searching of the 38% with the policy commitments for uncapped immigration and taking back into public control and properly funding social services such as care for the elderly. These policies resonate with many of the 38% and may be a means by which the party can move forward. There is genuine hope that if the party can move on to debating policy rather than personality we will start to be of relevance to our voters.



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