I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now with a piece for this blog. The writing workshop I went on before I started this blog taught me that when writing a column (which this is, kind of) if it isn’t written quickly then drop it. And that’s what I’m doing. Mind you, a version of it might appear as it centred around Boris Johnson, who you might be hearing about in the next few days. And why might you be hearing about our Boris? It’s the Conservative party conference this coming week (these conferences start on the Sunday) and who knows what might happen there. So, rather than a long treatise on our two political parties and their stance on Brexit here are some random thoughts.
The two mirror-image (albeit distorted) parties and their leaders You do know, don’t you, that with regard to Brexit both party leaders take an opposite view to the views of their party members. Theresa May voted to Remain but is leading a party that is predominantly aching to Leave (and I am capitalising those words as they deserve to be seen). Of course, there are Conservative Members of Parliament (hereafter MPs) who are against leaving but you get the feeling they’re a bit isolated, but do not forget, they are there. Meanwhile, amongst those who become members of the Tory party you get the feeling they’re desperate to Leave, backed up by a majority of Tory MPs, and in particular, the loony right-wing end of the party’s MPs led by Boris and don’t forget Rees Mogg. I recently met a European friend (I do have them) who’d never heard of Jacob Rees Mogg, so for those of you outside the UK I do beg you to find out more about the world of Rees Mogg who’s main claim to fame before Brexit was his vast wealth and that he has never changed a nappy (he has 6 children the last one named Sixtus) because nanny wouldn’t approve.
Setting the Tories aside let’s take a quick look at the Labour Party. Here we have Jeremy Corbyn, who is without a doubt a Leaver, leading a party whose MPs are predominantly Remainers, whose constituencies are made up from voters who, in the main, voted to Leave, while the party members of said party (of which there are a huge number 540,000 which is more than any time in its history – see below) are deeply and passionately Remainers. Because while the Tory Party is tearing itself apart over how we Leave (not should we) there are huge tensions within the Labour party, but this time about should we. Are you keeping up at the back? Mind you there was a wee bit of a resolution at this week’s Labour Party conference.
What are these ‘conferences’? Tradition has it that once a year the leading, and not so leading parties meet for 4 days and thrash out various issues. MPs like to think that it’s all about showing how great they and their parties are, but usually there’s a lot of tensions and wrangles going on, some hidden and others not so. They start on the Sunday and are practically over by the Wednesday and always meet in the order of Lib Dems first, Labour next and Tories last. And btw, these party ‘conferences’ may occasionally aim to be slightly more like American rallying conventions but that can unravel quite quickly (which it did for Neil Kinnock) as it’s not quite British to be seen to be too enthusiastic about your party leader or prospective party leader (actually that’s a good thing), and also these conferences are usually attended by awfully earnest older types – until now – see below.
How the Labour Party works, I think The main thing to realise is that the Labour Party is awash with rules and regulations. I sort of know about this because, once upon a time (as in decades ago) I was Secretary of my local Labour ward. The structure then was that constituencies were divided into wards, each of which had a committee with a Chair(man), Secretary and Treasurer, and each ward sent delegates to the General Committee (GC) which had a Chair(man) and, but you get the drift. I was a delegate and what I remember most was that there were procedures for these meetings, and many rules, and there was always someone getting up and saying, “On a point of order, Mr Chair(man)… “ and then there were would be about 5-minutes exposition of why we were erring on the wrong side of the rules. I remember also that we did discuss important stuff, but one of the key roles of the GC was to send delegates to the Labour Party conference. I believe nowadays the Labour Party locally is structured similarly with each constituency having a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) with smaller units known as the Branch Labour Party (BLP).
We met once a month both at a branch and constituency level and as I said, I remember these meetings as procedural and rule based. Has this changed? Someone, please tell me! Because I do wonder how that structure and those procedures are shaping up with all these new members, who now have far more power than ever before.
Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The new members and the Labour Party conference You do realise that there is a cult around our Jeremy and that he is totally loved by a huge number of the 540,000 party members (Conservatives have 124,000 members). How to explain this and the effect on the party? Well, I think it’s come as a shock to some people. To fully explain would take a whole book so, in a nutshell, approximately 3 years ago Jeremy Corbyn was put forward for the leadership of the Labour Party in a very serendipity way (apparently it was his turn to have a fruitless experience being put forward as leader) but amazingly he won, the consequence of which has fundamentally turned around what Labour stands for, although, and I cannot stress this enough, his views and the Labour values now are not, and can I repeat this, not,all that radical or all that left-wing, despite what the media says – seriously, I mean that. For instance, the nationalisation of the railways and utilities like water and electricity plus the scrapping of tuition fees is not radical it’s actually supported by most of the UK population. And the economic proposals put forward in the recent Labour manifesto (2017) are more conservative (says one pundit) than those put forward by the SDP in 1983. He Is Not That Radical. The thing is, he’s a moderate but (pause here) he challenges the status quo, which, is extreme. See, my last post. It is the status quo to do all one can to cut services not provide them. And up to Jeremy Corbyn’s time in post the Labour Party had moved rightwards towards the status quo and was fully behind austerity.
There are other policy areas where Jeremy Corbyn is just different, and therefore is under attack, which I won’t go into at this point. So, returning to the ‘love’, there is also a collection of people, of mostly I’d say young people, who have gathered together to have a slightly more exciting time in the Labour Party than just attending their monthly Branch and Constituency meetings – and can you blame them (see above). They are collectively called Momentum. I’m not going to say much about them apart from they seem to have transformed the Labour Party conference into an ‘experience’. And just like the Edinburgh and Brighton Festivals, the Fringe is the place to be because, of course, the real work gets done in the meetings outside the main conference hall. Above all, the meetings to be seen, and more importantly tweeted about, were the Momentum meetings, where Jeremy is loved. Much of the media focused on these meetings and actually we seemed to hear not a dicky bird from the MPs who absolutely hate Jeremy, of whom there are quite a few. Yes, these days, unlike last year and the year before, the Fringe, I do beg your pardon, Momentum is the thing.
The fudge that happened at the Labour conference. No change there then Look, I like what Jeremy says, and his views – most of the time. Tbh, I blow hot and cold with him, especially around Brexit. Because (see above) he’s a Leaver leading a predominantly Remainer party so he and therefore the Labour Party has not been an effective alternative to Brexit. But, as so many in and outside Parliament can see, a ‘great disaster’ is awaiting us, and therefore, there is a growing movement to have a 2ndReferendum. Inside the Labour Party its membership has pushed for this with a majority of CLPs putting forward motions for said Referendum. This was pretty much accepted by Jeremy but the big quibble was what questions would be asked? Ah yes, would the questions on that piece of paper include whether we Remain or Leave? ‘Oooh, no’, said Jeremy, ‘not that question’. Much ‘work’ outside the meetings must have ensued. Because there is a very fine fudge now, which is acceptable to most. What happened was this. All the big speeches bar one stressed the 2ndReferendum would only ask whether we accept the ‘deal’ and absolutely not whether we’re in or out. Then up to the Rostrum went Sir Kier Starmer and he said the question of ‘would we Remain’ would be included. Wow! That was off-script. Any shouts of dissent would have been lost in the subsequent standing ovation. After that who knows what happened behind closed doors but during the end-of-conference speech we had a really fine display of Jeremy’s leadership (I do like him but really sometimes…) when Jeremy confirmed that with regard to the Referendum questions all options were on the table. If you listened to it he’s finding this really difficult to say as it’s not only muttered, it’s said at the lowest volume of speech ever. So, there we are, fudge as usual, but perhaps lighter than before.
Chequers anyone? Or a car crash? And where are we with Chequers? Pretty much dead in the water. You might remember that this involved an away-day for the Cabinet at Chequers with the result that Theresa May was going to ask could we continue to follow the EU trade rule book, but Leave all the same, or something like that. The majority of the Leavers in her party and all of the EU seems to have said, no.
Did you know that actually we cannot do anything re: trade until we’ve left and all we have to agree by, erm, October is i) the status of EU citizens – kind of agreed; ii) the amount we pay to Leave – no, don’t think so, and iii) the Northern Ireland situation – not agreed at all. So, more and more we think we’re just crashing out. What a clusterf..k this is! I mean we could be given a deal at the very last moment – but we, yes, we, have to propose a solution to the Northern Ireland border question and that doesn’t seem to have been sorted one bit.
Will Theresa May still be here this time next week? I think, by a whisker she might as, do Boris or Rees Mogg really want to deal with this clusterfuck (yes, let’s say that) as it is now? I don’t think they do. For some the EU will be blamed and held responsible for ever and day, but these two want May to be seen as the leader who got us into a very fine mess indeed (although always blame Cameron for starting this whole disaster). So, no, Boris and Rees Mogg don’t want that, they want to pick up the pieces after we Leave. But I could be wrong, particularly, as Boris has already started staking a claim and ‘indicating’ that he might well put himself forward. Oh OK, well, let’s see what the next few days at the Tory Conference brings.
Penny Kocher 29th September 2018
Lorna Finlayson, Corbyn Now. London Review of Books. Volume 40 Number 18, 27 September 2018
Marina Hyde, It’s Like A Spaceship Just Blew In From the Early 2000s. The Guardian, Thursday 27 September 2018