The Labour Party conference was quieter than usual, with fewer fringe events taking place and fewer MPs, businesses and lobbyists in attendance.
Partly, this was because a lot of the action took place away from the secure zone, with both moderates and Corbynites gathering elsewhere. And partly, it was because a lot of businesses appear to have given up on the party, at least for the time being.
It became clear at conference just how divided the party is, and potentially fatally. The mood in the complex and across the fringes was downbeat, where backbench MPs talked gloomily about the party’s future to often half empty audiences. About half a mile down the road, in Liverpool’s Black-E community centre, Corbyn’s supporters gathered to attend Momentum’s ‘The World Transformed’ festival, which we understand was bustling by contrast. With both sides of the party reluctant to mix with the other, there were talks of a few aggressive altercations when the two sides did come face to face.
The moderates all essentially agree on the nature of their predicament, but are themselves divided on the nature of the remedy. While some favour an approach that emphasises constructive engagement with the leadership in the hope of compromise, others see only further resistance in the face of an inevitable push by Momentum to deselect those with whom they disagree. A potential remedy mooted by some was a ‘mutual defence pact’, under which any attempt to deselect any moderate would trigger collective action such as mass resignations that trigger by-elections right across the country.
Moreover, the journalists, commentators and lobbyists we spoke to took were markedly more pessimistic, taking the view that the leadership is incapable of compromise even if it is interested in doing so. Businesses seemed to have given up hope on the party too, as there were markedly few business focused events being held, and even some of those were poorly attended. The “exclusive” New Statesman and Mirror parties also operated very lax door policies. By contrast, the Conservative conference agenda is much fuller, with more businesses holding events and guests lists already full for the events with the bigger names.
So what does this mean for the party? In the short term, both moderates and Corbynites are keen to rule out a split. At least, for the moment, the moderates do not seem to have a viable plan to get their party back.
However, this may change when the boundary review changes come into effect in 2018, as this could well lead to some moderate MPs being deselected. We’d expect that these MPs would want to contest the next election to try to retain their seat or to qualify for their redundancy pay-off – and in which case they are likely to gather under a single, separate, party banner.
Click the image below to expand – The Labour Party Conference: 10 things we learnt