Hard Labour at Brighton Rock



Will Mapplebeck survives the Labour Party Conference as delegates enjoy the surf at New Dawn-by-the-sea.


Somewhere in an alternative universe – far, far away – Labour sweeps to an historic victory in the 2017 General Election. The UK has a true socialist government. The bankers, bosses, landlords and journalists are running for the hills. JC has built Jerusalem and the political centre of gravity has forever shifted to the left.

Fantasy perhaps, but I briefly visited that universe this week in Brighton at Labour’s annual conference. There really are some of the party faithful, indeed some of the shadow cabinet, who have chalked June’s contest down as a win, a success in the struggle for hearts and minds. One more push and Labour will prove the pundits wrong again.

Amongst the tribe, the mood is jubilant. They are within touching distance of political Nirvana. After decades on the outside, laughed at and ignored, they now call the shots. On Monday I saw an activist with a loudspeaker playing Billy Bragg’s Between the Wars at full volume, wheeling it up and down in front of delegates outside a sun drenched Hilton Metropole. This is the kind of thing that might seem odd anywhere else. But in Corbyn’s Labour it goes unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Jeremy – the man who represents so many of these hopes and dreams  -is adored everywhere he goes, his name chanted across fringe events, workshops and late night gatherings. The sense of triumph was hard to escape in Brighton. The left has routed its internal opponents and some of those who once vehemently opposed Corbyn now mount the party stage to pay tribute with warm words. The clock has been reset and it’s hard to believe that this was ever the party of Blair and Mandelson.

In fact, there was no physical trace of New Labour anywhere. They have not only lost the battle but left the field, climbed into ships and sailed off in search of neoliberal consensus elsewhere. Perhaps some still wait in the wings, watching, hoping, to come back. But something about this conference felt decisive. The party has made its tectonic shift. There is no going back, only forwards, and on to inevitable, glorious, victory. Maybe.