As the sun set on the first day of conference under Corbyn’s Labour it was followed by a grave omen. A giant blood red moon blazed in the sky over Brighton. Since the moon merely reflects the light that shines on it, was it the earth’s shadow, or perhaps the deep red hues on display at Labour’s 2015 conference?
Labour’s leftward lurch is not just a cosmetic exercise in engaging its throng of new hard left members. It is a genuine political sea change. Gone is the “new Labour” of Blair. This conference is the outing for something far more visceral; born of Labour’s socialist and trade union roots.
You have to admire Labour’s indefatigability. Some parties might baulk at the label that they are wallowing in the prejudices of their own membership. Not Corbyn’s Labour. They have even issued a call to arms welcoming back even more hard left comrades, long since expelled from the Labour movement in the 1980s under Kinnock. Economic pronouncements have followed, inheritance tax, financial transaction tax and land rent tax – as demanded by one delegate “so that we can crash the property market” she cried at the City UK fringe. Not the sort of thing that the City UK is used to!
There are outbreaks of conventional economic thinking, in darkened corners. Hushed groups of activists, party advisers and MPs admit to the unthinkable – Blairite tendencies, economic orthodoxy. But with the Shadow Chancellor’s self avowed anti-austerity agenda they are few and far between. What is clear is that this is far more than a cosmetic exercise. This is a seismic shift in this former party of Government. The purge of the right has started with Corbyn seeking direct employment of special advisers. Doubtless as their shadow cabinet bosses cannot be trusted to follow the new party line.
Will this stay the status quo? We will have to wait and see. Perhaps, as Lord Mandelson argues, the Blarities too are biding their time. What this means for those trying to engage with the Labour movement is less clear. Gone are the certainties of even the Miliband regime. Clearly Labour is still open to engagement on particular issues of policy but the party’s ability to form a coherent economic platform which the UK public at large will find convincing is far from in evidence.
What has happened to the British Labour Party is an unusual thing in British politics, a party that no longer wants to compromise to win the hearts and minds of Middle England. As cowards flinch and traitors sneer, Corbyn will keep the red flag flying here.