Can you remember anything about last year’s Labour conference? No, nor can I because the following week Theresa May had a shocker of a conference which followed on from her shocker of an election campaign and that set the tone for the rest of 2017. As it happens, Jeremy Corbyn had a very good conference basking in the glory of the near general election miss, having various foes come to heel and Momentum rallying the troops for the battles ahead at their neighbouring conference. It seemed that all was relatively rosy in the Labour garden as they exploited Tory woes and Brexit punch ups and open divisions were hidden below the surface.
A year later, we seem to be in a slightly different place. Despite the continuing Brexit divisions within the Conservative Party and ineffectiveness of the LibDems and SNP, Labour has not been able to exploit the state of their opposition over the Summer and internal divisions have re-surfaced in the most dramatic way.
The battle over control and indeed the soul of the party has intensified since last years conference and a confident Momentum has been turning the screw on the more moderate wing of the party. As a result, conversations about a break-away party have continued to emerge but tribal loyalties are preventing that from coming to fruition. However, this conference could be crunch time for the competing wings of the Labour Party.
The battle over mandatory re-selection of MPs may sound like dull internal housekeeping to outsiders but if the Left get their way, it could dramatically change the make-up and course of the Party. In case you haven’t been following it, the ruling committee of the Labour Party, the NEC, is now dominated by Momentum and Cobynista supporters who are busy figuring out ways to purge the moderates in the party or at the very least dilute their power. It is looking like they are slowly getting their way so ensuring that the chances of a break away party being formed looking increasingly likely.
The issue that dominated the Summer for Labour was rows over anti-semitism. I won’t repeat the whole story of what happened, but although it has gone quieter of late, expect that the fall-out will continue with various sides looking to continue the arguments or seek revenge. That more than anything else will make the fringe programme more interesting than normal.
And then we come to the big one, the one that those in the country who are still awake may actually notice - Brexit. With the Tories tearing themselves apart over it, Labour’s own Brexit divisions have meant that they have been unable to seize the initiative and damage the Government over it. The leadership’s policy of not disturbing the Tories as they argue away seems to be effective in the short term but has unsettled Labour members (as well as the London Mayor and some unions) from all wings of the party who would like the party to jump off the fence. The caution of the Labour leadership is going to be challenged this week by the members but will it lead to a big policy change or will the leadership stay on the fence and stick to demanding a General Election?
So lots of fun and games ahead for the record numbers (at least since Jeremy took over) expected to attend. There will be a curious mix of even more Momentum/Corbynista members attending coupled with lots of corporates taking stands and sponsoring fringe events in case a Corbyn government comes sooner rather than later.