Red all over
“This is the first time I’ve spoken at conference since 1974”, said the delegate from Brentwood and Ongar John Pickard, who spoke passionately in favour of open selections for MPs. Pickard neglected to mention that his long absence from the platform might have something to do with the fact he was a senior figure in Militant Tendency, whose members were expelled by the party in the 1980s, and edited the group’s newspaper. Given how much the party has changed in recent years, that revelation might have won him a standing ovation – as well as the approval of Dawn Butler, who got conference off to a controversial start on Saturday night by going out of her way to praise the Trotskyite group in her speech to Labour women.
Emily in the ascendant
Conference darling Emily Thornberry wowed the crown in Liverpool by pulling off the rhetorical equivalent of singing the left’s greatest hits from the podium. The battle of Cable Street, the fight against Franco and the achievements of Martin Luther King and Ghandi were recited as the party faithful cheered along. Emily is now installed as the firm favourite to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, which – ironically enough – may yet prove to be her undoing given that most Corbynites do not regard her as a true believer. Thornberry did her best to fix that by telling guests at a reception that Labour MPs who no longer feel at home in the party should “stop being so bloody selfish”.
Eyebrows were raised in Liverpool by the antics of Jeremy Corbyn’s security detail, who told a number of delegates he was the Labour leader’s police protection officer. The BBC’s Bodyguard has cast that job in a glamorous light, but there was no happy ending in Liverpool for Corbyn’s security guard. He had to be gently reminded by coppers that impersonating a police officer is a criminal offence.
Fact or fiction?
Talking of Bodyguard, no one wanted to miss the final instalment of Jed Mercurio’s ratings smash, which climaxed on Sunday evening – and senior Labour staffers were no exception. Seumas Milne’s mini-me James Schneider snuck back to his hotel to catch the final episode, and Corbyn’s Stakeholder Manager Laura Murray treated Twitter to a snap of a hotel meal delivered to her room on a silver platter. Nothing’s too good for the workers, of course, and given Andrew Murray’s warning that the “deep state” will stop at nothing to undermine a Corbyn government, Murray fils may simply have been taking detailed notes on how to thwart the security services.
Barry’s Brexit confession
Overheard in the Pullman hotel: Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner telling members he’d vote Remain in a second referendum. He may just have been talking bollocks, of course.
Melancholy about Melenchon
Conference was gripped by excitement as rumours circulated that Bernie Sanders would fly into Liverpool to share his thoughts on how to beat Trumpism. In the event, the man who nearly won the Democratic Presidential nomination couldn’t make it to Merseyside and delegates has to settle for the less well-known French Socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon instead. Like Corbyn, Melenchon is a left-wing rebel who wants to overthrow capitalism – but he chose to leave his party to continue the fight. Corbyn chose a different path by remaking the Labour Party in his own image instead and his accomplished speech on Wednesday showed he may succeed where Melenchon failed.
Battle of the rebels
Another sign of the shifting ideological sands in Labour: the Labour First event attracted a bigger crowd than this year’s Progress rally, which was until recently one of the best-attended events of the week. Both groups are run and staffed by Labour moderates, but the former has now cemented its status as the official resistance movement for members who are sceptical about the Corbyn project.
No time for Nia
Timing is everything in politics, as Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith discovered this week. She told a drinks reception she would stand for post of female deputy leader – the night before plans to create one were scrapped by the NEC.