Sunday, 4 October 2015

Divine Discontent, or: Another world is possible - Brighton 2015, and another Labour Conference

My work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong ...”. Keir Hardie

The Labour Conference this year, from the perspective of only a few months ago, looked to be a very unappealing prospect, didn't it? An election lost, and look: Mrs Angry, with pursed lips and folded arms, muttering I told you so, standing alone like Cassandra, cursed with the gift of prophecy, in the temple ruins of Broken Barnet.

Ah well.

A classical view of history, of course, creates a mythological momentum of its own, and so ever it was, and is, in political life, as elsewhere.

From mythology to metaphor is a simple enough regression, and sufficient to the means of writing about the annual Conference: a creaky device employed with enthusiasm last time, two years ago, in Brighton, a perfect setting for a political gathering, being a seaside town seething with suitably compliant variations on the theme of decay, corruption, organised crime - and infidelity.

A naughty weekend in Brighton: the venue of a thousand illicit trysts - but not for Mrs Angry, of course, who spent most of the time in her hotel room, on her bed, staring up not at the ceiling, as such, as in the direction of the velux window, where an insolent pigeon slid up and down, staring at her mockingly, scraping the glass with his claws, depositing the occasional crap, and providing her with her own personal, memorable, metaphorical souvenir.

The symbolic focus of last Brighton Conference, in 2013, the old West Pier, sat forlornly in the sea, - cut off from the shore, as surely as the Labour party leadership itself was isolated from the extent of discontent, divine or otherwise, within the wider membership: the Miliband led opposition and its apparatchiks hid behind the metal barriers of the Conference centre, complicit in self delusion about their electoral chances, stepping through the paces of a relentlessly stage managed programme of events, with set pieces by shadow ministers, and puppet speakers, and a well crafted determination to avoid any meaningful debate, or controversy.

Since 2013, the West Pier has split asunder, caught in the middle of a great storm, and more of the original structure now has fallen in the sea. And yet, there it was, this year, for another Conference, defiant in the glorious late September sun, looking magnificent, in all its decline, surrounded by an expanse of peacock blue-green water, under a violet tinged sky.

Outside the Brighton Centre's secure zone, queuing members were obliged to run the gauntlet of the usual number of leafleting campaigners - but this time something was different: the first thing Mrs Angry was handed, from a rather cross looking young man in a carefully buttoned up, manically ironed shirt, was for a fringe event to do with something called 'Moderate Labour'. She stopped, turned around, and gave it back, explaining that she wasn't. Moderate, that is. He nodded to himself, as if he might have known. But it was the first sign of - yes, sorry ... the sea change that was washing over Conference, the party, and the wider political hinterland.

The new inhabitants of the Labour fringe can never have expected to have found themselves there: and they do not like it.

Inside the zone, this time, was a protest, a timely reminder of the quisling Labour MPs who disgraced themselves, not so long ago, by failing to vote against the Tory Welfare Bill: named, and shamed - and serve them right: and also listed were those who had opposed it, including Jeremy Corbyn:

And here was a grim reminder, from the Grim Reaper, of an issue that the previous leadership somehow failed to grasp as a means to engage with the electorate: the NHS ...

Washed up on the seafront, this year, most surprisingly, were a few members of the ancien regime, so recently the ones who had thought their right to run the party was set in (Ed) stone,  a tenure theirs by right of some peculiar custom and practice: the ultimate closed shop for an elite set of Labour politicians who tremble with fear at the thought of any association with trade unionism.

The programme for Conference was full of events proudly featuring those latterday saints, the former Shadow Cabinet members, no longer in post, but faced with the choice of cancelling their appearance, or putting on a brave face, and a tight smile, and either covertly encouraging a new resistance of Progressives, or gingerly repositioning their political direction, and finding their inner socialist, in order to protect their future interests. Or rather: in order to, what is the phrase? To serve the party, and the country.

There was a marked, and frankly gratifying absence of many of the usual grandstanding party grandees, however: keeping a low profile, at home, languishing on their chaises longues, in the sitting rooms of their Kennington townhouses, crying into the bolster cushions, as they contemplate their once glorious careers, now gone south.

More obvious and more welcome this year were some familiar faces from the trade unions, as seen at the Durham Gala earlier in the year: Len McCluskey, of course, looking very cheerful, and others like Tosh McDonald, from Aslef, his long white hair flowing over his shoulders, enthusiastically applauding the speeches.

As Mrs Angry reported in posts on previous Conferences, Mc Cluskey's speeches, unlike the glib platitudes of the shadow ministers, have obstinately refused to follow the party message, and therefore always provoked a standing ovation from the members in the hall: the clearest sign of the alienation between the leadership and the grassroots which has been, until now, fatally ignored.

This gulf, between party and members, was something that struck Mrs Angry from the very first Conference attended in Manchester, and in the years since had become more and more apparent: the growing resentment between the ordinary  activists; a leadership and party organisation that simply did not communicate, and a party that was in truth no longer a movement for social justice, but a collection of ambitious politicians desperate to get back in power, at any cost, for personal advancement, rather than from a sense of political vocation.

Mrs Angry spotted Chuka Ummuna a couple of times, striding purposefully about, on the road to nowhere in particular, looking particularly sulky; and shortly after the new Shadow Chancellor's speech, noted with amusement the wife of the former Shadow Chancellor, Yvette Cooper, dining in the Hotel du Vin, appearing less than full of the joys of Conference. Mrs Angry thought back, then, to a couple of days before the general election, when Ed Balls had visited Finchley on a whistle stop tour, and his aides had visibly paled when she suggested - and arranged - a photo with striking Barnet library workers ...

Seems a very long time ago, now.

During the GE campaign, there was a distinct reluctance, in fact, in this borough, for Labour candidates and certain local party representatives to be seen, or associated with local strikers, or union organisers. Pretty shabby: and yet typical of how things are, in Broken Barnet.

It was noticeable that the more Blairite, Progress oriented faction within the local party did not bother to attend Conference: they rarely do, which of course is both cause and effect of their disconnection from the issues which are pushing through the grassroots renewal of the party. Not to attend, or listen to debate involving alternative points of view, to open up to the possibility of change, is a huge mistake.

Of course it is expensive to attend Conference, but when it is in Brighton, one can always come for just the day: unless you are desperate to avoid any challenge to your ideas - or in some cases, to avoid Mrs Angry - and take part to some degree.

One thing had not changed, at Conference this year - not yet. Too early even for them to realise their days are numbered: the young men who think they run the party, and congregate at Conference like a plague of grey winged locusts, the young men in suits, taken seriously because they take themselves so seriously, despite their lack of life experience - many of them too young to have lived through the harsh reality of the Thatcher government, the children of Blair's Britain, who have grown up in a post industrial era, removed from any first hand knowledge of manual labour, organised labour, working class Labour politics.

The party structure has perpetuated a culture of young, male political dominance, inherited from Westminster, in which women, even young women, are peripheral, and older women simply invisible.

It is reflected and sustained by a similarly dominated political commentariat, more varied in age, but with an attitude particularly surprising to find repeated within the confines of social media, and representing a culture which pervades the party nationally, and locally, and has to change, and will change, with luck, as the new leadership takes over.

While looking up the history of the West Pier, funnily enough, Mrs Angry, the devoted psychogeographer that she is, had noted, with great interest, that one of its less well known film appearances ... was in that masterpiece of seventies British cinema: Carry On Girls.

Perhaps you have forgotten the plot, and the story of seaside 'Fircombe' Council, and the beauty contest proposed by Cllr Sidney Fiddler, and opposed by feminist councillor Augusta Prodworthy? Lost trousers, dolly birds, bra-burning, donkeys, itching powder - and nude photo shoots. Yes: sounds like the usual Labour party conference.

Seventies style sexism may seem awfully funny, now. Yet for some reason, when it takes place not at the end of a pier, but behind the secure zone of a Labour conference, no one bats an eyelid.

Carry On Comrades.

But Mrs Angry likes to believe that the times really are changing, and this means a genuine chance for women to play a more equal part in our party, and not as a token, cardboard cut out, two dimensional presence in the process of democracy.

The beginning of this year's Conference, and the rather more relaxed way in which it was overseen, was indicative of the fundamental changes that are on the way now. The Chair, Jim Kennedy, came out, closely followed, unannounced, by a man in an open necked shirt, and a crumpled jacket, who tried to slip onto the stage unnoticed: yes, the leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn. He received an instant, spontaneous ovation, but typically, immediately, with his usual modesty, began to applaud the members in the audience, in return.

Most noticeably, and pointedly, the pink and blue themed Conference signs and staging had been replaced by an unabashed, full blooded, socialist red.

And here was a novelty: the lack of manic control of the proceedings themselves - complaints allowed, from members of the audience, as well as on stage, regarding what had and had not been allowed for debate, at Conference. Remarks, heckled, were made from the floor, regarding procedure - and the Chair listened, and responded. Flipping heck. Remember Keith Vaz, and his autocratic chairing: "Comrades ... Sistahs, and Brothers"? F*ck you, Comrade Vaz - here is the beginning of something rather more authentic ...

Mrs Angry wrote in her notebook: there is a sense of the party feeling its way ... to a new way of  doing things, without entirely knowing where it is going ...

As the Chair spoke, down among the delegates, a little girl, still a baby, clung to her mum, and cried out, intermittently; restlessly: an unexpected sound in the Conference hall - and a welcome reminder of the real world outside. Do they have childcare facilities, at Conference? Probably not. Not yet.

We sat then, and watched tribute paid to two long serving party members and activists: a man who was a hundred years old, and a veteran of the second World War, and Myrtle, an 87 year old member from Easington, in Durham, who makes pies, and Mrs Angry, at this point, and to her credit, did not look in the direction of Tom Watson, or speculate as to who might have eaten them all.

The emphasis, at the opening of Conference, then, on a more modest, inclusive, democratic form of procedure. A good start.

Above the stage, in the absence of all the One Nation Miliband shite, there was a simple message: 'Straight Talking, Honest Politics' ... and do you know, readers: that was pretty much what we got?

Ian McNichol addressed Conference, talking about the election disaster. He observed that no one owns the Labour Party: we have it on trust, inherited from those who founded the movement - the miners, the factory workers, the people who stood on soap boxes, the founding members to whom we have a solemn duty.

Mrs Angry could hardly believe her ears. No one had mentioned 'aspiration', or rewards for hard working families, or one nation, and here we were, not worried at all about scaring off the middle class vote with risky references to working class history, and the founding principles of the Labour movement.

The previous evening had been a long and restless one for Mrs Angry, bravely staying, for one night only, in papist intolerant Lewes, before moving to Brighton, in a hotel which turned out, according to some ill judged late night googling, to be notorious for its ... uninvited guests: a very old house, steeped in history, where the past, late at night, seemed more tangible than the present.

In a distinctly sinister bedroom, furnished entirely with antiques, and no visible sign of any 21st century hotel facilities, like a phone (all hidden, the morning revealed, behind the velvet curtains), the only thing to do, (and distract Mrs Angry's over excited imagination from the story of what had happened, one night, in Room 26) presented itself there, on the dressing table: a volume of Shelley's poetry, of all things. It seems the house had once belonged to his family. (The clue, unnoticed, via, was in the name, of course, in retrospect) ... Mrs Angry took it to bed, and opened it, with perfect synchronicity, on a page with the following phrase, from the Masque of Anarchy:

Rise like Lions after slumber 
In unvanquishable number, 
Shake your chains to earth like dew 
Which in sleep had fallen on you - 
Ye are many - they are few.

Rise like lions ... seemed like a promise of good fortune, after last year.

Although, that particular night, the night of the blood moon, hanging low over a deathly quiet Lewes; a lunar Eclipse, had in itself seemed to offer its own good omen to Mrs Angry - but perhaps more appropriate was another Shelley poem, 'To the Moon':

Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain ...

During the long hours of the night, there was opportunity enough to consider why it is that restless spirits from the past find it so hard to let go of the places they once occupied. Which thought re-occurred, that morning, sitting rather sleepily in the Conference hall, faced with the ordeal of sitting through a report presented by Margaret Beckett, yes, she who had said she regretted nominating the new leader - standing there now, in front of him, in her vintage get up, and all the faded grandeur of a former Foreign Secretary from the Blair era.

Why was this spectre, a ghost of Conferences Past, haunting the stage? She had been tasked some while ago by Harriet Harman with the job of presenting a report into the General Election, and 'learning lessons'.

Hmm. And what were those lessons? Mrs Angry sat forward, with pen and notebook poised. Ah. Yes. Something not one of us had thought of.

It seems we did not win enough votes, in the right places.

Groundbreaking stuff. Slightly short of any useful analysis, or controversial theories as to why that might have been the case, but then clearly Mrs Beckett wasn't keen to hang around, and that was that.

Later in the day there was listed a fringe meeting in the Grand Hotel which promised to be, and was, completely oversubscribed, for the size of the venue: organised by Class, on the future of the left, with speakers Frances O'Grady, Jo Stevens, MP, Professor Danny Dorling, and Owen Jones.

It is now compulsory, at a Labour party fringe meeting, to have Owen Jones on the panel, preferably wearing the same navy jumper (Mrs Jones, have a word with your boy), and drawing doodles of angry men on his notebook.

The room at the front of the hotel, blinds drawn in the fierce late afternoon sun, was packed, and many forced to stand at the sides, out of the doors, behind the speakers: but they were desperately keen to be there, and the atmosphere of excitement built as the meeting wore on, an energy welling up from the depth of feeling amongst those present, the desire for change, reform; an unapologetic restitution of socialist principles within the Labour movement - and what now seems like a real opportunity to accomplish at least some of those things.

Danny Dorling spoke in detail of the vast inequality in this country, and how shamefully poorly we compare to other nations; Owen Jones on the impact on young people, students and children. Frances O'Grady spoke about the iniquitous Trade Union bill, which may oblige strikers to wear armbands, in order to stigmatise them for their perfectly lawful activity, their right to protest, to withhold their labour.

FASCISM! shouted an elderly lady, perched on a window ledge.

Labour, said Frances O' Grady - and here, Margaret, is the conclusion your report appears unable to have seen, and a lesson not learned - did NOT lose the election because of policies that were too left wing. To great applause, she continued, urging the party to return to its core values.

Owen Jones made a very important point, when talking about the refugee crisis: he spoke of his own visit to Calais, and how the public perception changed with the dreadful loss of the Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, one of many, but whose tragic story enabled a deeper understanding of the crisis: we have to use the language of stories, Jones said, not statistics, to engage the natural empathy of others, in situations when all humanity has been stripped away, and terrible things left unregarded by the wider world.

And he is right isn't he, and not just about the refugee crisis?

How else to counter the appalling cruelty, the deliberate humiliation of the poor, the vulnerable, and the dispossessed, being perpetrated by the vicious, sociopathic Tory government we are forced to endure now?

Tell the stories, show the impact of those being hurt by the policies being imposed on us: remind us all of the frailty of our fellow human beings, our neighbours and fellow citizens - and restore the dignity of the human spirit.

As he said, we can't elect our media, the majority of which is set on a course of supporting such policies, but we have other ways and means: perhaps we are seeing the political answer, now in a mass movement that has already elected a new leader of our party, and swelled the ranks of the membership.

Owen Jones, and some top doodling

Another older woman sitting quietly on the side asked to speak: her generation, she said, knew what the Labour party was, before "New Labour". New Labour never was, she claimed, the Labour party - and Jeremy Corbyn is not some sort of extremist. She referred to the 1945 Manifesto, that returned a Labour government, under Attlee: this was her bible, she said.

A common wish expressed was to supplant the culture of fear, that now has us in its grasp, with hope: hope is contagious, observed Owen Jones. And he is right, and really that feeling was the overriding emotion, of this Conference. Not amongst the party employees, or the Blairites, or the few grandees who bothered to turn up, but amongst the ordinary members, in the hall, at the fringe meetings, in the queues, in the street: the grassroots activists, but also the noticeably large number of new members, of all ages and backgrounds - and returning members.

Next morning Mrs Angry slipped into the back of the Conference hall, to hear the new shadow chancellor speak. Coming in late, she had seen the beginning of the speech on a tv screen, complete with scrolling autocue. Slightly perplexing, then, to read Mr McDonnell was promising an end to "disco-nation", although an idea not entirely unwelcome to Mrs Angry, who has an aversion to sequins, satin, and mullet sporting men in spandex. (Even in Brighton: sorry boys). He may have been trying to make a point about discrimination, but by then Mrs Angry was in the house, and listening to the central part of his speech.

And what a speech it was, made with refreshing modesty and simplicity, but confidence, and very well received by the members in the hall, cheering and applauding as the new leader, and his close friend, took a photo of the Shadow Chancellor with his ipad.

Mc Donnell carefully laid down the basis of his economic vision, one which so many members have been waiting for, not an endorsement of Conservative policies, but a total rejection of the fiction of austerity, and a determination to find another way, a better way to stimulate growth, rationalise spending in fairness, and in such a way as to safeguard the public services upon which we all rely, and mindful of the best interests of those most in need - and to involve the ordinary citizens of this country in a debate as to how we do this, rather than impose a cruel regime of cuts and policies that hurt only the most vulnerable members of our society.

After the Shadow Chancellor's speech

It was another example of a the theme of this Conference: a quiet, grown up conversation, after the gangling puppetry and school boy antics of the Miliband leadership.

This is the new politics, he said, as we all - or most of us - breathed a sigh of relief. And then: a last gesture, a reaffirmation, as he ended with a salutation that gave an historic perspective to the new politics, and as a middle aged woman in the audience stood up, punching the air - Solidarity!

Later that night, Barnet councillor Devra Kay and Mrs Angry decided to go to another fringe meeting, in the historic Friends Meeting House, in Ship Street, just down the road from Mrs Angry's hotel. Thinking it best to get there early, we arrived 45 minutes or so before the time listed. There was already a queue, all the way from the doors to the front gate. We just made it inside, and sat down in the wonderful Georgian building, which has witnessed more than two hundred years of earnest debate, and prayer, the expression of hope for a better world - and has a history of welcoming radical, peaceful reformist groups.

Behind the speakers' table were banners from local associations, reminders of the history of the Labour movement, at a meeting as we were, of the Labour Representation Committee, reformed in 2004, but which in its original version had been responsible for the formation of the Labour party itself, and is, according to its rather sniffy wikipedia entry "... often seen as representing the most left wing members of the Labour Party ..."  Ooh, er.

Hoorah. We are among friends, as well as Friends, then.

One of the banners, in fact, was from the Sussex LRC branch, and featured a reference to the Swing Riots, an uprising, in 1830, of agricultural labourers protesting against the merciless industrialisation that was forcing them into poverty - and the equally merciless poor laws that condemned them for the inevitable hardship they were forced to endure as a result. Sound familiar?

Excellent speeches, in a room seething with an atmosphere that really, and quite appropriately, in the circumstances, one could only compare to a religious gathering - a revivalist meeting.

Throughout the evening, speakers from the hall slipped outside to address the crowds which could not get in, their cheers and applause audible in the main meeting, adding to the sense of something greater than itself: more than an event, or a series of events: the demonstration of a movement, a change in the tide: a moment of history, informed and empowered by a reminder of the beginning of the history of the party itself.

Former MP Katy Clark gave an impassioned, stirring speech, beginning with a reminder of Keir Hardie, who brought together trade unions and socialist groups in the LRC, and established the beginning of the party. It was a hundred years ago, this past weekend, that he died.

Katy Clark was not the only politician to draw comparisons between the legacy of Hardie, and the new party leader: their innate modesty, and acts of kindness - she told the story of Keir Hardie giving his coat to a poor woman without one, and described an incident in which Corbyn apparently, asked to donate a pair of shoes to charity, took off the ones he was wearing, and cycled home in his socks. Compassion, she said, is something the Labour Party has forgotten about, but Corbyn's leadership would return it to the heart of our values.

She had been in tears, listening to John Mc Donnell, that morning, and his assertion that, yes, another world is possible. We must persuade others, now, that austerity doesn't work, that it is a political choice, and that socialism is a consistent vision of democracy: giving us all as much control as possible over our lives.

FBU chief Matt Wrack gave another fine address: he remarked that people were sick to death of politicians who look the same, talk the same. He talked about the emergence of a mass movement (at this point one of the banners suddenly lunged forward, as if to underline the point). He referred to the 1945 manifesto, which the LRC had reprinted, and was selling at the meeting: Mrs Angry picked one up, on the way out.

Matt Wrack, and from left, Laura Watkins, and Richard Burgon

The next speaker was a truly inspirational woman, Laura Watkins, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes. A highly intelligent and articulate young woman, who made a point hardly made at all, with any conviction, elsewhere at Conference, except perhaps by Frances O'Grady: that the impact of austerity falls hardest of all on women, and with the greatest impact on low paid women, forced to choose between a meagre range of exploitative work, and increasingly, in some cases, driven into prostitution.

Austerity, as she remarked, really is a sexist policy, targeting, punishing and marginalising women with welfare cuts, and a lack of fairly paid employment, directly contributing to the increase in sex workers, 70% of whom are single mothers. More women are in prison, than ever before, in a society that seeks to criminalise both prostitutes, and their clients, thereby making the lives of sex workers, especially women, more precarious, - and dangerous.

After the meeting, Mrs Angry and Laura fell into conversation, mostly about the Crossroads Womens' centre in Kentish Town, with which she is involved. You're from Barnet, she exclaimed: ohbut ... what are they doing to your libraries? It's terrible ...

Yes: what are they doing to our libraries, that even a seasoned activist like Laura Watkins, working with some of the most challenging social issues imaginable, is appalled (- more on this to come in the next post, on the destruction of our library service, courtesy of Barnet Tories).

MP Richard Burgon spoke next: a great speech again, incisive, ambitious, yet pragmatic: defining why this was such an historic moment for the Labour movement, as if we didn't know - the fact that at last, the neoliberal economic consensus was being challenged by the leadership of a party that could actually, conceivably, form the next government.

He talked of the fear of real change, however, that exists in some quarters: of those disorientated by the sheer pace of change: come and join us, was the message - be part of the new kind of politics.

As he was speaking, Mrs Angry could not help but notice someone arriving at the side door of the Meeting House. He tried to enter the meeting without any fuss, but as soon as John Mc Donnell walked in, the room simply erupted: hard to recall a reception quite like it, in truth: everyone in the room stood and applauded the new Shadow Chancellor and we all knew that yes, it really was a moment to remember, and confirmation of something that has been a long time coming - a party re-affirming its historic roots, and a new commitment to the principles on which the Labour movement was founded.

John Mc Donnell addresses the Labour Representation Committee

Hard to recall exactly what he said, and Mrs Angry was too much in the moment to take notes, for once, but there is a scribble in her notebook about the responsibility on our shoulders, and how we take the fight to our communities, and - oh: I'll get into trouble, on this one, he said, using (peaceful) direct action, where necessary - or even occupation. To hear a Shadow Chancellor with the courage to advocate civil disobedience, and action based on principle, and passion, for what is right, was truly an extraordinary moment. The hall thundered with applause.

Next day, of course, was centred on the Leader's Speech, an event which caused no little resentment last year for those thousands of members who queued up hours beforehand, only to find they were not allowed in, while the audience was planted with favoured members and hangers on. This time, things were different, and we did actually manage to get in.

Sarah Sackman, waiting for the leader's speech

Sitting in the front of the balcony, above a swathe of terse looking SpAds, party organisers and boys in suits, an elderly woman in a matronly pink straw hat, trimmed with a Jez We Can ribbon smiled down at the stage. We sat and listened - not to Florence & the Machine, nor this time were we forced to watch  a montage of images of the Dear Leader, North Korean style - just a repetition of ' Different Strokes, for Different Folks/ I ... love Everyday People' ...

Another perfectly judged departure, next, to begin the speech: not the appearance of the Leader, but an introduction from a young woman, Rohi Malik, from the leader's constituency: child of an immigrant father, who became a GP, now studying medicine herself, and there to welcome her local MP, Jeremy Corbyn.

When Corbyn himself came on, the hall was immediately, clearly, in a state of fervour previously not witnessed by Mrs Angry, at previous Conferences. It had more the feeling of a rally, in truth, up in the cheap seats, where the grassroots members were sitting. A celebration of faith, with Corbyn the chosen if unlikely focus, a unwordly leader with an ascetic approach to his duties that verge on something almost spiritual: the appointed figurehead, from a priestly cult.

No need to repeat in detail what Corbyn said, really, is there? You've heard it all ... and you can read the full speech here.

In the Indy, Matthew Norman referred to him as the Jimmy Stewart Labour leader, as in Mr Smith Goes to Washington, but Corbyn is perhaps in more of an essentially British cultural and cinematic tradition, the unexpected champion of the underdog, who rises to the occasion, and wins against all the odds, in some stalwart, morale boosting film of the forties, or fifties - Went the Day Well, yes, Passport to Pimlico ... where people, in their British way, innately decent people, at last get mad as hell, and refuse to take it any more: as he said in his speech:

“...  you don’t have to take what you’re given.

Labour says: “You may be born poor but you don’t have to stay poor. 

You don’t have to live without power and without hope.

You don’t have to set limits on your talent and your ambition - or those of your children. 

You don’t have to accept prejudice and discrimination, or sickness or poverty, or destruction and war. 

You don’t have to be grateful to survive in a world made by others. 

No, you set the terms for the people in power over you, and you dismiss them when they fail you.”

Next to us, some fabulous women actually danced, in the end, as the leader left the stage, and music played, in a way you might have seen at an ANC meeting, in honour of Mandela: at the very least,  Corbyn appears already to provoke a personal loyalty and affection that Miliband could only have dreamt of.

Interestingly, so many of those in the audience, at other events, were new members, or returning members, perhaps the majority of them were women. Next to Mrs Angry was a middle aged woman from deepest Tory Berkshire, a new member, sceptical before the speech, but at the end absolutely won over: that was what she wanted to hear, she said.

Unfortunately by this time Mrs Angry, who is not very uncomfortable in large crowds, at the best of times,  could hardly concentrate on what was being said, feeling rather faint and uneasy. On returning to the hotel room, - and the pigeon, leering down from the blue sky above - the heat and a sense of disorientation, amongst other unfortunate matters, had conspired to make her feel distinctly unwell, and take to her bed, and that was, for her, the end of Conference.

But what a Conference it was.

Back home, lying about feeling sorry for herself, there was time to pick up the copy of the 1945 manifesto, and read it through, read the promises made, to the British people, seventy years ago.

Promises taken on trust, and delivered, with pride, by a new Labour government, and with Attlee as leader, a man courageous enough to live by what he believed to be right, and practical enough to be able to make his vision of hope for a better world a reality.

The headings say it all, still: Jobs For All, Industry in the Service of the Nation, housing, education, a new National Health Service, for the nation, and its children, Social Insurance Against The Rainy Day, A World of Progress and Peace: a time when optimism, and the need for a radical political agenda, was not only expressed, but supported and voted for, quite incredibly, by the electorate, in a country still dominated by a privileged establishment.

The grandsons of that privileged establishment are in power once more, and with ruthless application, are set on destroying all the achievements in social reform made by the post war government, with a zeal that appears nothing short of deliberate cruelty, and a determination to humiliate those in need, the triumph of a bullying culture set on protecting its own self interest.

Jeremy Corbyn's plea for a kinder politics, a more caring society, where, as he demanded, with maybe just a nod to those lines from Shelley, we reject an economy and a political process that works for the few, not for the many: this strikes a chord not only amongst traditional Labour members, but members we have lost, and members we can win, if we have the courage of our convictions, remain loyal to the founding principles of the Labour movement, and reach out beyond the imaginary limitations of our own boundaries.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

superbly written!