Left on way back, but not in UK

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Jim reports from the Labour conference in Brighton and reflects that whilst the Left have triumphed in America and Germany, Labour's revival in Britain is still not certain.

GERMAN RESULT ENCOURAGING

President Biden’s victory last November and the likelihood of a Social Democrat Chancellor in Germany is very encouraging. In the late years of the last decade the populist right was winning everywhere with Trump, Bolsonaro (Brazil) and Johnson providing a triumvirate to depress everyone on the centre left.

Angela Merkel was also from the right but used her power cautiously and was hailed as the mother of Germany. Despite this her party has suffered heavy defeats in the elections with the Social Democrats rising from the ashes and the Greens advancing well. Barring some freak deal by the Christian Democrats, Europe’s most powerful economy should be in the hands of the left come Christmas. With Germany and the United States having progressive governments, it suggests that we are not on a permanent march to the right. May we also look for signs of change in Britain?

STRUTTING THEIR STUFF IN BRIGHTON

I went to the Labour conference in Brighton to try to answer that question.

Corbynistas are still very strong among activists who are always overrepresented at conference. However, Sir Keir Starmer had the unions on side to drive through reforms that should see an end to unelectable leaders of the party emerging again and MPs having to fight endless reselection battles.

Rules were put in place to try and root out anti-Semitism. Louise Ellman seems convinced they will work. The former Liverpool Riverside MP has re-joined the party. One aide remarked that Ellman in, Andy McDonald out looked like a good move to him. McDonald was the Corbynite Shadow Cabinet Minister who quit during conference.

Starmer has had a reasonable conference. His best line was that victory in the General Election was more important than party unity. It is an important statement because it signals that he won’t bow to the left as he tries to focus on policies that will attract back traditional Labour supporters.

There were a number of policy announcements from him and his highly competent Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves. £28bn a year for climate change, abolition of business rates and the removal of charitable status from private schools may help to deal with the question of what Labour stands for.

But the fact remains that Labour should be streets ahead in the polls. It is mid-term, and the government are messing up on multiple fronts. Take their solution to the haulage driver shortage. Only a government led by an Old Etonian could come up with a policy which amounts to this: “Hey you Romanian person. Come to the UK to help us out, but only for three months. We like to hire and fire”.

So still lagging in the polls, doubts remain about Starmer’s leadership. All week I saw Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Deputy Leader and Ashton MP Angela Rayner attending every fringe meeting possible. They leave the impression that they are available to offer a more vibrant leadership should a vacancy arise.

Burnham had the better week. Angela Rayner’s “scum” remark at the party’s North West reception did her no favours. It is true Boris Johnson has made racist jokes. He has also appointed the most diverse set of ministers in British political history.

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