British Labour Party: Corbyn’s moment

Alternative vision of a future beyond Brexit remains ambiguous and unrealistic but is going in the right direction

 

Britain’s Labour Party has had a very good annual conference this week, capped by its leader Jeremy Corbyn’s spirited and confident speech yesterday in which he pronounced it ready for government. Such a claim would have been laughed out by sceptics, media and most voters last year. Its ring of truth now tells a remarkable story about the surge of a younger membership since then, his steadfastness in consolidating his leadership and an excellent campaign in June’s unexpected general election from which Labour emerged much stronger and, as this conference shows, more united.

Greater party unity has been forged from bitter battles in which Corbyn’s leadership and radical policies won support from the party’s renewed base, against a background of continuing disarray among the Conservatives in government. Members of parliament who opposed him had to concede after the general election he has earned and will hold his position. Both Blairites and centrists agree the leadership’s skilful handling of the manifesto’s compromises between radical and centrist policies chimed with party and voter sentiment. As a result Labour is committed to a programme of greater social and gender equality, more public investment in jobs and industry and, as Corbyn put it yesterday, a “progressive relationship with Europe”.

This last objective is the most difficult and challenging for the party and its leadership. Corbyn accepts the result of last year’s Brexit vote but is pledged to oppose vehemently its implementation by the Conservative government as a “Trump-style race to the bottom” involving a “tax haven low-wage, deregulated playground for hedge funds and speculators”. He was scathing about its factional divisions and the minimal progress made so far in the Brussels negotiations.

His alternative vision of a future beyond Brexit, in which the UK has access to the single market and the customs union, remains ambiguous and unrealistic and needs to be much sharper in the parliamentary battles to come. It is nonetheless going in the right direction.

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