The Labour Party conference this year was like none other: energetic, hopeful, and driven. The party presented itself as united behind its leader, with a strong manifesto they genuinely believed in, and the persistent certainty that they are ready to govern whenever the opportunity arises.
This was a far cry from the conferences of the last two years. It is no surprise that the party leadership wanted to put the memories of the 2015 Labour conference – when Corbyn had just been voted party leader and it would be an understatement to say there was a lack of preparation for the conference – and 2016, where Corbyn had just won a second leadership referendum and there was a strong sense of disparity among those who had attempted to oust him and those who were in favour of Corbyn – behind them.
This year, the conference ran smoothly: there were keynote speeches from Dennis Skinner and John McDonnell and academic speakers, significant policy announcements which marked the biggest move from New Labour yet, and a variety of fringe events which attracted huge crowds; Jeremy Corbyn received a rapturous reception wherever he went.
‘the party presented itself as united, with a strong manifesto they genuinely believed in.’
Perhaps the most noteworthy soundbite of the conference was Corbyn’s assertion that Labour represent the ‘new centre ground’. In his keynote speech at the end of the conference, Corbyn claimed that neoliberalism is broken, and, looking at the recent tragedies which have plagued British politics, there aren’t too many who would disagree with him.
The Grenfell Tower fire, tax avoidance by big businesses and the crisis of the NHS, all of which the Labour party promised to address and rectify, show that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that neoliberalism is failing, and Labour appear determined and capable of seizing on this. At a time when the Conservative party are appearing more out of touch than ever, the Labour party got it right at this year’s conference. They focused not on Brexit, but on the issues which have been overshadowed by Brexit over the past months in a bid to prove their worth as an alternative to what has become the status quo of the Conservative-led government.
‘corbyn’s claim that his party represent the new centre ground is a bold move.’
Corbyn claimed that his party are a ‘government in waiting’, and their displays of unity and messages of hope and security showed this to be exactly the case in Brighton this year. They have a clear message on creating a fairer, more equal society and their assertion that they are of the side of the many, not the few, was reinforced throughout the conference, from pledging rent-controls and ending the gentrification of many areas in Britain, to plans for a National Education Service.
One of the most well-received policies was John McDonnell’s announcement that, in government, Labour would bring all Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) back in-house, and end the outsourcing of the management of public services to private firms.
Corbyn’s claim that his party represent the new centre ground is a bold move, especially considering May’s announcement of a cap on energy prices harks back to Ed Miliband’s very same promise in 2013. However, it would appear that the centre ground has shifted: more people are attracted to the policies of the Labour party to the point that many believe they’ve promised their most radical manifesto since 1945. It’s clear to see why Corbyn asserted that 2017 is ‘the year that politics finally caught up with the crash of 2008’.
The Labour party conference seemed reassuringly grounded in a time of constant political turmoil. They offered policies which would’ve been considered ludicrous even two years ago, and appealed to more of the British public than they could have imagined following the second leadership election which left the party looking anything but ready for government. Whenever the next election does come around, the Labour party seem to have set themselves up for success, but it remains to be seen if they can translate their radical agenda for change into a reality.