Luther’s take on Labour Party Conference 2016

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To Liverpool, where the state of the weather was Hardy-esque in its representation of the mood of those attending this year’s Labour Party Conference – cold, wet and ever so slightly glum.

First to note is that the anticipated large scale protests and threats of violence didn’t in fact materialise. Corbynites largely avoided the main conference in favour of their alternative festival also taking place in the city, ‘The World Transformed’. The hotel bars were noticeably empty but those who were there were the remnants of the Blair years, be-suited progressives pining for Government.

Attendance was low this year. The exhibition hall was half empty and padded out with a huge media centre that was clearly there just to take up space. The conference hall itself was partitioned to make it less obvious how few people were in attendance.

Conference was light on policy this year too. Neither the Shadow Cabinet nor the Shadow-Shadow team (the name given to those MPs who under almost any other leader would be on the front bench, and who had coordinated their messaging through the week) seemed interested in scrutinising Government policy or proposing much by way of new ideas. We emerged from several fringes none the wiser about the Labour view of different issues. The one exception to that was devolution, which was the focus of several events and where recent Mayoral wins in London and Bristol had buoyed local government leaders, who will demand growing powers for their local communities in the months and years ahead.

Several MPs arrived late and left early, but those positioning themselves to win select committee chairmanships were highly visible. Yvette Cooper had clearly worked out that copying the Luther team’s schedule was a smart move and followed us to both the New Statesman and Mirror parties.

For those interested in party minutiae, Conference was seen as largely successful for the moderates in the party, who out-organised the Corbynites via a WhatsApp group and won crucial votes to retain control of various parts of the party machinery. Concerns that, for example, that London Mayor Sadiq Khan would be booed on stage, proved unfounded. He received a hero’s welcome, as did Deputy Leader Tom Watson. They were also the only two politicians who had retained the entourages which were everywhere two years ago.

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