Putting aside the stress of organising seven events while trying to cover every major development and sending out a morning email, I came out of Labour conference inspired. Yes, the atmosphere was a little flat and the terrible weather didn’t help. Among Corbynsceptics, there was considerable anger over the Labour Students fiasco and the failed attempt to abolish the deputy leader post; among Remainers, there is still indignation over the Brexit position being decided by a show of hands rather than a card vote. But there were also great leaps forward in terms of both policy and tone, laying the ground for an early election campaign full of optimism in the enthusiastic drive towards a more just future.
This is reflected in the list I’ve put together of policy announcements and key motions passed at conference, and in the fantastic party political broadcast released last night. Labour does not need to limit itself to complaining about Tory austerity – it can explain its impact before outlining a vision for a green economy, reiterating the value of public service and reminding us how good a sense of community feels.
The quality of debate in the House of Commons yesterday did its best to ruin that good cheer. Watching the proceedings in the chamber, it was difficult not to feel as if we were being drained of all hope, as if a Dementor had swooped over our politics and sucked out our collective soul. First, Geoffrey Cox joked that being asked about his knowledge of prorogation plans was comparable to “a ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ question”. When asked by Labour’s Emma Hardy to “moderate his language”, the Attorney General noted that it was “an old saying at the Bar”.
It only got worse from there. Women stood up to tell the Prime Minister that they consistently received death and rape threats, that their friend and colleague was murdered not long ago, that the language being used in political discourse was putting their safety at risk. Boris Johnson’s response? “I have to say that I have never heard such humbug in all my life.” Alison McGovern said: “Those of us who constantly remember our friend Jo Cox need our political culture to change now.” The PM’s response? “The best way to sort this out is to get Brexit done.” It is no surprise that he has been called a “disgusting sociopath” and received censure (though much too light) from his own side.
The horrible truth is that this mess won’t be properly communicated to the wider public. For one, Johnson is right that the political elite has failed the country – whether that is by not convincing the public of Remain, not getting Brexit done, or holding a referendum with unclear consequences; everyone should be agreed on that point. Of course, he has done nothing to improve that situation, but it is nonetheless an accurate criticism. And the other basic fact is that opposition parties are refusing to express no confidence in this government – the one that they have no confidence in – because they cannot come together behind an interim leader. Even with Jeremy Corbyn promising only to extend Article 50 and trigger an election as a caretaker Prime Minister, the Lib Dems won’t budge. And that is another serious failing, one that isn’t being pointed out enough.
We can hope that during an election campaign, the virulent misogyny of the Prime Minister and his bare-faced lies are exposed. But we should not underestimate the damage that keeping the Tories in power is doing right now, even if it does appear to be the right move strategically. Johnson is systematically, with clear purpose, lowering the tone of political discourse to new depths while Labour is just as trapped in this Saw-style nightmare as he is. We’re all afraid of a snap poll held in the cold and before at least some kind of decision on Brexit is made, but waiting isn’t good enough.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.