Everyone was anxious about something or other at the Labour right’s conference rally in Liverpool on Monday night.
The MPs were anxious, the fixers were anxious, the bitter old men were anxious—even the teenagers in suits were anxious.
Some MPs were anxious about losing their jobs. The previous day conference delegates had passed rules making it easier for members to hold MPs to account. Many right wing MPs may now face “reselection” votes by their local members to be allowed to stand for parliament again.
Those who’ve spent three years attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the left now say internal fighting may be a distraction from taking on the Tories.
Caroline Flint complained that MPs like her “don’t get enough credit”. But she tried to strike a defiant tone. “If it’s curtains for Flint I’ll be there staring them down,” she said.
Right wing fixers were anxious that their supporters might leave Labour or start a new party.
Richard Angell, director of the Blairite Progress faction, warned against a right wing split.
“We’ve got to stop talking about joining a new party,” he said.
MP Gareth Thomas was anxious about “hard left types” in the Labour Party. People who apparently “don’t believe in trade unions and have talked of armed insurrection”.
Ian Austin MP was simply anxious the party was left wing. “It makes my blood boil,” he said, that anyone could criticise Tony Blair’s government.
“There has never in history been a leadership as far to the left as this one,” he added. "Previous labour shadow chancellors would never have said they were working to overthrow capitalism. They would never have cited Marx, Lenin and Trotsky as their most significant influences, as John McDonnell did.
No senior Labour figure would ever have backed violent street protests.”
To applause, he proudly pointed to all the right wing betrayals of previous leaders he thought members should be proud of.
“Clement Attlee expelled members of the hard left. His great foreign secretary Ernie Bevin—the driving force behind Nato—insisted on having an independent nuclear deterrent.”
But really he was anxious about the strength of left wing members in the party. In a bizarre final rant he finished, “Some of them might be Stalinists, some of them might be Trotskyists. All of them want to kill us.”
Luke Akehurst of the Labour First faction tried to find some reason to be optimistic. He was encouraged that most MPs and councillors are still from the Labour right.
And he was grateful that trade union leaders had thwarted members’ ambitions for the right to choose their own parliamentary candidates at every election.
But mostly he was anxious too. “The party is in a very, very worrying place,” he said. “Momentum and the hard left have what looks like hegemonic power”.
Still, spirits picked up as the meeting went on. Some of the young wonks at the back had been to the bar and were getting rowdy. There was talk of organising, defending MPs—even recruiting supporters from among the new members.
The problem was, none of them really knew how to do it. As one speaker said, “The trouble with the Labour Party is that anyone who joins us, we’re suspicious of them”.
For some reason, the whole room laughed.