16th May 2016
Labour, Progress, Jeremy Corbyn and the future!
By Tim Carter
I want to start this post by saying that Jeremy Corbyn agreeing to speak at a Progress event was a sensible thing to do. It showed that he is attempting to reach out to all parts of the membership. It should end any nonsense about “red Tories” and calls for the deselection of Progress-supporting MPs.
So, I jumped on a bus and travelled across London. The day had started badly as I was running late. But for the first time in ages I had a spring in my step and was actually looking forward to a day of inspiration and passionate speeches.
I arrived at Congress House and booked in and found a seat. Familiar faces and friendly waves convinced me that I had made the right decision to attend. Recently I have become an armchair Labour supporter – mainly because the constant fighting and lack of any coherent message or electoral offer had started to get to me. I guess that I was now a Labour voter rather than a Labour activist.
My late arrival meant I missed the opening contribution from the leader of the party in Scotland. Then Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle Council and, I am told, a good leader, started to speak. I listened and couldn’t believe that he was attempting to paint the local elections as a triumph. I listened as he argued for a bigger role for councillors in the Party. More seats on the NEC, more say at regional level. But perhaps more depressingly he seemed to be arguing that things were OK. Comments from the floor, mainly from councillors supported him. His message appeared to be; tinker with internal structures and everything will be ok.
It was almost as though he was surrendering any belief that we could ever win a general election again, and if we didn’t it would matter because we had control of ‘core city councils’
I started to think about food. It was easier and more comforting. Skipping through the next session, the highlight being some much needed passion from Wes Streeting – a councillor and MP who understands that winning core cities isn’t enough!
After the break the hall filled to bursting and Jeremy arrived to polite applause and what I would describe as a warm welcome. He started well, a few jokes. He comes across as a very personable and friendly bloke.
The Long Sentence…
I listened, he spoke. It was one long sentence without a breath. It wasn’t really a speech but a gentle stroll through the battles of yesterday. I clapped because I wanted him to be able to take a breath. From Poll Tax to Reagan, Mandela and Thatcher he spoke at length. But Jeremy being Jeremy, polite as ever, he stopped his speech to thank us when we clapped. A nice, if rather odd thing to do.
He told us that he occasionally read newspapers and that he had noticed that people were rude about him. He told us that he wouldn’t respond to such rudeness. But here in a leader’s speech he decided to mention it!
I wanted inspiration and leadership. I wanted a vision. An outline of the road to electoral victory. What I got was a very poor lecture about the past.
The long sentence ended and we moved on to questions. Each question was answered with, I would like to say an answer, but that would be a lie. Each question was answered with yet another long ramble.
There were positives. He said that anti-semitism was wrong (period). He said a lot of nice stuff but it was a safe wander through a very long sentence. It was, I think, a speech he has probably made many times before.
Sadly it wasn’t inspirational, passionate or the speech of a leader or a Prime Minister in waiting.
To end on a positive note it was an important moment in his leadership, he has I hope realised that Progress are friends, not foes and in internal Labour Party politics that probably matters more than his difficulty in delivering a speech.
By Tim Carter (@forwardnotback)