James Grundy MP: The ghost of Corbyn haunts Labour

It’s party political conference season at the moment, and whilst in the main, the conferences won’t be getting the same viewership as the World Cup finals, they do set the tone for whether a party is ready for government or not.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 10:13 am
Updated Thursday, 7th October 2021, 10:14 am
James Grundy

Last week, we saw the Labour Party conference. It was a conference metaphorically haunted by the ghost of Jeremy Corbyn, and Labour Leader Keir Starmer must have been grinding his teeth with fury as the actual Jeremy Corbyn turned up to address various fringe events, lauded by a gaggle of Momentum activists, and reminding huge numbers of former Labour voters exactly why they are former Labour voters.

Labour seems to be a party divided exactly in two, and the fact that Jeremy Corbyn could turn up at the Labour conference, despite being expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party, rather shows their confused position at the moment.

Having Jeremy Corbyn half-in and half-out of the Labour Party will be about as convincing to swing voters as the Labour position on Brexit was at the last election.

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Labour leader Keir Starmer seems trapped between the two wings of his party, desperate to move right to improve his electability, but afraid to do so due to the serried ranks of hard left Momentum activists ready to resist him, by hook or by crook or by twitterstorm.

There were two moments during the Labour conference that summed up how conflicted Labour are at the moment.

One was the incredibly painful interview that Keir Starmer gave to breakfast television where he was unable to state clearly whether one of his own MPs was a bigot for saying that ‘only women have a cervix’.

There were many ways which Mr Starmer could have given a sensible reply that was both sensitive to the ongoing debate about transgender rights but did not cast anyone concerned about the definitional boundaries of womanhood as a bigot.

Mr Starmer instead gave the baffling response that it wrong to say that only women have a cervix, too afraid of being judged by a section of his own hysterical activists of wrongthink to give a sensible answer.

The most famous author our borough is identified with, George Orwell, warned us of the consequences of artificially restricting our language due to political pressure.

This will have real world consequences, with experts in a range of fields, not least biology, pressured to accept the contentious position that men can have a cervix.

It is entirely possible that people will lose their jobs over having the ‘wrong’ opinion on this matter, a truly Orwellian outcome if ever there was one.

For the record, my position is that transgender individuals should be treated with respect, but we need to make a distinction between gender identity and biological sex to avoid absurd outcomes. The debate on this issue is still a live matter, but we must not artificially restrict the terms of debate whilst the debate is still ongoing.

The second incident was the repeated heckling of Mr Starmer by a number of Corbynite activists during his conference speech, a speech so anodyne that no-one can remember what was in it despite it going on for 90 minutes.

To older voters, Mr Starmer will have very much looked like former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock being heckled by Militant Tendency activists and Derek Hatton in the 1980’s.

I suspect that Mr Starmer will not be happy to be compared to Mr Kinnock, but nonetheless, the comparison is striking, with Labour still trying to split the difference between unworkable left wing policies and electability, and an internal war between hard left activists and other factions as they squabble for control of the Labour party.

If Labour wishes to win back the working class voters they have lost in constituencies like my own seat of Leigh, they must do more than moan about the Government and fight with themselves.

What we saw last week was a Labour Party very far from being in government, and for that, many ordinary voters will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

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