Strong gusts of wind stirred the pilot sea in front of the Brighton Center on Tuesday – a fitting metaphor for the bitter rye disrupted the Labor Party’s annual conference in the building on the south coast of England.
“A heavy rain is going to fall on the Corbynistas,” said a party ally, Sir Keir Starmer, referring to supporters of “hard-left” former leader Jeremy Corbyn. “They’ll never see power again.”
Starmer, who last year became leader of Britain’s main opposition party on a promise to unite his warring factions, abandoned any semblance of reconciliation this week.
Instead, he attended the annual Labor Conference, which was determined to legacy of his predecessor, who was suspended as a Labor MP for his indifferent stance against anti-Semitism in the party, and moved it to the fabulous center of British politics.
Starmer’s pre-business attitude, emphasis on fiscal discipline and embrace of patriotism are reminiscent of Tony Blair – the three-time former Labor prime minister. But his polls are much lower than Blair’s at the same point in his leadership.
“It’s Blair without the feeling of inevitable victory,” said Andrew Murray, Corbyn’s senior adviser.
While the gathering on the coast was marred by quarrels, a resignation and an argument over the language of his deputy – when Angela Rayner referred to Tory “foam” – Starmer would come out of the meeting in a stronger position, at least within the party.
By a narrow margin, he forces changes through which can make it virtually impossible for a repetition of the Corbyn era. Most strikingly, in the future, candidates for leadership will need the support of at least 20 percent of MPs, double the previous figure.
Starmer argued that the reforms would enable the party to focus on the voters rather than on the vocal membership of the party.
Starmer’s allies say he has based his political future on the decision. “He would have to resign if he lost the vote,” a union leader said. “I have no doubt about that.”
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy argued that the overt nature of the reform debate was an example of Labor’s bad habit of washing its ‘dirty laundry in public’. “It’s time to take the dirty linen off the line and get serious,” he said at a rally.
Yet one person near Starmer defended the timing. “If not now, when?” he said. ‘We would be crazy to have this kind of debate in an election year, for example.
Starmer himself argued that the reforms were a ‘big step forward’ in the party’s efforts to ‘face the public and win the next general election’.
For leftists, the feeling of defeat was palpable. Len McCluskey, former head of Unite the Union and a key supporter of Corbyn, said he was not sure if Starmer was a ‘cynical manipulator’ or a naive ‘baby in the woods’ who was ‘by more sinister forces’. was not captured.
During the Corbyn era, many Blairite MPs kept away from the conference. Those who did show up attended small, demoralized gatherings. “Now we have control again,” said a member of the cabinet, “and it feels good.”
In another victory for the leadership, the party also adopted a new definition of anti-Semitism recommended by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which may draw the line under years of controversy. Starmer could not hide his joy that a few hours later Louise Ellman, a former Jewish MP for Labor, rejoined the party.
The leadership was also phlegmatic about the resignation of Andy McDonald, a shadow minister.
In what is widely regarded as a coordinated move by the Corbyn clique, McDonald said he was quitting because the party had rejected the idea of a minimum wage of £ 15 an hour. “He really is a decent, honest, honest man,” said left-wing MP Barry Gardiner.
But Starmer’s ally said he was no loser and asked sarcastically, “Who is Andy McDonald?”
Yet those on the left of the party argued that Starmer’s success as a leader would require involvement in all wings of the party, warning that ‘redevelopment’ of Blairite approaches would not be a legitimate path to power.
‘If you look at Keir [polling] figures they have collapsed in recent months, ”former shadow chancellor John McDonnell told a packed rally.
Starmer was reminded of the limits of his power when the conference voted to label Israel as an “apartheid state” and voted against the defense agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom, both against his wishes. The bakers’ union then voted to oust him from the party, accusing the leader of setting up an ‘internal faction’.
McDonnell, Corbyn’s closest ally, said he believed Starmer could be prime minister but must first “mobilize the party behind him”.
The leader and his team “panicked” and “stretched” to the Blairite playbook, McDonnell said. “You simply cannot go back to the past for strategies that are no longer relevant and have finally brought us into eleven years of Tory government,” he said.
One way to restore unity could involve restoring Corbyn, he added. Starmer does not see it that way.