As Labour conference kicked off on Sunday on Brighton pier, it was a case of the ghosts of Labour’s past at the annual New Statesman party. The magazine’s editor Jason Cowley told attendees who had their journeys affected by train works not to worry as ‘Corbyn has a plan for the railways’, before reflecting on what had happened to the party in the space of a year. ‘At our party last year in Manchester Ed Miliband was standing beside me and I introduced him as our next Prime Minister,’ he told partygoers at Brighton’s Al Fresco restaurant.
While Miliband stayed away this time, the party’s new leader was also notably absent. With Lucy Powell locked deep in conversation with her MiliBrand co-conspirator Eddie Izzard, it fell on former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna to rally the troops with a speech. Alas Umunna — who declined a job in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet — wasted no time in taking a swipe at his successor Angela Eagle. ‘Unfortunately the shadow business secretary can’t be with us, so I’ve been asked to say a few words instead,’ he said pointedly.
After a few words of light praise for Corbyn’s call to have a party debate, Umunna swiftly moved on to the issues arising from that said debate. He said he was ‘disturbed’ by the way some members were made to feel about voicing their opinion in the current party climate:
‘Having that debate, it’s very important that it’s carried out in a comradely fashion. I was very disturbed earlier at the Demos fringe which I was speaking at, to have a new member who joined the day after the general election and considered themselves to sit on one part of the Labour spectrum telling me that they feel they cannot say what they think about the future of the party, and how we should make our Labour values real for fear of being castigated and accused of being a Tory. We have to draw a line under that kind of behaviour in our party.’
Although his comments were met with cheers from the crowd, given that the magazine resisted Corbynmania ahead of the leadership election and endorsed Yvette Cooper, Mr S suspects he was on safe ground this time around.