Jeremy Corbyn will shortly address the Labour conference with what is officially known as the ‘parliamentary report’. An accurate ‘parliamentary report’ would include an in-depth discussion about relations between the parliamentary party and its leader, who has gone from being one of the most rebellious backbenchers to demanding loyalty from his colleagues.
Normally before a leader’s speech, pundits pick over what it is that the leader needs to cover. Normally, this involves variations of rousing the party faithful, announcing a policy or two that give us an idea of who the leader is and their vision for the coming year, and facing down any critics, whether in rival parties or their own. Jeremy Corbyn still needs to do all these things, but there is nothing normal about his speech — and to a certain extent it is all rather pointless when so many of your MPs think you are going to get swept away as a party at the next election. This week, Labour has announced it would ban this, or pay for that, with all the seriousness of a Lib Dem conference that doesn’t truly believe it will ever have to face the political or financial consequences of any of its stated policies. Corbyn will say that he wants Labour to be ready to win an election, but what seems most important to him and his allies is to win as much power within the Labour party as possible.
So if the real aim of this speech is to help solidify Corbyn’s power across the Labour party, what should he do? A canny leader would make moderates an offer that they apparently can’t refuse but which is booby-trapped: come and be part of my exciting movement which harnesses the passion of our members. It sounds so appealing, but all moderates will hear is: come and sell a series of alarmingly bad policies that have been set by the Corbynista membership. The problem is that explaining why you don’t want to be part of the exciting movement which harnesses the passion of Labour members makes you sound like a miserable curmudgeon, which members already think you are. And giving members more power over policy will endear them still further to Corbyn, thus diminishing the reach of the moderates in the party, and prolonging Corbyn’s reign.