If Labour’s party conference in Brighton suggested the party was in a celebratory mood, that sense of triumphalism has been vindicated by the shambolic gathering of Conservatives in Manchester. The comparison between the two parties has been starker than ever: the buoyant Corbynistas laying out Marxism to unwavering applause, whilst bickering Conservatives can’t even sell their policies to a paying audience.
If the Labour party looked in rude health last Wednesday, they look an even more attractive proposition after the Maybot suffered an all too human malfunction during her headline address yesterday. A circular that went out to Labour party members after the Prime Minister’s speech was clearly drafted before an incident-packed slot in which she was handed a P45, succumbed to a coughing fit, and saw her party’s slogan (‘Building a country that works for everyone’) disintegrate behind her back. Instead of mentioning any of this, the email simply claimed that the Tories had ‘spent the week re-hashing policies and watering-down Labour ideas to present as their own’. And while every newspaper in the country has splashed gleefully with the sight of Mrs May and her end-of-employment form, the story is just as much about her total failure to launch any reasonable riposte to the Corbyn proposition.
The Labour leader will have enjoyed May’s speech. With his party’s masses champing at the bit to force an early election, there was no sight better than a Prime Minister falling victim to the oldest prank in the book, nor any sound sweeter than the thin voice of an embattled leader seeming to cave under the pressure. Even if Theresa May’s policy announcements had weighed more than a bag of candy floss, the mode of delivery was so fundamentally infirm that her political obituaries will have already been written.
But crucially, her party has had nothing to say all week. May seems completely flummoxed as to where her next win will come from. In contrast to the emboldened Corbyn/McDonnell axis, Mrs May’s policy announcements were all scuffed kicks of the can down the road. She is too chronically nervous about the status of her authority to do anything more than replicate the status quo, lest the lame duck be accused of spreading its wings unnecessarily. Her £2bn pledge for housing is entirely the sort of lukewarm commitment, which circumvents the real issues and avoids getting into the weeds of a policy that could save her party, that reinforces how kneecapped she has been by Labour and her unruly Cabinet. Conversely, the Labour party’s announcement of a John Healey led review of social housing, rent caps, and ‘fit for habitation’ inspections feel like they are finally waking up to the Government’s pressure points. This is all without mentioning the groans that accompanied the reheating of Help to Buy, or the skimmed milk Milibandism that is her U-turn on energy price caps (or is it a U-U-turn by now? One loses track…).
The oldest tactic in the Tory playbook has been to focus on their competence in contrast with Labour’s perceived flightiness (‘strong and stable’, ‘stability and strong Government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband’, ‘long-term economic plan’). The atmosphere in Brighton was boisterous and the energy in the room was, at times, dissociated from reality. What the Conservatives needed was a conference that laid down some solid policy foundations, unity amongst its big dogs, and a statesmanlike manner to be sustained throughout. They achieved none of these things – and now, with the Conservative carrion being thoroughly picked over, bookmakers are slashing their odds on Theresa May making it to the new year.
For fear of a Corbyn government, the Tories will likely limp on with May, but the appeal of the Labour lozenge will only increase. Sceptics felt that the sense of victory on display in Brighton was premature, and indeed it was. Labour’s own conference was a rather insular affair, like a book launch or baby shower. The real triumph for the party has come this week as their opponents have not only failed to reestablish their credentials but demonstrated that they are no longer fit to govern. It is self-defeating to continue the Brexit process led by the judgment of a Prime Minister who has neither the confidence of the public or her own party, especially when the opposition is so clearly ready to refresh the terms of our European departure.