In the beginning, it seemed as though the Labour civil war consisted of the Corbynistas vs the moderates. Now things aren’t so simple. The first day of Labour conference saw some ugly scenes in the conference floor. However, rather than the hard Left turning on the Blairites, it is a rift between two pro-Corbyn factions: Momentum vs the trade unions.
Activists for the pro-Corbyn grassroots campaign group audibly booed the trade unions at several points on Sunday afternoon. Cries of ‘shame!’ were repeatedly heard across the floor. There were two points of disagreement – the democracy review and the priority ballots. Momentum activists were disappointed that the trade union choices for the priority ballots – the topics discussed on the floor – missed out the NHS and housing. However the biggest source of contention is the democracy review.
There had been hopes among Corbyn supporters that this year’s conference would put more power with the members when it comes to selecting their MPs – and, to do that, trigger ballots. However, while the unions tend to be sympathetic to the aim of deselecting Blairites, they still want to be able to have a say when it comes to getting their preferred candidates selected. That means there is a difference of opinion when it comes to how much of a say the members ought to be given.
As one attendee in the room puts it: ‘You have a load of annoyed Trots who don’t understand process and who don’t like backroom deals. The unions are finding it hard to comprehend that someone would question the way they run things as that’s the way it’s always been.’
All of which has led some Labour moderates (as Isabel touches on here) to feel rather chipper in the current circumstances. Perhaps optimistically, one Labour grandee mused last night: ‘I think there is a chance that this all disappears. The mood between the various factions is not good and you can begin to see how some activists could become disillusioned and pack up’. We might be some way off that – but it’s clear that the unity of the Corbyn coalition is under serious strain.