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John McDonnell speaking at Labour Party Conference, 2019. Photo: Harry Sheppard

Conference boosted the left but parliamentary pressures and compromises already threaten the Corbyn project, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Last weekend’s Labour Party conference did not go how opponents of the left had planned and hoped.

Jeremy Corbyn emerged strengthened. He saw off the concerted attempt from some quarters to turn Labour into a Remain party, and overcame the confusion caused by Jon Lansman’s botched move against Corbyn’s right wing deputy, Tom Watson.

Furthermore, the left saw an array of important policies passed that opened the door for a more radical discussion of the future of Britain.

Conference voted for a Socialist Green New Deal which would represent a clean break from neoliberalism. Furthermore, Labour pledged to save the NHS and eradicate homelessness.

There were also policies to democratise the workplace, shorten the working week, abolish private schools and extend freedom of movement, among others.

Symbolically, after the recent offensive against the Palestinian movement in the UK, Labour delegates voted to defend the right of Palestinians to return.

Even before the end of conference, news came through that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament had been overturned by the Supreme Court.

Corbyn called for the Prime Minister’s resignation, and addressed delegates with a rousing closing speech ending with a declaration that the years of retreat were over and with an exhortation to go out and win the coming general election.

Just days later, though, there's a danger of that energy waning. The return to Westminster proved to be a boon for the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), which wants anything but an election and a Corbyn government.

There has been some rowing back from conference policy. After calling for the Prime Minister to resign, Labour failed to call a vote of no confidence when the Prime Minister refused to leave.

Moreover, even though Labour had returned to its line of doing anything it can to ensure a No Deal Brexit before calling for a General Election, Matthew Pennycook, Shadow Brexit minister, resigned, ostensibly to be able to campaign for Remain.

The problem is Corbyn is being pushed to compromise with the PLP, which keeps implicitly threatening to split the Labour Party and to prop up a national unity government in order to hold a new Brexit referendum before any new election is held.

That has given Johnson breathing space. His claim that the opposition is running scared of an election has plausibility because of the delay in calling a no confidence vote. Moreover, his violent rhetoric is inflaming far-right sentiment, strengthening a base that he has been trying to court for some time, while opposition in Parliament is being offered in purely moralistic tones.

In this context, the danger is that the enthusisasm generated at Labour Party conference is dissipated.

The longer the current Parliament sits, the stronger the right wing of the PLP and by extension Boris Johnson. The longer politics is confined in Westminster, the deeper the disaffection will be with mainstream politicians. The longer Labour poses as the mainstream against the renegade Prime Minister, the better his chances of re-election.

By contrast, the sooner the left is able to shift politics away from Westminster, the stronger its message is. The sooner the policies passed at conference can be posed to people outside Westminster, the clearer it can become that they are popular. The more the left relies on mass mobilisation outside Parliament, the stronger ordinary people feel about their ability to shift the balance of forces in society in their favour.

This is why it is paramount for the left inside and outside Labour to protest at the Tory Party conference on 29 September in Manchester. Mass mobilisation can help unblock the impasse in Parliament and hasten the day that Boris Johnson is forced to step down as Prime Minister and the public are asked once again to enter the fray of politics directly in a general election campaign.

We should be confident that we can win and bring the years of misery under the Tories to an end, and prepare to fight for a fairer and more democratic system in the future.

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

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