The kinder and gentler politics didn’t get off to the kindest and gentlest of starts on day two of Corbyn 2.0. Having spent much of the previous daycalling for unity, the Labour leader went on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to give his own version of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. “Where there is hope, let me sow despair; where there is faith, doubt; where there is love, hatred.”
Corbyn ran through his checklist. First off, get back into the antisemitism row. The Jewish peer Lord Mitchell should reflect on his decision to leave Labour, he said. One box ticked. Next up was to alienate those Labour voters who were thinking of voting Tory or Ukip. Sounding less than enthusiastic about Britain’s national security should do it. That just left his party’s MPs to deal with. Telling them that most of them would not be deselected was a masterstroke. It would sound consensual while putting the wind up all of them. Bastards, the lot of them.
The shadow chancellor looked concerned. He wasn’t at all sure that Corbyn had gone far enough. Call this threatening and bullying? Luckily, he was due on Peston in a matter of minutes and could rectify it. Spotting the former Conservative MP Esther McVey over on the other side of the studio, he remembered that he had called her “a stain on humanity” who should be “lynched”. When asked to apologise, he refused. Why should he? He’d only been saying what he thought and people appreciated honesty in their politicians. Besides, he joked, “What’s said on tour, stays on tour”. Lighten up, Esther.
In case anyone was still in any doubt about what the new kindness and gentleness entailed, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, spelled it out in a speech in the main auditorium of the Labour conference. The parliamentary Labour party had had its little bit of fun and been comfortably seen off. Now it could put up or shut up. The new consensus meant everyone doing as they were told. This particular message might have been rather more effective if any of the MPs at which it was aimed had been in the audience to hear it. Instead, they were almost all to be found at fringe events trying to persuade themselves that disunity was the new unity.
At a Fabian Society meeting, Chuka Umunna took aim at those on the left of the party who called out anyone who disagreed with them as red Tories. “These are the people we need to vote for us if we are going to win an election,” he observed. “Insulting them is deeply patronising and the wrong way to go about things. Nor should we be ashamed of singing the national anthem or supporting our armed services.” This sounded very much as if he was taking a pop at Corbyn. “No, no,” he insisted. “It’s just a Sunday morning chat.”
Over the road at a Labour First rally in The Liverpool Pub, Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle, Vernon Coaker, Ruth Smeeth, Mike Dugher and Anna Turley were less guarded. What looked very much like ashadow cabinet in waiting started off in a room upstairs and eventually spilled out on to the street as more and more people gathered to hear them. One by one, they took their turn to declare that the unity of the party was paramount, only to go on to say that they weren’t going to be bullied or silenced just because Corbyn had been elected leader for a second time. To bury Corbyn, not to praise him.
“Let no one claim a monopoly on principles,” said Coaker. “Now is not the time to go out and talk to large numbers of people who agree with you. It is the time to talk to those who don’t.” Jeremy couldn’t be prime minister on his own. Eagle was even more direct. “Let’s have a movement of our own and sign up the 9 million people who vote Labour at elections,” she said.
Over the road, a small number of a group called Labour Unity stood and heckled. Although it’s possible they were just a splinter group of Labour Unity. It’s hard to keep up these days.