This year’s Labour Party conference is simultaneously one of the quietest, yet most febrile, in years.
Quiet because both the electoral cycle and the Brexit process have conspired to make this conference feel slightly meaningless. The policies being promised are theoretically four years away from implementation and Brexit, the big issue of the day, is being played out in Westminster and Brussels, not Liverpool.
But also febrile. There is a real sense that the Government could collapse sooner than expected and lead to another general election, possibly in months. Equally, the mathematics of the House of Commons means that Labour could play a pivotal role in any Brexit agreement.
Yet none of these things have happened yet. Labour’s policy on Brexit remains ill-defined and there an early general election remains just speculation.
So it’s all up in the air; and the atmosphere in Liverpool reflects this paradox.
After-hours in the bar and restaurants around Albert Dock, attendees might mutter about Brexit and the state of the Party, but there is no sense that Corbyn or McDonnell are under any imminent threat. The summer’s anti-Semitism debacle has been dampened with the adoption of the IHRA definition, and though it hasn’t gone away, it’s not considered likely to be a major issue overhanging the conference.
The Party is in a holding pattern. Yet there are clouds on the horizon – and it’s a threat unlike any the leadership has seen before.
With the “moderates” all but neutered, the leadership’s lack of clear enemies has become a weakness. Without a force to unite in opposition to, the various factions that comprise the Corbynistas have started to flex their muscles. John McDonnell, the power behind the throne, has been on manoeuvres, and Momentum, previously synonymous with Corbyn, is emerging as a force in its own right.
So Corbyn shouldn’t get complacent in Liverpool – this is just the eye of the storm.