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SO the party conference season has come to an end with the calamitous Conservative leader’s speech. Theresa May’s monotonous monologue will be remembered as a metaphor for the state of the Tory Party and the brutal neoliberal ideology to which it continues to cling.
By contrast, Labour’s conference was a triumph. Jeremy Corbyn’s standing was substantially enhanced after he used his speech to bring a highly successful week to a positive conclusion by setting out a bold, hopeful and progressive vision for Britain.
There is a beautiful line in the seminal 1995 film The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne (Tim Robins) tells fellow inmate Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
I was reminded of that exchange as I listened to Jeremy’s conference speech last week. He maintained his faith in socialism during the dark days of New Labour, while Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were accepting neoliberal hegemony.
Many gave up on the Labour Party after seeing Blair’s government accept Thatcherite totems like privatisation, deregulation and the Private Finance Initiative.
The realisation of how far the party had drifted from its original purpose was evidenced when in 2002 Margaret Thatcher claimed her greatest achievement was “Tony Blair and New Labour.” She said: “We forced our opponents to change their minds.”
But the more Blair and Brown redefined Labour’s purpose, the more people became disillusioned with politics. Consequently, election turnouts fell as Labour and the Tories danced on the point of a neoliberal pin.
But Thatcher’s hubristic assertion was somewhat premature, because she didn’t change Jeremy’s mind, nor millions of others like him.
As Tony Benn once said: “There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle to be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.”
Jeremy certainly took that advice to heart and dug in for the long haul. He recognised that socialism is the best way to deliver social justice and tackle inequality.
Benn, who was Jeremy’s mentor, was clear that “from the beginning of time there have been two flames burning in the human heart. The flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope that you can build a better world.” Tony added that it was his job “to go round fanning both flames.”
Jeremy has done likewise during his 34 years as a member of Parliament and has continued to fan both flames with increased intensity ever since he was elected as the Labour leader just over two years ago.
Tony Benn’s advice to “bloody toughen up” also stood him in good stead to withstand the unprecedented onslaught to which he was subjected by the media, and sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
But despite the despicable abuse that was thrown at Jeremy and his supporters, his position as Labour leader is now unassailable. His leadership has inspired a mass movement, which is continuing to grow in size and influence.
This collective colossus stands poised, ready to leap into action to sweep Labour to power and carry Jeremy over the threshold of Number 10 whenever the next general election is called.
Labour’s conference was the biggest and the best I have ever attended, and I have been going to these conferences since the 1970s. There was an air of optimism and a level of determination I have never witnessed before.
Even in 1996, when Labour was on the verge of power, the atmosphere wasn’t like Brighton last week.
Back then there was no equivalent of today’s Momentum, which organised The World Transformed, an innovative, complementary conference that was fizzing with energy and ideas.
And back then many members were uncomfortable with the New Labour project, but now members know the future belongs to them because the zeitgeist has clearly shifted in favour of common sense socialism.
The truth is Labour’s policy platform is supported by the overwhelming majority of the public because it’s plain common sense. Meanwhile, the Tory Party is imploding; its membership is diminishing and neoliberalism is a busted flush.
Consequently, Labour is even making inroads in previously safe Tory constituencies. Momentum’s ‘#Unseat’ campaign has been organising activists all over the country to knock on doors in marginal Tory seats like Amber Rudd’s in Hastings and Rye, which she only just won by 346 votes.
But they have also been in Boris Johnson’s seat, where he has a majority of 5,034 and Iain Duncan Smith’s, whose majority is just 2,438.
I was in Anna Soubry’s Broxtowe constituency last weekend with more than a hundred other activists to help overturn her slender 863 majority over Labour’s Greg Marshall.
But the election isn’t won yet, which is why, in the words of the US civil rights song, we must keep our eyes on the prize — and what a prize it is.
The prize isn’t just winning an election, the prize is to change the course of history by permanently moving the balance of power in favour of the many not the few.
So, let’s celebrate the tenacity of Labour’s very own Andy Dufresne. While others despaired, Jeremy Corbyn remembered that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
And now Labour offers hope for the whole country and a prime minister in waiting who people can genuinely believe in to oversee a socialist programme in government.
Chris Williamson is shadow minister for fire and emergency services, MP for Derby North, joint honorary president of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America and is involved in the No Coup in Brazil initiative
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