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Happy times are here again!

I particularly enjoy the autumn political parties’ conference season because of the opportunity it provides to watch each of them preaching to the converted and supposedly seeking to reach out to the wider British public.

Quite how the media still treats the Lib-Dems as a serious political party when they have just eight MPs – and okay, maybe plus a hundred peers who have been pushed upstairs to the House of Lords as the political class’s way of remaining in touch after they’ve passed their sell-by date – in the Lib-Dems’ case slightly ironically, of course, in view of their avowed intent to abolish ‘the other place’.

Their conference this season had a slightly surreal feel about it since – apart from the journos who had been assigned to spend four days at the seaside covering the proceedings – about 60% of camera crews and others who normally attend couldn’t be bothered this year and in truth the party could have saved itself a great deal of money by downsizing to a venue more appropriate to its surviving rump, e.g. a local church hall.

Tim Farron

Tim Farron

In his keynote speech Tim Farron, the Lib-Dems’ new leader, came across as a rather awkward and unconvincing keen fresh-faced lay preacher, laying on the humility with a trowel whilst trying to distance himself from the previous regime with a rousing call to ‘build the party again’. This, of course, means going back to concentrating upon local politics – at which, to be fair, the Lib-Dems are rather good.

The trouble is, for an organisation supposedly seeking to make a difference on the national stage, it’s a pretty limited strategy that will get them nowhere. Still, the kind who tend to vote Lib-Dem have never been much interested in real power, they’re far happier living in a twilight world in which wearing socks and sandals and ‘playing at politics’ whilst fantasising about – but never being – at the controls of anything clearly gives them a sufficient of belonging to the political class and self-importance (without the inconvenience of having to take actual responsibility for anything) to be going on with.

Another thirty years in the wilderness might just make them appreciate the folly of their approach – but equally, given their comfort zone, it might not. Trying to imagine Farron strutting on the world stage at meetings of the United Nations and/or a G7 summit was a step too far for this observer. It would just be embarrassing.

This week we have been watching the Labour Party’s effort – a fascinating exercise give the ascent of ‘loony left’ Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership. Due to circumstances beyond my control, although I deliberately tuned in to see Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s speech to conference on Monday, I was unable to watch Corbyn’s keynote one of yesterday but caught up with it via radio news items and the BBC’s Six O’Clock News programme.

Neither McDonnell nor Corbyn looked/sounded entirely comfortable in front of the mike, probably because at this stage in their lives they had not expected to be in this much glare of the media. Such is the power of internal party politics and elections.

John McDonnell

John McDonnell

Rather like Tim Farron, Messrs McDonnell and Corbyn are happiest as outsiders – content to be insiders enough to enjoy the platform for their views that being an MP provides, but hitherto not having to be part of a political party machine and tow anyone’s official line if this doesn’t fit in with their idealistic ‘student politics’ world view.

A party conference allows the onlooker to get a glimpse of what holding such world views involves. It’s all rather cheap and facile.

Point one is that the opposition (the Tories) are all self-satisfied, self-centred, uncaring bastards whose every waking hour is spent buttering up to their City fat cat friends whilst striving to devise ever more extreme and unpleasant ways of pouring manure onto the downtrodden British masses who are obliged to work in dark Satanic mills under oppressive conditions and somehow manage to survive solely by the humiliation of having to visit food banks.

As far as I could grasp it, the Corbyn/McDonnell view of British society seems to be that money grows on trees and that economic prosperity – whilst grudgingly being admitted as ‘a good thing’ – is or should be only permissible if (irrespective of who is producing it by their hard work and effort) it is shared, £ for £, with everyone else,  not least those who never lift a finger to work or who are rendered (by dint of environment, circumstances, disability or other similar hard luck story) unable to achieve it for themselves.

As an aspiration, one can see the theoretical grounding behind this view albeit that, taken to its logical conclusion, whilst presumably well-paid Rolls Royce factory workers should of course be given every opportunity to make the Rolls Royce vehicles of which as a nation we can all be so proud, nobody should ever be allowed to buy one … well, that is, unless and until every single person in the land who would might like to can also have one.

I’m not a particular student of any political theory but it seems that the fundamental problem with socialism (or should that be Marxism?) is that somewhere along the line it disengages from reality.

For example, take the inalienable right of every human being to live with dignity, a full belly, a home and in some general state of material security. In theory, I don’t suppose anyone would have a problem with that.

Peacekeeping - UNAMIDBut when British leftist political firebrands are ranting against the iniquities of the Tory ‘establishment’ class – and campaigning for short working hours, longer holidays and of course a great deal more pay etc. etc. – so that they too can live like the middle classes of Middle England, I wonder that they cannot also see the inconsistency and illogicality of their thrust.

For – if you really believe that every human being should be able to live in dignity, with a full belly, a home and in some general state of material security, surely you should be telling your British constituency “Sorry folks, in order that we can achieve this ideal on a world scale, you’re going to have to rein in your demands because there’s a hell of a lot of people in Africa [… add your own list of countries and indeed continents where the average human being earns less in three years than some British workers earn in a week …] to whom we need to send that money in order simply to bring them up to the living standard that you already enjoy …”

That notion would of course fall upon stony ground. The average British loony leftist doesn’t give a brass farthing about the billions of people around the world living in true poverty – well, certainly not if in consequence it might mean them potentially having to forego their own smartphones, 72” HD televisions, cars, annual holidays abroad and all the other luxuries which these days British people regard as necessities.

Sorry, rant over!

Yesterday Corbyn did reasonable well in my view. However, the most compelling aspect of his conference speech was (in my mind certainly) how his speech, and the reaction to it in the conference hall, might be playing with the bulk of Labour MPs and party strategists, the vast majority of whom are not so much bothered about folksy leftish ideals as how the hell Labour is going to get back into power in 2020 or beyond.

There’s a honeymoon period effect circulating in ground-level Labour circles at the moment. Far more interesting, even than observing its effect on British politics, is just where the Labour Party will be (generally-speaking, not venue-wise) by the time its 2016 annual autumn conference comes around.

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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts