“Matt Wrack and I do our bit for Labour unity” was the caption on an arresting Twitter photo montage on the last day of the Labour conference. It showed Richard Angell, the director of Progress, donning firefighter gear for a photocall with the said Matt Wreck — general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.
What made it interesting is that Angell is the man many Corbynistas love to hate. They regard Progress as indelibly “Blairite”. Wrack is one of the most vocal supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. He was sent out to denounce London Mayor Sadiq Khan when he declared support for Owen Jones in the leadership election. If they were ready to stand shoulder to shoulder was it a sign, I wondered, that peace in Labour ranks was in prospect?
The thought was further encouraged the call from Momentum leader Jon Lansman for an end to the personal animosity between leading figures in the party. “John McDonnell, Tom Watson, Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis, we need you all to work together so Labour can transform Britain.” He specifically rejected the idea of a challenge to Tom Watson for the deputy leadership.
Before anyone accuses me of wishful thinking let me get my confession in first. I am prone to (over)optimism, evidenced by my recent posting suggesting that the leadership election was too close to call and that YouGov might be wrong. I’m happy to report that I have had a polite exchange with Anthony Wells in which I recognised that YouGov have been vindicated.
In reality my hopes for Labour a more nuanced and looking into the future. They are based on the emergence of two leadership contenders who are Corbyn backers but who are capable of reaching out across the party.
Kieran Pedley has noted the leadership potential of Shadow Defence secretary Clive Lewis but the star of the Labour conference for many was Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner . “The teenage mum” earned a rave review from Channel Four’s Cathy Newman in the Telegraph.
My hope is that having kindred spirits like Lewis and Rayner as potential successors may help persuade Jeremy Corbyn that he is an electoral liability to Labour. Team Corbyn are keen to scotch such talk, of course, with Jon Lansman asserting that with a second “mandate” Corbyn, is now “untouchable”. Corbyn’s triumph Owen Smith’s chief number cruncher, Ian Warren, uses the word “unassailable” but adds the important rider “for the time being.”
In a thoughtful analysis of the reasons for Corbyn’s victory Warren says Labour members were reluctant to see Corbyn removed because they felt he was unfairly treated by the PLP. “That doesn’t mean the same reluctance will be there a year from now.”
By then, of course, Theresa May might well have called a General Election. With her metaphorical tanks parked on Labour and Ukip lawns she really does look untouchable and unassailable, doesn’t she?
Don’t be so sure, tweets former Blair and Brown adviser, Theo Bartram. Things can change fast. At the equivalent point in his premiership Gordon Brown swept Labour to 44% — a 13% lead over the Tories. “By the year end we were at 27%,” Bartram recalls.
Now that’s real optimism for you.