Tory conference will be no victory carnival for Cameron

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Those Tory MPs who imagined their current conference would be one long knees-up, an orgy of triumph that last May they freed themselves from the shackles of the Liberal Democrats, will be in for a shock.

This will be no carnival of victory, but a week of hard graft and infighting, particularly over the issue of the European Union.

The Euro-sceptics, and indeed all those who want the UK to quit Europe, will see the conference as one of the last big opportunities to harangue the prime minister to his face in advance of the forthcoming in-out referendum.

Mr Cameron has deliberately remained non-committal about this, saying there is still much work to do before he can reach a final conclusion on his views.

But the voices in the Tory Party among those who want to leave are growing louder and the opinion polls are showing the same trend. Mr Cameron’s gut instincts are probably that the UK should remain a member, but he will be hard put to it if the trend against membership continues to increase, as well it might.

His battle, therefore, will not just be in Brussels, but inside the Tory party as well.

So, whatever fireworks there may be at this conference, they will not be emblems of a famous Tory election victory, but more likely the spluttering explosions of the Conservative Eurosceptics.

One thing is for sure: Jeremy Corbyn will not allow his Labour Party critics to hound or harass him out of the leadership. He secured the job with an overwhelming majority – admittedly against feeble opponents – and is determined to stay as long as he can.

And quite right, too.

The problem lies with the ludicrous leadership election system which gives too much weight to the trade unions and far too little to the parliamentarians who are the people who have to work cheek-by-jowl, day-in-day-out with the party leader.

And the trouble is that party grandees are either too stupid (or too wily) to address it. The unions have a totally different agenda, part of which is to tell (or perhaps I should write “order”) a Labour prime minister on how he should run the country – as so blatantly happened during Harold Wilson’s premiership.

If the leader was elected on a more sensible system, neither Ed Miliband (whom probably a majority of Labour MPs did not want) nor Jeremy Corbyn (ditto) would have been chosen.

There are at least no signs so far that a breakaway group of Labour centrists is about to happen, but it is early days yet. That happened in 1982 when the doddery Michael Foot was elected leader against the odds.

But there is still plenty of time for that to happen if the moderates get too frustrated with the left-wingers at the helm.

It would take this to happen – and on a huge scale – thus depriving Corbyn of his authority over the party, to lead to his resignation – and that is unlikely to happen.

Labour is at present in a shambolic state, with even members of the shadow cabinet at war with each other. It would be a brave soul who dared to create yet more problems by organising an independent splinter group.

It could happen, but, for the moment, Jeremy Corbyn is kingpin.

It is a cliche to say so, but Denis Healey, who has just died at the grand age of 98, is the best prime minister Labour never had.

And it is no less a cliche to say that had the Labour Party not foolishly voted in Michael Foot as their leader – when Healey was plainly the man for the job — the political scenario of this country would have been turned upside down.

Healey at least had a chance of bringing Margaret Thatcher down at the 1983 general election, whereas Foot, staggering along with the aid of a walking stick, white hair flying, looked well past his sell-by date, and stood not a glimmer of a chance of toppling her.

Healey and Thatcher (Attila the Hen) had many famous parliamentary jousts (she accused him once of being “frit”), but they became firm friends in old age.

The left-wing hated him more than they hated the Tories. And, as chancellor, at a Labour conference once, he had to roar to be heard telling the shrieking mob that the country had to live within its means.

He was the last great figure of his era, a man who was wrongfully denied what should have been his by rights, the leadership of the Labour Party and possibly the keys to Number 10.

The oddest feature of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour conference speech was that he failed to mention the general election. It was just as though Labour’s defeat had not happened.