UK Politics

Labour conference: Relief and trepidation for the future

Helen Clarkson (left), from Central Suffolk, with Elaine Sammarco, from Lewes in Sussex
Image caption Helen Clarkson (left, pictured with Elaine Sammarco) has found the summer 'disheartening'

Relief that it is all over.

That seems to be the common sentiment of Labour activists at the party conference in Liverpool in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn's re-election as Labour leader.

"I am very happy and a lot of people are very happy the decision has been made and we can move forward," says Jacqueline Griffiths, from Sevenoaks.

There is frustration that the leadership squabbles have left Labour in virtual limbo with, according to one party member, "no ability to focus on the issues affecting the country".

Helen Clarkson, from Central Suffolk, says the last few months have been very "disheartening" and Mr Corbyn now needs "time to lead" and show what he can do.

But she worries his re-election will not put an end to the battles between the leadership and many of the MPs.

"There is a lot of manoeuvring behind the scenes that we are not privy to. What general members have to say, what we feel and how people have voted is one thing but getting the work done is another."

'Second coup'

Image caption Marie (right, pictured with friend Daisy) is concerned there may be a "second coup"

And there are those who believe opponents of the leader will stop at nothing to get rid of him.

"I am slightly concerned there will be a second [coup] attempt," says Marie, a member of Mr Corbyn's own Islington North constituency party. "They will find other ways of gradually destroying him."

Those in positions of power, she argues, should have spent more time listening to party members and defending the elected leader of the party.

"We could do with an alternative deputy leader. I actually voted for Tom [Watson] but he has not been supportive of Jeremy and seemingly behind the plotters."

While Mr Watson - who was elected with his own mandate last year - is not likely to be going anywhere, the future of other leading MPs is occupying the thoughts of many members.

"The obvious problem is that a lot of the MPs are unhappy and that is difficult," says Rob Hall from Bedford.

While he does not support the deselection of dissenting MPs in the run-up to the next election, he can see a scenario in which it could not be avoided.

Image caption Rob Hall says he does not support the deselection of dissenting MPs

"People have been very difficult with Corbyn right from the very start, just because it was him," he says. "If I had someone as an MP who was making life difficult for the leader, I would be wanting a deselection frankly."

But he says it should not be in Mr Corbyn's gift to get rid of MPs who disagree with him: "I don't think anyone nationally, like Jeremy Corbyn, should be saying to people deselect. It is up to people in their constituencies."

'Farcical'

Amid talk of the return of shadow cabinet elections as a way of appeasing Corbyn critics, there are those who just can't see how the party leader can co-exist with MPs who openly disagree with him.

"When Jeremy appointed [former shadow defence secretary] Maria Eagle who disagreed with him [on Trident] it was farcical," Mr Hall says.

For some local activists, including one Birmingham councillor elected in May, it really has been business as usual and the turmoil at the top of the party has made little difference to their day-to-day work.

"While this has been going on upstairs, we have been concentrating on local issues," she says.

But don't people she represents have strong feelings about Mr Corbyn? "Some do, some don't," she replies. "Some just want to make sure they get their rubbish cleared every week - what they see as important in their life."

But others believe it is naive to pretend that the leadership issue doesn't come up on doorsteps and won't have an impact on Labour's chances in the next election.

"The party has to come together but - and it is a big but - there are members of the top team, possibly including Jeremy, which need to be more inclusive," says Elaine Sammarco, from Lewes in Sussex.

"We are hearing the slate is being wiped clean which is very helpful and Jeremy is reaching out but it is the next step and how is that going to happen. I would like to be optimistic that will happen but I am sceptical."

'Broad church'

While Theresa May's grammar school expansion plan has galvanised Labour and, in the words of one member "done Jeremy's job for him", many are openly speculating about whether the PM will be "tempted" to call an early election.

While many genuinely believe Labour can climb an electoral mountain and prevail if the poll is held in 2020, there is trepidation about what might happen if the prime minister goes to the country early.

"Obviously I hope we would have a Labour leader but my fear is that Theresa May will call an election quite quickly and we won't have time for people to truly come together and mobilise properly," says Elaine Clarkson.

In the meantime, Labour members can only cross their fingers and hope for the best and there are many who believe the party may have already touched its electoral nadir.

"Everyone shares the same beliefs," says Daisy, from Wallasey, who was motivated to join Labour by its 2015 election defeat. "It is a broad church but everyone has the same aim which is a Labour government."

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