Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol gave his speech to the party’s annual conference in Brighton toward the end of Sunday’s schedule and it was as anodyne – as ‘meh‘ – and as content-lite as Theresa May’s much hyped and eventually empty Brexit speech on Friday.
With a conference delegate count around three to one in favour of the left, McNicol’s speech seemed largely calculated around ‘what to say without being booed’ – and inasmuch as that was the aim, it succeeded.
McNicol paid several tributes to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, spoke glowingly of a few of the gains that Labour made in the General Election – and not much else of substance.
The talk of gains led to an excruciating attempt at humour:
That’s what I call real ‘Progress’, that’s what I call ‘Momentum’ – a united party.
One spaddy-looking type was virtually whooping in pleasure at this painful pun on two diametrically-opposed groups – but nobody is fooled into thinking that Progress has suddenly changed its spots and swung squarely behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership that has made the group so irrelevant that its main donor has abandoned it.
This was McNicol playing it safe – he had earlier faced protests calling for his resignation, to the outrage of his supporters – and fooling no one. His small coterie of fans cheered loudly at the end while his critics stayed seated, thankful only that it was over.
But there were a couple of stubborn gestures. McNicol insisted on praising Labour staff that have been heavily criticised for a negative official campaign in the General Election – but more annoyingly he treated the healthy state of Labour’s finances as if it had nothing to do with Corbyn’s leadership and popularity:
“It has taken a decade of hard work”, he said of Labour’s freedom from debt – when in fact the party’s healthy bank balance has arisen largely in the last two years as a result of the Corbyn-driven membership surge and the upturn in donations that his leadership has inspired. This is not new – the party’s treasurer made similar claims last year in Liverpool.
This was the nearest McNicol ventured to dangerous ground during his speech. Left-wing delegates were heard asking loudly whether he thought we’d all forgotten that Labour spent a large amount of the money raised and donated by members on court battles to prevent some of those same members from voting in last year’s leadership election.
But for the most part, McNicol played it safe, seemingly unwilling to risk uncapping the anger felt against him by many members.
It was a successful tactic, largely – but not a brave one.
The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.