Perhaps fate has helped decide that Labour’s most dramatic conference in years should be held in Liverpool. The city will always be associated with the last time the party was under attack by Trotskyists with intimidation replacing reasoned debate at party meetings.

Liverpool,as a city, has been transformed since the 1980s so let’s hope television reporters don’t use too much sepia footage of the Militant rallies outside the Town Hall. The city is run by a moderate mayor with mostly moderate MPs, but they have faced party meetings where the old bullying tactics have returned along with the new phenomenon of anti-semitism.

The leader Jeremy Corbyn is probably unaware of much of this. The dirty work is done by people in his name. Corbyn points to the huge increase in Labour’s membership. In isolation it is a great achievement to have become the largest political party in Europe.But how many of them are caught up in a Corbyn fan cult unaware of the Trotskist plotting and unwilling to do the spade work alongside established members to get Labour elected?

In this year of uncertainty we have to allow the possibility of an Owen Smith victory, but let us consider the consequences of Corbyn winning again.

I have spent the summer talking to some of the 170 Labour MPs who voted no confidence in Corbyn, to see if there was an appetite for a split to form a new Social Democrat Party. I would be surprised if that happens. It is more likely that they will stay until many are deselected Labour during the boundary changes. Others will be defeated in the 2020 Conservative General Election victory.

Why is this when the need is for a centre left party embracing Lib Dems, Greens and Labour moderates to fight for Britain’s place in the European Union, social justice and responsible capitalism? One MP told me that when it came down to it, he was damned if he was going to let the Trots force him out of his party. I can respect this. It is easy for a journalist to move the pieces around the chess board of politics and not take account of the deep allegiances that MPs have to their party. I would only ask him and others to look at the bigger picture as the Tories career on with their Brexit madness, social unfairness and cuts.


How good it was to see Lib Dem delegates waving the EU flag at their conference in Brighton. They are the most pro European of the political parties and on my visit to the seaside I found them devastated by the referendum result but with a determination to fight it in a responsible way.

It would be reckless for a party with Democrats in the title to defy the Brexit vote, but they are right to demand that whatever deal is cooked up by the Three Unwise Men (Fox, Davis and Boris) must be put to the British people. They can then decide between the known reality of the EU or the Brexit deal. In the summer they chose between the EU and promises of £350m a week for the NHS and the prospect of 80 million Turks coming to stay.

Alongside Brexit the talk in Brighton was of centre left cooperation but I found it pretty unconvincing. Ex Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown was pushing his More United project. He says it isn’t a political party, more a movement. That won’t butter any politcal parsnips.

Then we had two of the most impressive women in politics, Green co-leader Caroline Lucas and Wigan Labour MP Lisa Nandy, telling a fringe meeting how much they had in common. But how could that be given politcal expression? The only idea to emerge was to find constituencies where the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems could decide to field one strong candidate and 2 “paper” ones. Such manoeuvers insult the voters intelligence. If you stand you should always want to win.

What is required is action from the leadership of the Greens and Lib Dems along with Labour moderates to form an election pact, anything else is just meaningless hand wringing.

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Last time Labour elected a hard left leader in 1980, it was a matter of months before senior figures in the party broke away and formed the Social Democrats under the leadership of Roy Jenkins.

It initiated a very difficult period for the then Liberal Party, particularly when the SDP leader became David Owen. A more arrogant man than the emollient Woy (sic) Jenkins, the TV puppet satire show Spitting Image had little David Steel in Owen’s jacket pocket.

There were rows over which of these two centrist parties should fight which parliamentary seat in the 1983 and 1987 General Elections, after which difficult merger talks took place with much agonising over what was social democracy and what was Liberalism. It left the first leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, with what he describes as an asterisk in the opinion polls where the percentage supporting the new party should be.

Why am I boring you with this political history lesson? Because the chances are growing of Jeremy Corbyn actually winning the Labour leadership. Downtown’s Managing Director, Frank McKenna, argues powerfully in his blog this week that the party should be following the advice of Tony Blair to shy away from a left wing course. It may be good advice but should Blair have said it? Frank rightly points to Blair’s recipe for election success but also acknowledges that he is seen as a war criminal by some in his party. I’m afraid he is, and there is a danger that his intervention may strengthen Corbyn’s position not weaken it.

This is another reason why Blair is toxic to many activists. His time as party leader saw a huge centralisation of the party’s internal structure. Party conferences became rallies not occasions for real debate. Regional party officials, who had been a valuable source of authority with the ability to feed back to London what was going on, were neutered. Parliamentary selections were hijacked to put in Blair’s favourites, Ex Tory Shaun Woodward in St Helens being the most blatant. Part of what Corbyn is about is a demand from the foot soldiers to get their party back.

So if Corbyn should win will the newly elected leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, present an appealing alternative for Labour moderates who conclude that their party is out of office for the foreseeable future?

And what will Tim Farron say to them? He should probably welcome them in. He shouldn’t tell them to form a separate SDP Mark Two party. The reasoning in 1981 was that a new party would make more of an impact than just admitting Labour defectors to the Liberals. But as I’ve illustrated above, it led to years of wrangles in the centre of politics while Margaret Thatcher kept getting re-elected.

Farron was the right choice for the Lib Dems in their parlous state. He got over 50% of the vote in his Cumbria seat in May and knows how to campaign from the bottom up. Grandees like Paddy Ashdown and Vince Cable might sneer at his judgement but at least Farron has a chance of being heard. If the other contender, Norman Lamb, had won, opponents would have felt they were being attacked by a dead sheep.