It’s been an incredibly tough summer for Labour Party members.
Shocking examples of anti-Semitism, manoeuvres to deselect hard-working MPs and a reluctance to reject a hard Brexit have caused upset, anger and consternation among supporters. Far too many voters question whether we have the answers for the country.
We are faced with the most incompetent Tory government of our lifetimes, with a Prime Minister who has totally lost control of her own party. A callous, uncaring and destructive government, which should be destined for a ballot box humiliation not seen since 1997.
And, in Scotland, we have an SNP administration that is fundamentally failing our schools, hospitals and other services – but getting away with it while the media concentrates on Labour’s woes.
As activists gather in Liverpool this weekend for our annual conference we have the chance to change this. The country should be watching a government-in-waiting.
It was John Smith who said “the opportunity to serve our country – that is all we ask”. But to achieve that, we need to talk to the wider country – and not just dwell in our comfort zone.
Jeremy Corbyn has attracted thousands of new members to our party. However, the polls – and last year’s election result – show that we all still have work to do to persuade voters that Labour can lead the country.
So this is undoubtedly our most important conference in decades.
I sincerely hope the conference is not dominated by internal talk about deselections, rather than what Labour can offer the country, and how we can prevent a hard Brexit.
The issue of deselections will do nothing to increase our chances of being in power. MPs should be judged on the job they do for their local community, not on where they are perceived to sit ideologically or factionally.
That is why, for a government-in-waiting, conference needs to focus on the biggest issue facing the country. The deadline for a Brexit deal is imminent, and – after the debacle of the Salzburg gathering last week and the Prime Minister’s dreadful response on Friday – it looks increasingly likely that we are heading for a disastrous ‘no-deal’ scenario or an unworkable fudge.
That’s why there is growing support for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. Over 100 Constituency Labour Parties across the UK, including my own, representing tens of thousands of members, have passed a motion to have this debated at conference in an attempt to change party policy.
I’m encouraged that senior Shadow Cabinet figures like John McDonnell and Keir Starmer are rightly “keeping this option on the table”. I know Jeremy is reluctant, but I hope he listens to party members.
There is an opportunity for Labour to do the right thing, and demonstrate that we will put the country before party, and the future before ideological dogma.
The majority of voters in the UK want a government with compassion and tolerance at its heart, and progressive policies that both ensure social justice and deliver a well-run enterprising economy.
That should be the job of the Labour Party. If we fail to pick up that baton, we will remain out of power – and that would be catastrophic for the people of our country.