I haven’t said or written too much lately.
1) I’ve been thinking
2) I’ve been listening (to borrow from the new Labour leader’s speech)
3) I’ve been reading
4) And perhaps… I’ve been holding my breath
Conference is a beast. It’s long, it’s tiring – that’s democracy for you. Motions are debated and defeated or carried. People huddle furiously in corners, rewriting wording, writing words, lobbying, networking, finding the fringe. By the end, everyone is exhausted – which is more or less the point at which Jeremy Corbyn had to give his so-called make-or-break speech.
I am not uncritical of Corbyn. His attachment to mismatched jackets reminds me of English teachers from my 1970s childhood – but it’s not a deal-breaker and it’s shallow enough of me to even mention it. More substantially, the autocued performance in his speech today was a bit distracting. And the repetition about his mandate is starting to wear thin. Still, that’s nit-picking and I am glad I voted for him. Let Corbyn get on with his big tent, bottom up approach to policy and see where it gets us. It’s an experiment, there are no guarantees, but at least there is hope for a robust opposition and an alternative message for many of us – something that has been lacking for a long time.
I woke on the morning after the last general election fearful that the country I live in had gone mad. That my neighbours and colleagues were all closet Tories. That society was gone to the dogs and it was every woman, man jack for themselves. When I hear Corbyn speak, I see it is not so. When I watched people at conference today, getting to their feet, applauding, I feel it is not so. When strangers on Twitter confess to a tear in their eye when Corbyn speaks about mental health for all of us, I know it is not so. For now, that’s enough for me.
As conference wends its weary way home tomorrow, the commentariat will be left clucking for the next story. As autumn turns into winter Corbyn is not probably not knowingly going to give them one – they’ve had their initial feeding frenzy after his election, after all.
The fact is that true democracy is a cumbersome creature. It is based on consensus, collaboration, debate and negotiation. It can take hours to navigate and achieve – in action, its daily operation is boring, punctuated by the odd high (and low). Democracy in action is not the headline-grabbing duel that parliamentary ritual makes it out to be. It is not the abusive, name-calling, character-attacking charade that the print press constantly twist it into. Corbyn’s respectful approach will make the jobs of those attached to that modus operandus harder going forward. At the risk of using a double negative: I can’t say I’m not sorry.
For the first time in my life, I can actually see, hear and read what the Labour Party have to say for themselves, unmediated by the media. That’s a privilege; I intend to use it wisely. I hope I will not be alone.