The National:

LABOUR Party conferences are very different from SNP ones - I’ve attended both as a delegate. 

Labour affairs are like great clan gatherings where warring factions – union delegations, fraternal societies and left-wing pressure groups - parley to see if they can sink their differences long enough to take on the invading Tories. The answer is usually “no”, as appears to be the case this year at Brighton.

At Labour conferences, the real action starts immediately after the formal sessions end. Cliques and factions repair to local hostelries or invitation-only champagne buffet suppers to plot the next day’s infighting. At SNP conferences, folk head for a cèilidh.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour 'pretended to function to get through election', Anas Sarwar says

The 2021 Labour conference has turned into a textbook rammy to match the 1985 affair when Neil Kinnock turned on the Militant Tendency, or 1960 when Hugh Gaitskell made his impassioned speech to “fight and fight and fight again” to save Labour’s A-bomb. Both Kinnock (below) and Gaitskell turned conference adversity into political triumph. Sir Keir Starmer’s seaside jaunt, on the other hand, is a media disaster.

The National: MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Former labour leader Neil Kinnock watches a tribute video to fellow former leader Michael Foot who died in March.  on the first day of the annual Labour Party Conference on September 26, 2010 in Manchester, England. Ed

The problem for Sir Keir is that he went to Brighton thinking he could “do a Blair”. In other words, set up a phoney boxing match with an enfeebled Labour left to prove he was a “strong” leader, thus showing the Tory tabloids he could be trusted with preserving Crown and Country. Unfortunately, the Labour left (particularly the unions) turned out neither acquiescent nor willing to take a Marlon Brando dive. How did Starmer get it so wrong?

Firstly, Starmer (an ex-Trot) thought he had already seen off the opposition by expelling a variety of left-wing factions just before conference, as well as kicking out mavericks such as the filmmaker, Ken Loach. These gratuitous expulsions continued even during the conference itself, with delegates being turfed out for wearing-shirts the leadership considered ideologically incorrect. However, these evictions have backfired big time by angering centrist members who believe in due process or consider Ken Loach the sort of Labour propogandist who still speaks to people beyond the Red Wall.

Next came Starmer’s cackhanded attempt to change the rules governing electing the party leader. Instantly, Starmer and his inner circle appeared to be prioritising an obscure, internal fight over real-world policy issues – and doing this just as the UK economy went into a gas and petrol meltdown that made the Tory government look more incompetent. Labour delegates even on the centre and right saw this as a tactical mistake – a divide quickly exploited by the Machiavellian and silver-tongued John McDonnell (below), the man who pulls Jeremy Corbyn’s political strings.

The National: John McDonnell

After that, the Brighton conference simply fell apart, culminating in the spectacular public resignation from the shadow front bench of Andy McDonald, the man responsible for preparing Labour’s new policy slate designed to help working people. Attempts from the leader’s office to personalise the resignation by branding McDonald “the last Corbynista standing” instantly backfired.

In fact, his resignation was prompted by the leadership trying to use him as a front to defend its pathetic commitment to a paltry £10 minimum wage. This in the face of a union (and popular) demand for £15. And at a time when Boris & Co are actually calling for high wages to beat the worker shortage!

Conclusion: Starmer’s political radar is seriously defective. He lacks both a populist touch and the ability to seduce his own party, as Blair succeeded in doing. Above all, he is no charismatic national leader fit for a looming economic disaster.

Of course, there are Labour leftists out to make Starmer’s life difficult. But party leaders who blame plots for their own incompetence soon get their P45.

The Brighton conference was Starmer’s chance to shine politically, and he has comprehensively blown it. First by failing to address the open goalmouth presented by the inability of the Tory government to actually govern during a crisis.

Secondly by publicly abandoning personal pledge after personal pledge – such as his commitment to nationalising the big electricity and gas utilities. These were lefty-sounding promises designed to get the left to vote for him. After tearing up these promises, Keir Starmer can’t complain if that same Labour left retaliates.

This leaves Scotland facing yet another Tory administration should the much-touted Spring 2023 General Election transpire. Of course, by then, Starmer may be history - unless Andy Burnham, Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves decide to let him lead the party to its fifth General Election defeat in a row before jousting to replace him. But will a semi-permanent Tory administration ever grant a Section 30 Order?