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27 September 2017

The next election is Labour’s for the taking – for the most part

The consensus among party veterans is that it hasn't been in such good spirits since 2007.

By Stephen Bush

Labour is a government-in-waiting: that’s the message the leadership wants to come out of this conference and the one that Jeremy Corbyn will hammer home in his big speech today.

I can’t remember the last time that the dominant mood at Labour conference wasn’t a combination of dread and/or exhaustion. But this year the overall mood is one of elation and excitement.

The consensus among a group of Labour veterans I spoke to last night is that the party hasn’t been in such good spirits since Gordon Brown’s first conference as leader back in 2007. Then, of course, the party was enraptured with its leader and thought that the next election was there for the taking. And so it is again today, at least for the most part.

Of course, not everyone shares that sense of adoration or optimism. The party’s remaining Corbynsceptics note that while most of the conference has been overshadowed in the press by the ongoing Conservative meltdown over Brexit, the Tory vote share is still stubbornly close to 40 per cent. They think far from a great leap forward, the last election was one the Conservatives did everything to lose – and still Labour couldn’t win it.

Are they right? Well, maybe. But in many ways, the more you think Labour’s good performance in 2017 was the result of forces outside its control the more bullish you should be about its chances next time. Yes, if Labour’s surge was primarily about excitement over Corbyn, excitement can fade, optimism can be diminished, and there may not be a large enough remaining bloc of voters who are Corbyn-curious for Labour to win.

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But if you think that Labour won votes largely by default, that it’s good fortune was a lot more about Theresa May than Jeremy Corbyn, then really, the sky is the limit for Labour. As we’ll see next week in Manchester, there is a lot of ruin left in the Tory party.

So in a way, the Labourites who should be most optimistic, electorally speaking, about their chances next time are that minority who are less-than-thrilled with their leader.