For a quarter of a century the year of the Labor Party began with the New Year’s Conference of the Fabian Society. Every party leader from Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbyn has addressed the gathering. This year, of course, the traditional face-to-face conference is another victim of the pandemic.
Keir Starmer will speak at one of them next weekend special online New Years conference organized by the Fabians and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies. The usual day in a London conference center turns into a weekend of free flowing online debates on Saturday and Sunday, January 16th and 17th.
And with politicians confined to their homes, the event will feature more high-ranking Labor figures than ever before. Starmer is accompanied by Angela Rayner, Anneliese Dodds, Lisa Nandy, Nick Thomas-Symonds, Ed Miliband, Kate Green, David Lammy, Rachel Reeves and many others.
After the horrific events in the US on Wednesday, the conference will examine in depth the impact of the US elections on the UK and Europe. During his presidency, Donald Trump made the world a more dangerous place, and a second term from Trump would have made it even more dangerous. Joe Biden’s victory is an inspiration to center-left parties and will help promote peace, prosperity, public health and climate justice.
But Trump’s attacks on democratic norms were even worse than his politics. In victory and in defeat, he served as a global beacon for virulent right-wing populism and supported political hatred and the strong men everywhere. Britain wasn’t immune. Trump’s influence has had an impact on Boris Johnson’s tenure, which was marked by culture war politics and disdain for institutions and the rule of law. Perspectives for post-Trump populism will be discussed at the Fabian Conference.
Boris Johnson has always traveled lightly when it comes to political belief: in a changing international and national context, he could easily tone down his Trumpian personality and attempt to project himself as a unified leader of a nation. Trump’s defeat and the events of the past few weeks could set off an alarm bell for the conservatives on the dark side of the divisive extremes.
Speakers and delegates at the FEPS Fabian event will discuss Labour’s response. Even if Donald Trump was defeated, Donald Trump could win an additional ten million votes, and there is no reason to rule out the possibility that the Conservatives will get more support in our next election. Opinions on the prime minister may have deteriorated this year, but there are few who voted for Tory in 2019 and regret their election today.
Joe Biden won because he was able to put together a really diverse coalition of different types of people in different places. The broad church established by the Democratic Party this year must be a model for Labour’s new political project. Keir Starmer has got off to a good start. His energy is devoted to detoxifying the Labor brand and projecting competent leadership. This is an essential first base after the catastrophic 2019 election defeat caused by the collapse of the Labor votes – not a surge in Tory support.
At the Fabian Conference, delegates will discuss how the party can move forward this year. Critical elections are due in May. The challenge will be to inspire the young and radicals while reassuring and re-engaging the cautious swing voter. To do both at the same time, Labor needs a hopeful and credible message of economic and social progress. Starmer must also avoid Tory’s political traps designed to force him to take sides on the fault line on issues of identity and values.
The Democrats won despite a voting card skewed in Trump’s favor. This, too, offers hope for Labor as the map of Britain benefits law too. If the vote between workers and Conservatives remains a tie in 2024, the Tories are likely to have many more MPs. As with the US electoral college, Labor has to accept a political background that it cannot change.
By 2024, the party must continue to pick up and put new roots in all 150 constituencies that will determine the next elections. The card may look daunting, but the Democrats won in Georgia. As in the US, Labor’s path to renewed victory lies both in retaking former strongholds and in gaining seats that the party has won more than ever. The conference next weekend will point the way to the future.
The FEPS-Fabian Society’s New Years Conference will take place online on Saturday, January 16 and Sunday, January 17. To get a free ticket to the conference, join the Fabian Society today.
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