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Sunday, September 18, 2016

A conference horror show

I am at Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton. It is our best attended gathering ever and people are upbeat on the back of 15 local council by-election gains this year so far including some significant wins in Labour strongholds.

Later today our only government minister, Kirsty Williams will be answering questions and then giving a speech. It is easy to imagine that we are on a roll. And yet there is still a long way to go to claw our way back to national significance.

Although the media have turned up and are reporting the conference, it feels like those Liberal events of old, the number of outside exhibitors are down and we are an after-thought on the news programmes. More to the point the event all the commentators are itching to report on is not Tim Farron's speech but next week's Labour Conference.

Dan Hodges explains why. He describes a harrow show in which he says for many Labour MPs will be like walking into a nightmarish British version of The Gulag Archipelago.

He quotes on Labour MP as saying that ‘The dogs of war will be unleashed, there will be retribution, punishment beatings and threats of de-selection. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will be walking around preaching the politics of unity. And while they’re doing it the Momentum activists will be roaming around, looking for vengeance.’

He continues: Corbyn, well aware that victory is his, is already planning his response. As his opponents point out, on the surface he will be a model of magnanimity. ‘We must unite to fight the Tories’ will become the unofficial conference slogan.

But behind the scenes he and his commissars have already been plotting their retribution against those they deem guilty of crimes against his leadership.

Two weeks ago, Corbyn, McDonnell and senior aides decamped to the Unite union’s training centre in Esher, where I am told they drew up a political hit list.

First target is party General Secretary Iain McNicol, who dared take a stand against hard-Left infiltration of the leadership contest. Next will be senior national and regional party officials, who are viewed as insufficiently ideologically pure.

And, finally, Corbyn’s assassins plan to plunge an ice pick into the back of the man now regarded as enemy of the people No 1 – deputy leader Tom Watson. ‘A challenge to Tom over the next 12 months is inevitable,’ a Watson ally confirmed to me.

Against this backdrop, the process of purging rebellious MPs will commence. This will be conducted under cover of the boundary review, which will see the number of winnable Labour seats significantly reduced.

Corbyn and McDonnell plan to use their activist base to set MPs against one another, in a sort of Momentum-sponsored Hunger Games.

The first move from the Corbynites will come on Saturday morning, as soon as his victory is confirmed. Labour MPs will be invited to issue loyalty statements, with Corbynite delegates on hand to offer a ‘re-education course’ to those who decline.

‘All those lunatics who used to stand outside conference screaming and trying to shove leaflets into people hands will be on the inside now,’ said one former Labour Minister. ‘In fact, they’re the ones who’ll be running the conference.’

It is little wonder that journalists are wetting their lips at the prospect of reporting on this bloodletting.
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