This time last year, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader was an earthquake. Yesterday it was matter-of-fact.
The main hall of the Liverpool Exhibition Centre was half empty for the announcement of the leadership result. The issue wasn’t who would come out on top – that was already obvious, to the glee of the contingent of Marxists stood outside the venue, handing out newspapers proclaiming that “Comrade Corbyn has trounced citizen Smith”. The only question was how crushing the victory was going to be.
The two candidates were called on to the stage and carried out an animated display of hand-shaking and back-slapping, but then it was Corbyn’s show. There was a rapturous reception from his supporters when the result was read out, and when Corbyn took to the podium, he couldn’t avoid an air of triumphalism. “We’re both part of the same Labour family,” he boomed at defeated leadership rival Owen Smith, the patriarch reproaching his wayward son. It was clear who Corbyn thought had betrayed that family.
In the mingle of journalists, party members and MPs following the announcement, Smith’s backers disappeared quickly, leaving the likes of Dennis Skinner to prod angry fingers at reporters who had asked awkward questions during the campaign.
The real jubilation was more than a mile up the road, where Momentum was holding its own mini-conference in an old church near Liverpool’s Chinatown. The roar nearly lifted the roof when the result came across the live feed – so we’re told.
There was no chance of that sort of excitement at the conference proper, which felt tired and hollow. The party was somewhere else. The corridors were mainly occupied by MPs weighing up their options, and Smith supporters considering their next move.
Rebel MPs caught in the middle, like Scotland’s Ian Murray, face a difficult decision over whether to go back and give Corbyn legitimacy while damaging their own credibility, or stay away and sit uneasily on the back benches while Labour withers in the polls.
Their re-elected leader needs just a handful of contrite returnees to give himself a fig leaf of party unity, and he probably already has enough former shadow cabinet members who want their jobs back.
The air of deflation doesn’t bode well for the four days of the Labour Party conference that lie ahead.