'What Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May need to do now as spectre of another election looms'

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AS THERESA MAY and Jeremy Corbyn prepare for their respective party conferences, they share two things in common.

The first is a wish their annual gatherings were happening at a different time.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

After her snap election decision spectacularly backfired, the Prime Minister would cheerfully postpone the next Conservative Party conference for as long as possible or at least until she has secured some red meat from the Brexit talks to throw to those menacing wolves keen to chase her out of Number 10 sooner rather than later.

And the Opposition leader would have rather liked the Labour Party conference to have opened at around 9am on June 9 as he enjoyed what remains, even in this decade of political surprises, one of the most astonishing general election results of the post-war era.

Of the two, Labour’s gathering in Brighton certainly looks like it should be the smoother occasion. It should be remembered that Labour activists were heading to Liverpool just 12 months ago for a conference set to open with the results of a leadership election, the second in the space of just over a year, with many confidently expecting a third to follow in 2017.

In fact, remarkably little political blood was spilled on the banks of the Mersey as forecasts of a meltdown appeared to galvanise all sides into proving the commentariat wrong.

Paradoxically, Labour’s performance in June’s election could pave the way for a more testing gathering this weekend.

Emboldened, the Corbyn faction has been seeking to tighten its grip on the party apparatus to try and remove opportunities for moderates to try to block the leader’s policies and negate the risk of future leadership challenges.

And far from being cowed by Corbyn’s turn in fortunes, the moderates now feel an even greater sense of urgency that Labour needs to change tack before another general election which, thanks to the Government’s precarious position, could happen at any moment.

At the core of the debate in Brighton will be Corbyn’s devotees essentially calling for ‘one more heave’ to achieve a Labour victory and moderates pointing out that they still lost the election.

Nevertheless, the need to maintain the veneer of unity ahead of another possible early election, and the lingering feel-good factor from June, should be enough to prevent all-out war.

The feelgood factor will be completely absent from the Conservatives’ gathering.

Last year in Birmingham, Mrs May, resented by many in the party for years having once called them “nasty”, delighted them in her closing speech when she used the same epithet to describe Labour under Mr Corbyn.

The party had been hopelessly split by the EU referendum while the architects of its return to Government in 2010 and outright election triumph in 2015 – David Cameron and George Osborne – had paid the price of the referendum result. Yet the majority of activists undoubtedly left with Mrs May’s words in their ears and a spring in their step.

The applause for her this year will be born out of duty rather than devotion. Forgiveness is rare in politics and the Conservative activists asked to pound the streets only to see their party lose its grip on power will not be in forgiving mood.

The only questions in the halls and bars will be ‘how long can she carry on?’ and ‘who will take over?’.

Mrs May’s future will be the prism through which everything that emerges from the conference will be viewed. Impressive speeches will become leadership bids, visibility at events will be seen as cultivating grassroots support, policy refinements will be interpreted as admissions of failings in June’s manifesto.

And if the Prime Minister needed any more convincing that the political gods are against her, then the proof must surely be in the location of this year’s conference.

Mrs May heads to Manchester after a summer which has seen her administration endure repeated attacks over its commitment to the North of England following the decision to scale back rail investment plans.

Expect to hear warm words about the Northern Powerhouse and strong hints of positive announcements to come in the Budget later this year.

That will not be enough to placate critics outside the conference venue, but it may also not be enough to placate Conservative MPs in the North who are tired of having to explain to constituents why Northern Ireland is receiving an extra £1bn while Transport Secretary Chris Grayling downgrades investment in the rail services they use.

But, to a degree, tongues will be held because of the second thing in common with Labour – anticipation of the election they expect lies just around the corner.

Despair at what happened in June will be channeled into determination that there will be no repeat when polling day next arrives and that they will secure the result many Conservatives feel they were denied because of their own party’s failings rather than Labour’s achievements.

In both Brighton and Manchester the rallying cry will be: ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for another election’.