Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Reason to be cheerful

I seem to have managed to wind up Michael Meacher MP, veteran lieutenant of Tony Benn.
Earlier this week I used my LabourList column to critique his sectarian response to Ed Miliband’s solid and sensible shadow cabinet reshuffle.
He (or perhaps his staffer, another veteran of the Bennite insurgency, Jon Lansman) has responded by going off the deep end.
His response tells you a lot about the demoralised state of mind of the Labour left.
He says I have ignored ‘what Labour is really all about – it’s not about getting on or climbing the greasy pole, it’s about ideology, vision and a sense of purpose on behalf of a majority of the population who depend uniquely on Labour to protect their interests against a repressive and often ruthless elite.’ He doesn’t seem to understand that Labour’s moderates are just as ideological and just as visionary about changing society as he is – it’s just we have a set of policies that can win elections, whilst the Hard Left has ideas based on the rhetoric of 1917 that were massive vote losers even in 1983, and would be even more so in 2015.
He accuses Labour in government (remember he was actually a minister serving in the Blair government he now attacks, from 1997 to 2003) of ‘accommodating to neoliberal capitalist policies throughout the Blair years – deregulation of finance, privatisation, shrinking the State in favour of unfettered markets, weakened trade union rights, and ballooning inequality’. I don’t recognise this portrayal of a government which introduced the minimum wage, reduced poverty, reduced unemployment and inflation, boosted transfer payments aimed at lower-income pensioners and families with children, restored union rights at GCHQ, boosted spending on public services to levels not seen since the 1970s, and presided over what the Office of National Statistics described as a one-third improvement in the quantity and quality of public services between 1997 and 2007. This wasn’t neoliberalism, it was modern, progressive social democracy and it’s tragic given the contrast with the current government that Meacher isn’t defending our record.
He says the new shadow cabinet members are ‘more people who were complicit in all those years’. Good. We need people at the top who share the values that are the only ones that have won Labour elections in recent British political history.
He complains of a ‘a very imbalanced PLP’. Good. I’m glad it’s unbalanced against flat-earthers and extremists and in favour of people who are serious about getting Labour back into power. I want a PLP that is representative of Labour voters and able to appeal to the voters we need to win back, not the Hard Left fringe.
For Progress supporters, my message is this: if Meacher and his ilk are so down-hearted, we need to be cheerful.  The reshuffle showed the Labour left remain in a historically incredibly weak position. Labour’s moderates and modernisers remain in the driving seat in terms of people, policies and ideas. It’s modernisers like Liam Byrne who are leading Ed Miliband’s policy review, modernisers like Andy Burnham and Stephen Twigg who are developing our attack on the Tories in the key areas of health and education. Ed Miliband chose to put those people there. Whatever Meacher’s fantasies about moving the party to the left, it is Labour’s moderates and modernisers who can get Ed Miliband elected as prime minister.   


Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here, and blogs here


Photo: Louisa Thomson

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Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • “it is Labour’s moderates and modernisers who can get Ed Miliband elected as prime minister. ”
    No. Most of all it’s Ed Miliband who can get himself elected as P.M. And if he is to do that, in current circumstances where economic events are leading policy, the most important ability will be a willingness to re-think politics and not continue with the tie-myself-to the-mast ideological bunkum you’ve set out here.

  • People like Meacher forget how long we were out of power prior to Blair, and forget the type of policies that got us back into power. I’m starting to think some people would rather have policies
    that some members like, than policies that win us elections. I hope it doesn’t take more defeats
    to realign our policies with what the electorate want from us.

  • Peter: “what the electorate want from us”

    Clearly they didn’t want the policies offered at the last election.

    Blair’s messianic ‘I believe’ approach wore thin eventually and the betrayal of service men and women (not to mention the hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilian deaths) in the Iraq war will take a lot of recovering from.

    My fear is that Blair has done to Labour what Thatcher did to the Conservatives: made them unelectable for more than a decade.

  • Interesting article and responses.

    On a purely trivial matter – but which I mention because I have over it mentioned two or three times in lst two days – if someone has Ed M’s ear, please advise him to get a haircut. He is developing a “boofont” that makes him look slightly ridiculous.

  • Thatcher was very unpopular when she left office due to policies like the poll tax.
    Blair wasn’t unpopular with the electorate, Labour and Blair were still polling well when he left office.

  • Yet a poll taken by the Sunday Times, in May 2007, following Blair’s resignation announcement, showed a boost for Labour, indicating approval of his departure.

  • The British electoral system is democratic in a perverse sort of way and the outcome of elections depends on the actions of a small number of voters in key constituencies. Labour won in 1997, not so much because of its stated policies, but because middle England was fed up with Tory sleaze and economic incompetence and because it trusted the charismatic Tony Blair. Perhaps it was a triumph of New Labour spin.

    However, the achievements of New Labour don’t look so good to middle England now. First, there was the swipe by Gordon Brown at the pension funds. Then, there was the wallpaper man (the Lord Chancellor who spent rather a lot on his apartment), who showed that our lot was not so different to the other lot; not to mention Tony Blair, with his lipstick on, apologising for the Bernie Ecclestone affair.

    I don’t want to carry on with that catalogue. However, middle England doesn’t like to see its grannies neglected in hospitals, new and glossy though those hospitals may be, nor does it appreciate having to recapitalise the banks out of the interest it is not getting on its savings.

    In this context, minimum wage legislation is not very important (many would argue that, as a matter of economics, it is the wrong way to solve the problem, but that was a political decision).

    If, on top of all that, child poverty is now to increase, the fundamental ideology behind New Labour (i.e. “free-market” capitalism) is being seen to have been misguided.

    The evidence is there to support a change from “free-market” capitalism to a more people-friendly brand of capitalism. That is why Ed Miliband’s stance against the Murdoch empire was so important.

    It will take time to bring about a change in voters’ thinking. It may just need the ingredient of integrity which has been so lacking in British politics for so long.

    One could say: “Don’t hold your breath, folks”, because this is an imperfect world and we are all hypocrits. On needs also, above all, to remember that a successful politician has to have the capacity to “put the boot in” when the occasion requires.

  • Further, if you put our polling on a line, we were well on the road to decline before Blair left.

    He exhausted the coalition he built in the country, but lived in some kind of fantasy land where Labour would be in Government for ever. He paved the ideological space for a lot of what the Tories are doing now, oversaw a decay in the quality of the PLP (where nepotism rather than the ability to generate new ideas or build blocs of support became the key career path). Meacher is an excellent example in himself. Excellent modern green politics, a decent, experienced minister in Blair’s first cabinet. Demoted for not being Blairite.

    Blair totally neglected the idea of Labour as a movement, convinced that a few blokes on TV was the ever unchanging future of public representation. Ruinously short-sighted, the ‘moderniser’.

    His fundamental tic was that policy was only good if it took on his own party, and he had spent years locked in internecine warfare with Gordon Brown, which was far from being the fault only of the then Chancellor.

    He left us with no money, on a downward polling path, decayed in quality, and riven with divisions both ideological and personal. The single common denominator between all these is a foresight based almost wholly on naivities and defensiveness. In his mind, it would always be 2002.

    I would not say he left us in a good state.

    It will take Labour a long time to rebuild. Promoting people with a deliberately confrontational attitude to other parts of the Party will hinder this significantly. Within 24 hours of being in officer, Twigg has made a deliberate stab not just at the left, but at people as far right as Burnham.

    This is not how opposition works, and it is not how we will repair the party. Meacher has several good points.

    The final point I wish to add is this is this YouGov poll:

    The answers from *the public* about whether they think Labour has moved on enough from Blair are illustrative. I recommend that readers open their minds to the obvious conclusion of this hard evidence.

  • People forget how long labour were out of power, well I suspect in a few terms from now that period out of power will seem like nothing.

  • its the PEOPLE that are supposed to have the ‘power’ treborc/robert unlike now ,when it’s the rich!

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