Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

A new guru in town?

Is it a case of step aside Maurice Glasman, there’s a new guru in town? The big Labour summer hit is the rise of the Australian philosopher-politico Tim Soutphommasane, who is being feted by the the party leadership for his suggestion that Labour should create a liberal-left national story of progressive patriotism.

Sadly, the ‘guru’ stories are wide of the mark. After Team Ed’s fears over Glasman’s foot-in-mouth antics, they are wary of anointing any more gurus. Policy review chief Jon Cruddas is Soutphommasane’s champion and his enthusiasm for the young Aussie has impressed his colleagues.

The reason for this enthusiasm is obvious. Left patriotism is likely to be popular, and comes without a price-tag. If Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony taught us anything, it is that you can tell a radical British national story. Think Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, not Downton Abbey. As we bask in the afterglow of the Olympics, ‘progressive patriotism’ seems an idea whose Labour time has come.

Naturally, the hard part comes when we move from progressive pageantry to policy content.

It does not pay to be too cynical, though. There are ways our policies could demonstrate Labour’s vision of Britishness. Our opposition to Sunday trading and high streets dominated by betting shops could be cast as rooted in affection for British tradition and places. What is more, progressive patriotism might be helpful in the Scottish referendum – a way of countering perceptions of ‘little Englandism’.

However, your insider suspects the richest seam to mine is the idea of ‘rebuilding Britain’. Expect to hear a lot more of ‘rebuilding’, as it fits with Cruddas’ idea of a national story, Chuka Umunna’s plans for a British investment bank, the swell of economic opinion in favour of infrastructure, and Miliband’s own theme of responsible capitalism. Only problem? As Cruddas knows from repairing his Irish cottage, rebuilding costs money, takes a while and means you have less money for treats. Voters tend to like treats.

A gold medal for political bravery

Your insider is a jaded hack. To take one example, Stella Creasy’s campaign against legal loan sharks impressed this correspondent more for the impact it would have on the political profile of an ambitious new MP than for the potential to improve the lives of families. I know. I am dreadful.

So I am surprised to tell you that the Walthamstow MP’s recent Guardian interview calling for a total reconsideration of all government spending flummoxed my cynicism. No matter how hard your insider searched for a self-interested angle, it could not be found. A frontbencher calling for spending restraint in the Labour party will not make anyone happy. It is a career-retrograding step for someone who has made few enemies until now.

Which suggests only one thing. Creasy really means it and does not mind that it will make some people mad. Given the ambitious and  talented group that came into parliament in 2010, it is mildly astonishing that one of Labour’s Bright Young ThingsTM is prepared to say something that will annoy a large part of the party.

Whether Creasy is right or wrong, her willingness to say things that much of the Labour movement will not like is a breath of fresh air. Kudos to her, but, Stella, do watch your back.

Selection snippets

There has been some interesting selection news recently, notably the choice of Anna Turley, formerly of the New Local Government Network, to be Labour’s candidate for the key marginal of Redcar. She will be a fantastic campaigner.

Less impressive, though, are persistent rumours that some all-women shortlists for key marginal seats are attracting few candidates. There has been a spate of selections where the shortlist has consisted of just two women. I am promised this is not some fix, and indeed candidates from both left and right have been put up. It is just that people are not applying. We clearly need to do a better job in recruiting outstanding potential women MPs. If you are thinking of it, now is the time.

Fixing the policy process

Yay! The Labour party is redesigning its policy processes. A paper sent to the National Executive Committee sets out how we will decide our next manifesto. Like me, I am sure your excitement cannot be contained.

The good news is that the policy process is more open than the old system, with an online ‘policy hub’, where anyone can comment on Labour policy papers or make policy proposals of their own. It is policymaking for the Wiki-generation. The bad news is that for all the policy hub blather, the new system is just as fixable as the old one.

Conference will be asked this month to decide which subjects seven new policy commissions should draft ‘challenge papers’ on. After these are written and responded to, the policy commissions look at solutions. If they cannot agree these, the options go to the National Policy Forum. The winning proposal then goes to conference for a final vote.

With me so far? This means there are at least seven chances for deals to be done. Your insider does not mind this, as it merely reflects the reality of the Labour party. Since the unions are a more cohesive bloc than ever and have half the votes at conference, any Labour policy process must manage that relationship carefully.

So, while the Wiki-policy hub will be fun, real power in Labour’s policy process will rest where it always has, in informal meetings between politicians and union officers. If the latter are united and ambitious in their political aims, then watch this space.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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