Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The modernisers need to be modern once more

Dear Progress,

Like me I know this short missive does not find you well. Our once great party is in a mess and is not showing sufficient signs of knowing it, let alone doing something about it. But why should anyone at Progress listen to anything from someone at Compass? Particular when it is called Downfall: Is Labour dead and how can radical hope be rebuilt?

But in a strange case of political coincidence, Steve Reed, who I admire a lot, asked exactly the same question about Labour yesterday on the Progress site. Look, there is a lot that we do not agree on – I think you are still too ambivalent about the use of the private sector in public services, too heavy on cutting the deficit and not growing the economy and when Progress people held power from 1997 to 2007, at least within the party, you never gave much of it away. But while not ignoring our differences, the crisis of Labour demands we work together where we agree. And we do on much

The best thing about you Progress is that you talk – you are open to debate and ideas, you know understanding modernity matters. I did not agree with everything in the Purple Book – but it was a serious intervention. Well done. We agree on devolving central state power and trusting the people, hence my frustration about the party above.

Today we are united in our shared frustration at the lack of seriousness, professionalism, rigor and ambition in our party features that were sadly missing over the last five years. I can image how frustrating it all was for you – but believe me it was frustrating from our side too.

But I would urge you to think hard about trying to recreate your halcyon days of the mid 1990s and in Downfall I explain why. Today we do not have the desperation of 18 years of Tory government to work off, we do not have a huge and long boom, we cannot rely on deregulated financial market again, we now have formidable competition to our left and we do not have the skills of Tony Blair. So we cannot go back. But you will be pleased to know that I also argue the party cannot go back to 1945 either. You can read why in the short pamphlet if you want.

So what is to be done? First we have to look hard and deep at ourselves and realise how weak we are. We then need to look inside and outside the party for new sources of ideas and energy – which Labour did in both 1945 and 1997.

Today, that means recognising the place of New Labour in terms of its ability to appeal beyond the core vote – though this time with a bigger purpose please – and to run effective campaigns. It means recognising too the contribution of people around Blue Labour but also the way Compass, I would say this wouldn’t I, have looked at the how progressives deal with the rise of the networked society and new flatters forms of organisation. Just like 1997 we have to own the future. Then we have to open up to all the peer-to-peer, civil society and campaign movements who are well ahead of us in effectively practicing a new politics. Labour must become an open tribe – strong in its values and history but willing to open up and out to new ideas and build alliance far beyond our current comfort zone.

To build a social democracy relevant to the twenty-first century the modernisers need to be modern once more – we have nothing to lose from trying.


Downfall: Is Labour dead and how can radical hope be rebuilt? is available to read on the Compass website here


Neal Lawson is chair of Compass. He tweets @Neal_Compass


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Neal Lawson

is chair of Compass

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