Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Don’t get angry, get even

Labour went down to a terrible defeat in May. Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein’s post-match analysis was insightful. The ‘shy Tories’ who have long preoccupied pollsters and Labour party strategists are, he said, neither shy nor Tory. They were genuinely undecided, even wanted to vote Labour, but en masse felt unable to put a party with weak leadership and no economic credibility in charge. A net two million more people voted for the Conservatives – having presided over an explosion of foodbanks, hurtful welfare reform and a raft of deeply divisive policies – rather than Labour. It should not need saying again, but it does: had every single person who voted for the Scottish National party or the Green party voted Labour, Ed Miliband would still have fallen short of the 11.3 million votes the Tories received.

George Osborne’s July ‘emergency’ budget was brutal once again for the very people Labour fought the 2015 election for. The ‘greedy’ got more and the ‘needy’ got hit. However, he parked his tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn by including policies from Miliband’s own manifesto such as ending permanent ‘non dom’ status and creating the ‘national living wage’. In the reams of coverage the budget received no one on the Conservative benches called Osborne ‘Labour-lite’.

On the flipside the Labour party has become a more unpleasant place for its own members. Many shied away from attending their constituency Labour party nomination meeting for fear of being called a ‘Tory’. Daring to believe that getting more votes than your opponents is now sacrilege. Thinking that any – let alone the four out of five 2015 Tory voters we need to have a majority – new support should come from those who voted for David Cameron this year is now branded treachery.

As people who should know better suggest it was the ‘lazy Labour’ supporters who failed to turn out that lost it for Miliband, the thinking in the party has itself become lazy. Liz Kendall has sought to internalise the terrible result for our party and produce an analysis worthy of the scale of the defeat. Others still seem content to wait for the public to come ‘home’ to Labour – but it is not they who have left us, it is the other way round.

The only way to beat the Tories is not – just – to get angry, but to get even. Kendall is the only candidate with a plan that the Tories fear and which they find hard to attack. Only Kendall has made the big speeches – on the economy, early years, and the skills our young people need, and on new politics, power and devolution. She has begun to forge a ‘New’ and ‘blue’ politics for the future. She has scanned the challenges of social democratic parties across Europe and set out five progressive ‘causes’ that should – regardless of the outcome of the leadership election – act as pillars to building the next majority for Labour in the United Kingdom. She has never pandered on our membership of the European Union, our national defence, or any of the essentials for a Labour victory in 2020. The campaign has mis-stepped at times – which campaign does not – but the reality is that continuity will not suffice. ‘A fresh start’ is what the Labour party needs.

With former Progress vice-chair Andy Burnham, former patron Yvette Cooper and current vice-chair Kendall all on the ballot, the Progress strategy board was spoilt for choice when it considered who to support. Progress members told their elected board representatives that support among the membership extends to all four candidates – including Jeremy Corbyn. But the overwhelming choice – of the board and membership at large – to lead Labour through the next chapter in its history was the member of parliament for Leicester West. Kendall is not the finished product – fresh start candidates rarely are. In fact, that is the point. She is the only candidate that has not yet peaked, who has the space to grow and, crucially, has their eyes fixed on the horizon of 2020 and beyond. Not defined by the past, she is Labour’s best hope of a winning future.

But, with regret, this election might not be about winning but about the party’s very future. Corbyn is an affable man. He has made a positive contribution to public life. But as leader his politics would be a disaster for Labour. The party risks being out of power for a generation. Forget economic credibility, there will be a run on Labour’s remaining stock, not seen since the queues outside Northern Rock. This will not just be with its middle-class voters, but its working-class ones too for whom hard-left politics similarly hold little appeal. But, unlike with the banks, there will be no one on hand to bail Labour out. Tony Benn famously claimed ‘eight million votes for socialism’ in 1983. Margaret Thatcher destroyed the miners, sold British Telecom and unemployment reached three million – twice. In the 18 years Labour revelled in its irrelevance, wealth was redistributed in the wrong direction and opportunity for those Labour cares most about followed it. This trajectory was only changed by winning elections.

While Corbyn himself said of proposals to ‘ban Progress’ that he would ‘not be so intolerant’, we know the mob who supports him too often behaves otherwise. Talk of a Blairite ‘virus’ will only be the start of things to come. Not only has ‘cybernat’ politics entered the Labour party, those who masterminded Labour’s 18 years out of office the first time round are set to play a front row role.

This magazine has no truck with those suggesting ‘Kendall 1, Corbyn 2’. It is hard to tell at the moment but Burnham and Cooper were part of the last – highly successful – Labour government. Both then took a leading role in Progress and remember a thing or two about winning elections. Kendall is the first, right and heartfelt choice. You pick the remaining order but do not fail to cast both two and three for anyone but Corbyn. Come on now, don’t be shy.


Photo: Tom Page

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  • Wow what an incredibly divisive piece. So you get all angry that some members accuse Liz Kendall of being a Tory (although you kind of give the game away when you say “Kendall is the only candidate with a plan that the Tories fear and which they find hard to attack.” – why do you think they find it hard to attack those plans exactly?) but then talk dismissively of the ‘mob’ that support Corbyn.

    It’s not a mob though is it, it’s actually, if polls are to be believed, a majority of the labour membership and a majority of labour voters. And this could be the death knell for Progress. ‘Radical and progressive politics for the 21st century’, is starting to look more and more ridiculous by the day.

  • This sort of article saddens me because it overlooks the one over-riding factor which has been behind Labour’s unpopularity. There has, indeed, been a virus affecting the leadership (most of it), namely, the marketisation of so much in public life. Otherwise known as free market fundamentalism or neoliberalism, it is the ultimate in laziness on the part of those exercising economic power, because it sacrifices the common good.

    Marketisation is a dogma which so many of those bright young things in the party have adopted. Perhaps they learnt it at their universities, but there is an old saying that politicians run to economic policies that are twenty years out of date. Labour’s adoption of it during its period of office sowed the seeds of its destruction, though personalities were the prime cause of its defeat in 2010.

    There are other ways of running an economy without marketising every thing nor resorting to so-called “hard left” policies. The left has the intelligence to move beyond Stalinism and to manage the economy without having bureaucratic monopolies doing it. However, Labour needs to be more aware of, and sensitive to, the whole issue of incentives, which can and must be constructed to include the cleaners as well as the top executives.

    People can feel more secure if they have some personal wealth (and will perform better in their jobs if they do – such wealth can include shares in their employer’s business); they will also feel liberated in a world of precarious employment if they have a basic, or citizens, income. What we have in Britain is a modern form of slavery where the gods to be worshipped are “the market” (rigged, though markets almost invariably are) and “GDP growth”, as if that were the only criterion for a Good Society.

    Although I am in no way advocating any sort of financial profligacy, Labour needs to understand that the externalities of any transaction involving money (that are usually ignored) make money a very dubious measure of success and is not to be relied upon absolutely. This is why marketisation is such a curse and that it is quite unethical to argue that “if it can’t be measured, you can exclude it”.

    I ought to add that it is desperately sad that Labour thinks that “Labour” values are what matters. Calling them that is the ultimate NO-NO. Labour is trying to reach out to a wide range of people, including those who shy away from Labour tribalism. What matters is people as individuals. Getting them onside (electoral pacts etc needed) is the only way to win an election.

    As far as I can see, the Conservatives are in a minority in the UK, but they have the manipulative skills (aka they play dirty) to win elections. They don’t care about people, unless it is to get their votes. Let us just remember that “Keep them down” is their traditional, spoken only in private, slogan.

    Readers of this comment may find it of interest to explore the various Rethinking Economics, Basic Income, Basic Income Earth Network and Citizens Income Trust websites and/or Facebook pages.

  • One of the major difficulties that Kendall faces (other than her lack of experience in much at all) is that she is not able to spell out the differences with that which the other parties of capable of if the circumstances suited them. It is necessary to offer a radical variation to previous offers, otherwise why not go for a coalition – type continuity. As the writer suggests this option does offer ‘credibility’, i.e that which does not fundamentally challenge the imbalances in society. Remember the Tories offered more hours of free pre school child care and offered more on the ‘minimum wage’ than the Labour establishment could. They also spoke (clearly, without substance) of a ‘Northern Power House’ just like Kendall’s talk of devolution’ So the changes on the margins along with good intentions are not sufficient and certainly will not convince.

    I have never quite grasped what is radical about the Kendall platform. Devolving power does not speak to most people if it does not amount more than Free Schools / Academies and Local Authorities, Health Authorities acting ‘within their means’, i.e. accepting the imbalances in the private/public allocations of previous administrations. Where is the challenge to the roots of power in Britain? The dominance in the markets through control of assets in the stock markets or through overseas’ dominated financial arrangements and then reassuring them that their privileges will be secure, i.e. we will have a ‘credible’ economic policy. It seems that ‘credibility’ amount to not upsetting the imbalances in the bases of privileges and a society constructed on ‘credibility’ rather than on real radical merit and just rewards.

  • ” It should not need saying again, but it does: had every single person who voted for the Scottish National party or the Green party voted Labour, Ed Miliband would still have fallen short of the 11.3 million votes the Tories received.”

    Is the editor of Progress innumerate? The SNP received 1454436 votes and the Green Party 1157613 votes – if these are added to the 9347304 Labour Party votes then the total is 11959353 which happens to be 624777 votes more than were received by the Tories!

    I believe what he is trying to say is: that the total number of Seats Won by the SNP and Green Party (57) would be insufficient to give Labour a majority, if !00% of voters from these parties voters had switched to Labour. This is a consequence of the current First Past the Post system and it would be interesting to see a proper analysis of the outcome, under the pure Single Tranferable Vote (No lists) system, with the reduced number of larger constitituencies that this requires.

    The analysis is also flawed, in that it chooses to ignore the significantly larger shares of the vote achieved by the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, that together total more than 6.29 million, some of whom may now be attracted to a more radical Labour Party.

    The recent two opinion polls by Survation and YouGov, although only a snapshot, did indicate that Jeremy Corbyn was the most popular of the four Labour leadership candidates among the wider electorate. He was also massively popular with Londoners – more than Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham combined!

    The threats of a coup, if Corbyn wins, unhelpfully supplied to the right wing press, by MP Simon Danczuk and the interventions by Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, Tristram Hunt and perhaps worst of all John McTernan, in The Spectator, have all backfired spectacularly. The relevent quote is reproduced below:

    But what if the party’s grassroots were unhappy at this? McTernan doesn’t think they matter:

    ‘Yeah but who cares about the grassroots? The leader is one who determines the saleability of the Labour party. Nobody is voting for Tumbleweed CLP. They are all voting for the leader, they are voting for a potential Prime Minister and a leader who can’t control the party, can’t control conference isn’t fit to run the party yet alone the country, but obviously if you get a strong leader, it doesn’t really matter what the grassroots say.

    ‘And the majority of party members do like being in power. They like in power at local levels, they like being in power in devolved administrations, they like being in power in central government.’

    The private letter, reportedly sent to Labour MPs by Tristram Hunt and Chuka Ummuna; to meet four days before the election resullts are announced, in a group called “Labour for the Common Good” also dubbed “The Resistance”, plus the warnings of a split by Yvette Cooper are fueling speculation of a SDP style split, involving the Blairite faction within the party.

    We live in interesting times.

  • An interesting US perspective and analysis of the Labour leadership election:

    “Even if the Labour Party establishment can find a way to stop the Corbyn surge – and it’s definitely trying to, by fair means or foul – it runs the risk of burning down Britain’s venerable working-class party in order to save it, or making it look hopelessly out of touch with its own core supporters. Win or lose, the Corbyn rebellion has launched a political chain reaction whose destabilizing effects will extend well beyond Britain. From this side of the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton’s inner circle of advisers and strategists are watching with increasingly green expressions, telling themselves over and over: It can’t happen here.”

  • It is possible to obtain odds, on Liz Kendall becoming the next Labour Leader, that range from 50/1 – 161/1, with the majority of bookmakers offering 100/1.

    Advocating tactical voting, involving the preferred Progress candidate, who currently appears the least popular, by far, among All sections of the electorate (excluding Progress), is unlikely to turn the tide!

    There are probably far more voters thinking of putting Jeremy Corbyn first, perhaps struggling with a second preferrence (obviously not Liz) and having no third or fourth preference?

  • If the idiot left vote Red Jez in the people to blame are the ‘political elite’ who despite being told of problems, especially in our CLPs, were to smug to listen, decided that they knew best and that they still knew best even after the massive General Election failure.

  • Sorry I do not agree. I was tempted by Liz because she was new (Not Blair/Brown) and a woman. But her “attack” and critique were too sharp and made me think Liz is posing as a pink Tory. We have to be different and not swallow the Tory Agenda. The Economist, a centre right newspaper has said, “with the national deficit at 3.7% of GDP that is a stable position”. In other words we do not need to keep cutting. Just keep it in balance. Liz is not saying that. Also her debunking of ALL of the last 5 years was unwise. PM Blair said in his autobiography. “You have to change the Party with the grain not against the grain”. This was after he was worsted by Dennis Skinner MP not long after getting elected as a MP. Liz has not learnt this which is why I am not voting for her. I am supporting Yvette who is not debunking the past and has the gravitas and experience.

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