Argue your case

Labour’s moderate tradition defends constant values, not outdated policies

The creation of a special section in the Labour leadership election for people who do not support the Labour party has released forces into the mainstream of the party like a plague. It is like a horror film when the construction of a new underground railway unearths a deadly bacillus which has lain dormant for centuries.

This, combined with Twitter, the cowards’ communication of choice, led to a summer of insults. The worst of these was ‘Tory’, a classic attempt at delegitimising anyone with a contrary view to Jeremy Corbyn’s. It works like this: by calling someone a Tory, it means they are not valid, not legitimate, and belong somewhere else.

It is nothing new. John O’Farrell’s memoir of Labour in opposition Things Can Only Get Better recalls his first encounters with the hard left at Exeter University, just after the 1979 election: ‘There was me thinking that Jim Callaghan had been one of the good guys, when it turned out he was just a TOR-y. The word Tory had its own pronunciation back then – the TOR part lasted about three seconds. Merlyn Rees? TOR-y! Denis Healey? TOR-y! David Owen? TOR-y!’

If conducted against individuals at the branch level, it makes them less likely to turn up to meetings. It creates a combative, unpleasant atmosphere which most people would avoid. So when the resolution or delegate to conference is chosen, usually towards the end of a long evening agenda, the likelihood is that the organised factions of the hard left are in the majority, albeit five votes to four.

The great lesson learned from the last time the hard left was ascendant in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that to beat them, you had to become like them. In her book Fightback! Dianne Hayter describes the epiphany of the ‘traditional right’, grouped around Solidarity and the ‘St Ermin’s group’ of trade unionists, that if the mainstream moderates were ever to rescue the party, they needed to organise with as much dedication as the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy or Militant.

Neil Kinnock understood this, and ensured he had a majority on Labour’s National Executive Committee (at times of one or two), that he had a majority at conference, and that he controlled the party’s policymaking machinery through the policy review, and then the National Policy Forum (which began after his defeat in 1992).

But organisation is never enough. The hard left’s attempts to delegitimise Labour moderates will work if Labour moderates have no valid politics. The Labour ‘right’ (always a problematic label) has an intellectual tradition in the Labour party as solid as any other part of the party.

I am happy to recognise Corbyn’s brand of politics as a legitimate strand of the Labour party. He stands in a tradition of George Lansbury and the Poplar Revolt, of the pacifists who opposed the world wars, of the nuclear disarmers and peace campaigners of the 1950s, of the post-1968 generation of anti-Vietnam, anti-LBJ protestors. That is why bandying ‘Trot’ around to describe the hard left is counterproductive, inside or outside the Labour party, as it blurs the line between the hard left and actual real-life Trots who belong to other parties.

The corollary must be that Corbynistas recognise that we have a place too. Ours is the tradition of Beatrice Webb, RH Tawney, Evan Durbin, Ernie Bevin, Hugh Gaitskell, Denis Healey and Tony Crosland. It is the tradition of the Fabians, like Leonard Woolf and Sidney Webb. The 1918 version of Clause IV, written by Sidney Webb, was deliberately crafted to beat off the hard left. It left the specific means of achieving ‘common ownership’ vague, to deny the Guild Socialists and others their chance to prescribe their own chosen method.

Our tradition is fiercely loyal to the Labour party as the engine of change in society. We are the political descendants of those who stayed true to the Labour party when the Gang of Four led the Social Democratic party into the wilderness. We reject any notion, whether it comes from Shirley Williams, George Galloway, David Owen or Ken Loach, that a breakaway party can refashion politics.

We proudly belong to trade unions, no matter how objectionable we find their leaders. We are broadly, although not exclusively, in favour of the United Kingdom, of greater engagement in Europe, of Britain staying as a nuclear power (thanks Clem!), of a mixed economy between private, public, co-operative and voluntary organisations, of military action when necessary, of full employment, equality, personal liberty and social justice.

Our political methodology is anchored in our values, which are applied afresh to the problems of each generation. This is the basis of what is sometimes called revisionism – the idea that values are constant but policies must adapt. That is why we are deeply suspicious of a worldview which was settled at some point in the 1970s, and has not changed since.

We probably admire and respect Tony Blair. He is part of the broader tradition described above. His governments changed lives for the better, by reaching into this Labour revisionist tradition, not by defying or transcending it. In New Labour’s Old Roots, edited by Patrick Diamond, the point is made that Blairism sits in an unbroken thread, stretching back to the ‘New Liberals’ who helped create Labour in 1900.

So if you consider yourself a ‘moderate’ and are appalled by whatever ideological excesses and eccentricities are to befall us, have confidence in your place in the party. Only by understanding that you stand on the shoulders of giants can you have the guts to walk into that party meeting packed with Corbynistas to argue your case. The only Tories are the ones running the country.

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Paul Richards is author of Labour’s Revival: The Modernisers’ Manifesto

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Comments: 14...

  1. On September 26, 2015 at 11:13 am Verity responded with... #

    Whilst I reject the view that Blairism was a continuity as opposed to a qualitative step – change, I do recognise some aspects remains in a Labour tradition. No Labour thoughts in history have been,’super relaxed with the filthy rich’ (or words to that effect). I always found it difficult to grasp the linkage of Labour values to this (honestly held and fully committed) sentiment. ‘Top Downism’, has for instance always has been a theme in Labour history with short term benefits and longer term detriments. Clearly former control in the Trade Unions throughout history have had this theme as have detachments by leading PLP views rather as the MEPs now. The ‘militant’ period also shared this ‘Top-Down’ mentality. Corbyn’s elevation offers the prospects of more democratic Party growth and diminution of ‘Top-Downism’ and that can allow space for former adherents to Blairism, but I suspect this would only work if there is recognition that we should loose the most dominant ‘Top – Down’ aspects of the Labour tradition.

  2. On September 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm Trebor123 responded with... #

    Paul, your article/rant starts badly and then progressively deteriorates throughout. It is logically inconsistent and speaks only to a tiny clique, within a sect, embedded in the broader Party.

    It is interesting that you focus on Twitter, in your critique, when some of the worst offenders, such as: Luke Akehurst, John Rentoul, Dan Hodges etc. appear to be broadly aligned with some of the nastier articles published on Progress. The traffic, regarding insults, was certainly not one-way and you seem to be confusing the reaction (on occasion intemperate) with causation/initiation which may lie rather closer to home?

    I am not convinced that you can label Twitter as “the cowards’ communication of choice”, without considering those previously referenced and those who are actually members of, or sometimes contributing directly to Progress. If you had instead said: “the narcissist communication of choice”, then you would probably be on safer ground.

    You, incredibly, manage to refute your own arguments; by the inclusion of 5 instances of the term “hard left”, conflating this with the current membership and supporters of the party and then compare them to “a deadly bacillus that has lain dormant for centuries”. The hypocrisy and lack of awareness is quite breathtaking, given that Blairites have recently protested at being called “a virus”!

    The current shadow cabinet is far more inclusive, of the different strands within the Labour Party, than any in recent times. Misuse of the term “hard left” seems to be prevalent among those on the right and extreme right of the Party, even though the actual policies espoused, by those now so labelled, may be closer to the historical mainstream. Harold Wilson, John Smith and Robin Cook would have been in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn in many but not all areas and they would also differ among themselves to a similar degree.

    The first sentence in the last paragraph is completely over the top but sadly consistent, with the premonitions of doom and poisonous bile that emanates from a certain sector of the Party, who have the gall to call themselves “moderate” or “progressive” when in reality they are anything but!

    I am all in favour of arguing your case but suggest that this may be more productive if this is done within a coherent and logically self-consistent framework, rather than just flinging insults, or assuming that your group or perhaps even sect has all the answers and/or moral superiority.

    Some have belatedly started to reposition themself and their organisations but this article is not indicative of any real desire for constuctive engagement, by the author. If he is representative of Progress as a whole, then they are unlikely to survive, other than as a minority interest group on the outer fringes of politics. Jon Cruddas has recently suggested this, as a potential outcome and even Peter Mandelson appears to have abandoned ship.

  3. On September 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm John A Bateson responded with... #

    I am not a great admirer of the Webbs.

  4. On September 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm Liberanos responded with... #

    The awareness that their views are increasingly alien to any possible political majority in the country is rather a stimulus for the Corbyn supporter, I fear.

    • On September 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm Tina Cortez responded with... #

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  5. On September 26, 2015 at 3:15 pm jobacon responded with... #

    Ernest Bevin and Beatrice Webb were, like Jeremy Corbyn, Jew-haters so that puts them in the same camp. Of course, this is not classed as “racism” in modern politics, you are only racist if you dislike anyone but the Jews, they are fair game. Incredibly, Jews on the hard left voted for Corbyn, deliberately ignoring his pronouncements on Israel, his support of Arab terrrorism and of Paul Eisen the Holocaust denier. And there are no Trots any more, they have joined either the Labour Party (we have a couple in our branch) or the Greens.

    • On September 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm BKendler responded with... #

      I do not agree that Bevin was a Jew-hater. He was hated amongst Jews in British Palestine but that was hardly surprising. Ernest Bevin just loyally, unwisely followed the policy of the Foreign Office that the Arab peoples were to be appeased because they had (still have) the oil. Also, until the social changes of the 1960’s most white anglo saxon people of left or right were gently anti-semitic. It was the done thing in those days.

      • On September 26, 2015 at 6:35 pm jobacon responded with... #

        Yes, it was the done thing among the upper classes, and among a certain group of working class people to whom Bevin belonged. Coming from Bristol, he had probably never met anyone he could identify as a Jew in his life until he met Manny Shinwell. Bevin was greeted with delight by the Foreign Office with their entrenched love of “the noble savage” a concept drummed into every public school boy and girl, Jews were not “noble savages”, they were/are wily and cunning. Bevin made antisemitic asides and jokes which showed where his true feelings lay.

        • On September 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm BKendler responded with... #

          What makes you think anti-semitism was the preserve of the upper classes. Most of the kids at my school who bated me for being Jewish were working class. There were no upper class kids at Blackwell SM School in Harrow when I was there.

    • On September 26, 2015 at 9:11 pm Paul McGuire responded with... #

      By the same token, you are only a xenophobe if you dislike anyone but the English. They are also ‘fair game’ in the warped value system of the middle class metro ‘liberal’ ruling classes. One day we might reach a point where no bigotry or discrimination of any form is tolerated, but Labour, for all their anti-bigotry rhetoric, are just as guilty as those they condemn.

    • On September 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm Alex responded with... #

      You know that Jews are not duty bound to unfailingly support Israel right? And that not all criticism of Israel is anti Semitic? Throwing around false accusations of anti semitism is extremely damaging and as a Jew I can say I’m absolute stick and tired of people like you using it for their political advantage.

  6. On September 26, 2015 at 3:33 pm IAS2011 responded with... #

    Are the “principles” amongst any of this? If so, please inform and let us debate.
    I have a story to tell ALL contributors of this forum, and it is one that you may.. or may not be familiar with – depending on your on journey in life.
    I am proud to have become a mentor over many years. during this time, I have listened to many stories, and seen the detriment it can do to people. I am not talking about someone who has always been “down and out” or vulnerable in any way that you would notice, either.
    Let me begin….
    A child born into A family of Labour voting parents. Why? Apparently the wider family has always had the support of the Labour party back in the 1970s, and this supported housing. Also, the parents of this young child were both always in full-time work, once the children were old enough to walk. A great inspiration for those who don’t, some may say. Thus, the children always voted Labour as it was family inspired to do so.
    Growing-up, the child never thought that there would ever be a chance to vote differently, or not to vote at all. Having worked from the age of 16, and then attended University to study… the child, now a young man, started his journey as a trainee manager., at the age of 19.
    Proactive and focused on skills development, business support and do all what was necessary to “win minds”, he was successful in many years of management. He, I would say, is someone that our politicians should be Proud of – should always be willing to FIGHT, for… would you say?
    So, having worked so hard – “blood & sweet” – to achieve goals, winning minds of company owners, he prepared to staircase his professional success into starting his own business. Why not? Ambition and determination – we, and the political class, should always be willing to support, right!
    So, having achieved so much already, and having also been successful at producing a business plan – confirmed viable by banks – he felt confident in his pursuit of progress. One other thing, he also had to use a government start-up funding scheme – aimed at supporting the “viable” business plans of those who are financially disadvantaged.
    Having submitted the “plan” to the bank, and with a feeling of confidence that – as this is a “tax-payer” scheme, surely there will be protections by politicians, including the Labour party that he has always voted for, along with his family – but there were delays to funding??
    Having secured and paid rent on the premises, and used his own small funds to start shop-fitting he was told that his funding would take 4-weeks… instead “it took 5-MONTHS!!!”
    The bank business manager resigned his post, and his politicians, the Chair of the Parliamentary Small Business Group said “I know about all these problems with the scheme”. But, instead of fighting the political POLICY, and doing so via the news media and in political chambers…. he did so in a way that secured the fate of this young man.
    Apparently the governments own report highlighted that there POLICY was failings people.
    This Young man.. Fought.. and fought… and fought.
    This Young man, because of his FIGHT…. LOST EVERYTHING he worked hard to Build…. including his HOME, savings he worked hard to build… and his viable business.
    The Labour politicians, including MPs he spoke to… did nothing to FIGHT for him.
    *NONE of the news media organisations (even TAX-PAYER funded) wanted to confront his STORY…
    I know that he took an OVERDOSE a few years ago – as he struggled, through a recession (like most) to get back on his feet… even though he did what politicians would advise…
    Having kept in contact with him, I know he continues to FIGHT… even after so much.
    What these Politicians DO NOT know… is that this same individual who achieved so much. worked hard… even was successful at developing a plan that was commended by banks via a government scheme… He achieved this against ALL odds… as he stems from a Vulnerable background.
    Isn’t the Labour part MPs… politicians meant to FIGHT for such individual – skilled and talented.. who they have decided to leave from any support… and left to FAIL?
    ISN’T THIS AN EXAMPLE OF A CASE TO BE ARGUED?
    I am now wondering whether this STORY will be told on PROGRESS ONLINE… and, if so, will there be communication…. or just simply another reason to IGNORE this appalling story or ones life that has been failed in such a collectively, appalling way.
    FINALLY, I know this individual is still fighting for a FULFILLING role – even though he is so skilled. I know he has been FAILED so many times that his confidence, understandably, get knocked again… and again.
    I WANT THIS PERSONS VOICE TO BE HEARD, AND PROGRESS TO HELP HIM TO ACHIEVE HIS GOAL!!

  7. On September 26, 2015 at 9:22 pm Alan Jameson responded with... #

    If you’re going to walk into a meeting packed with Corbynistas, the only way to argue your case is by physical force, or at least the threat of it, so make sure you can use your fists and you go surrounded with some serious muscle, because you’ll need it. I saw the Corbyn-type mob in action in London in the late 1970s and early 80s. Intimidating opponents into silence was bread and butter to those thugs.

    • On September 27, 2015 at 8:40 pm Alex responded with... #

      What planet are you living on? ‘Corbyn type mob’.. There is no Corbyn type mob, time to stop reliving your younger years and realise this is 2015 and the only ‘mob’ is one intent on social justice, fairer distribution of income, stopping the marketisation of public services. This attempt to pretend the militant tendency are somehow reborn is absolutely laughable.

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