Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Will the real JC please stand up?

Another dispatch from inside the Westminster village

The parliamentary Labour party has good reason to feel disoriented. Their party has overwhelmingly given them a leader who has the support of about as many Labour members of parliament are there are Ulster Unionist ones.

Even many of our leader’s most vocal parliamentary supporters privately doubt he has what it takes to lead the party. Among the shadow cabinet, there are just three firm Jeremy Corbyn supporters – Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Jon Trickett. Each has stood for the leadership, or considered it seriously this time. If the Campaign Group saw Corbyn as their natural leader, they have done an amazing job of hiding it.

Beyond these few, some in the shadow cabinet are parlaying willingness to embrace the new politics into higher profiles. Many more are busy reinterpreting their leader’s stated positions on issues as crucial as schools, Europe, energy, Trident and Syria.

Corbyn’s weakness at the top helps explain why he has appeared so ambiguous in his first month as leader. Keeping Trident and your CND badge seems untenable. How can the former chair of Stop the War agree with Hilary Benn to set out Labour’s conditions for bombing in Syria, then say nothing as Stop the War savagely attacks Benn?

This push-me-pull-you element to Corbyn’s leadership is most striking in his approach to the dignified, rather than the working, functions of his new job. Joining the privy council, singing an anthem or wearing a poppy will change nothing on austerity, tax credits, or the NHS.

Yet Corbyn has managed to generate weeks of headlines by treating them as complex challenges to his personal moral code. At his first parliamentary Labour party meeting there was audible discontent when he gave a disquisition on the significance of the white poppy. At his second, at his failure to become a Right Honorable.

Then, of course, there has been the sorry tale of Labour’s fiscal plan. We are now a proudly anti-austerity party. Except for the week of party conference, when the shadow chancellor decided we were not, but did not realise the consequences of his position.

This led to the rather bizarre situation of McDonnell and Corbyn being told by senior figures on the right of the party that they were being too fiscally conservative. Cue panicked U-turn, and a week which could have been about tax credit cuts being about Labour chaos.

Corbyn has moved effortlessly from a campaign based on straight-talking and honesty to a leadership of mixed messages.

There are now two Corbyns: the anti-austerity, republican, anti-war radical who won the leadership, and the compromising, prevaricating, follower-leader whose gnomic worldview is relayed by press release and briefings. Only when attacking the Conservatives do the two Corbyns coalesce. Whether on Saudi Arabia or on tax credits, it is only in opposing, not proposing, that he has scored real hits. We will discover soon which is the real Corbyn.

Seumas Milne is now director of strategy and communications for the Labour party

The people advising the leader, and possibly the leader too, have taken leave of their senses.

It’s not about you, it’s about me

Many MPs feel the agenda of many of Corbyn’s backers is less about Jeremy, more about a left realignment of the party. This would be achieved with manifestos decided by conferences and executive meetings, with MPs restrained by fear of reselection. Once such changes are achieved, any leader will have to follow.

Corbyn’s campaign organisers and newer MPs have certainly focused on building their movement, not changing the party line (or, in Richard Burgon’s case, remembering it). Their new group, Momentum, is about voter registration, activist mobilisation and delivering change on the ground. Coincidentally, these activities also create mailing lists and local groups. These might be of use one day.

There is a vocal pro-Corbyn movement to organise – in the party and beyond it. Even MPs who nominated Corbyn for leader like Jo Cox, Rushanara Ali and Frank Field have found open debate can turn unkind. Putting that movement to work is essential for Labour’s left – so important is the task that the Socialist Workers’ party, the Socialist party and the Alliance of Workers’ Liberty have all offered a helping hand. Essential too are the party structures. The removal of Community and Hilary Benn from the National Executive Committee gives the left an unstable majority on the NEC. That majority is not secure. It depends on retaining the support of unions and winning the next NEC elections. While Unite, Unison and GMB back Corbyn today, there are other alliances available.

So any party reform will have to be carefully planned, with wilder talk reined in until the moment is right. The risk is that this itself creates stasis, killing the spirit of the supporters Corbyn needs to change the party.

Here, though, the left has learned lessons from years spent at union committees, rallies and in London’s city hall. Secure the structures. Build the organisation. Think long term.

This is not Tony Blair’s Labour party any more, but nor is this Tony Benn’s left. Perhaps, it may not even be Corbyn’s.

Strength in adversity

This last month has been tough for thousands in our steel industry. One small consolation is that their MPs and its union have been fighting for them Anna Turley, new MP for Redcar, has certainly had a baptism of molten steel. She has shown toughness, talent, and passion, as have her fellow campaigners. They have shown the party at our best, fighting for communities, jobs and investment. It is a great shame that at the moment our steel industry needed a voice, its union was pulled from our NEC.

The PLP, though, has redressed the balance, electing Sheffield’s Angela Smith and Middlesbrough’s Tom Blenkinsop to the influential PLP parliamentary committee. Our MPs, at least, have shown they will fight for steel.


Photo: Adrian Teal

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The Insider


  • This article says it all. Jeremy Corbyn was elected by people who have anything but loyalty to the Labour Party. Who had the crazy idea of allowing “supporters” to vote? Jeremy Corbyn is a gift to the Tories and those who claim the Labour Party was always too extreme. Tariq Ali is having orgasms of delight.

  • Corbyn won 49.6% of members’ first preference votes; he was only 1,000 short of an outright win among members alone. He would have probably won in the second round on the mix of votes from Liz Kendall that were exhausted and the few second preferences that went to him from her supporters; if not, he would have won on Yvette or Andy’s second preferences in the third round. I appreciate the critique of the electoral model but it isn’t fair to say he was elected by people who have “anything but loyalty to Labour”. The momentum within the party was real.

  • Whoever ‘Insider’ is Conservative Central Office want to send them round an early Christmas present. The accompanying card should read, Keep up the good work.

  • Er actually, Jo, it was the right of the party – Progress and a variety of centre groups enthusiastically backed it. The left, almost universally, from Tribune, to Compass, to even soft left groups like Chartist were critical of it.
    Physician, heal thyself.

  • If Progress ever want to break out of the (extremely small) political ghetto they are stranded in, they could start with coming up with fresh ideas and proposals rather than endless criticisms of the leadership, which appears to be their sole trading point. Indeed, it’s what they used to criticise the left for, endlessly.

  • I am horrified that those on the right could not see past the end of their noses. We in the Kings Cross Ward of Camden Labour Party, and one of our members in particular, foresaw what would happen. Most of the people who voted for Corbyn who were actual Labour Party members voted as if it were a contest on Strictly Come Dancing, they know and knew nothing of Corbyn’s true agenda, just that he was the “outsider”, the “underdog”.

  • No! It was most of the Party. I spoke to Paul Kenny at the special conference in March 2014 as I am a GMB sponsored Councillor and asked why are we backing these unnecessary changes. Paul’s answer was “We can’t embarass the Leader one year from a election”. Ed was spooked by an attack from PM Cameron over Falkirk. He did not think it through and nor did the Party. It seems ludicrous that you have to be a member for 12 months to vote for a Parliamentary or Council candidate but 5 minutes to vote for a Leader. More and more the Party is rueing the day we picked Ed Miliband as Leader.

  • When will the so – called Labour MP’s get it? The people who ELECTED Corbyn as leader actually liked what he was saying and approved of the direction he wanted to take the party.
    The only way for these ‘disaffected’ MP’s to understand what’s going on is to call for a repeat of the leadership contest and see just where that decision leaves them. It will then be up to them, the Labour Party MP’s who think that they know better to either change their allegiance or get behind the leader that the labour people of the country have chosen to be their leader.
    Clearly, if the country’s had agreed with the positions of the ‘disaffected’ MP’s, then we would now be enjoying a government of their persuasion.
    Doesn’t the fact that the country has now, and for the next five years, have to endure the most right wing, ideologically driven government that we have EVER had give them pause for thought?
    We are not going to return to a pale alternative to the present incumbents. The work of Labour has to be to present a realistic, workable alternative to this ultra-right wing governments. Remember, there are so many very eminent economists who are 100% behind the agenda that Corbyn is promoting .
    We beg that the Labour doubters take not e of this and give Corbyn a chance.

  • Please you people of the Progress Tendancy stop your griping, rejoin the Labour Party and work for a Labour Govenment in 2020.
    Your contant snipping and badmouthing will only ensure that you will give the torries another five year.
    The Labour Party is about its members not its MP’s.

  • Agreed but its worse now with polls for Lab at 29% and falling, the lowest leader ratings ever recorded in history , the national security trident fiasco which makes Lab seem unfit to govern, people withdrawing their funding of the party – it goes on and under Ed it was never this bad as he led over Cameron for many long months. Not now.

  • Rubbish its about the voters and they are telling us loud and clear- its no to Corbyn with the lowest leader ratings ever recorded and the chances of becoming the UK PM as remote as pepper pig. Anti-Corbynism is nationwide, media wide, and its working class people who find his North London leftist protesting urbanism totally unrepresentative of our typical voters. Its back to the 80s and losing more seats then we did in 1983.

  • Progress represent the feelings of the majority of people in this country and of Labour voters. It’s the new mass party membership plus assorted Trots that are out of tune with reality.

  • Any proof for this you’d like to share? Your 4.5% showing in the leadership elections, perhaps ?

  • Nice to know you have such a great view of the membership, and managed to convince them. People didn’t want 3 different shades of pale pink.

  • Anonymous person can’t stand behind such drivel so posts anonymously. Fucking cowardly Blairites, scheming against the electorate for their own ends. We all hate you all you should be acutely aware, because we know you’re all full of shit.

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