While Labour should remember the past, we cannot live in it

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‘Blair’s dated, right-wing version of Momentum are having a get together’ was how one Twitter user described to me Progress political weekend. But I and over 130 others, young as well as old, knew the reasons for attending. In this vital quest to rebuild the centre-left and make the Labour party a credible party of government again – no heroes were made, and no homages were paid.

Over the weekend we were treated to many brilliant speakers who resemble the bold, futuristic approach that Labour needs in order to be listened to again. Liz Kendall was bold as well as ambitious in setting a target for Labour to win 400 council seats in the upcoming local elections. Pat McFadden rightly reminded us that with the Tories ripping themselves apart, it is up to rank-and-file Labour members to secure Britain’s economic future by speaking to people about the European Union’s benefits and future potential in terms they can understand. Angela Smith, member of parliament for Penistone and Stockbridge, passionately called for no stone to be left unturned in the effort to develop a sound policy base which Labour can build upon from next year. And John Woodcock pointed out Labour’s loyalty is towards the people who need a Labour government most.

There were the breakout sessions on speechwriting and dealing with the media. The most important session however was the one I least enjoyed. It was titled, ‘Learning from losing’, and contained quotes from former Labour voters that I had never imagined could be associated with the party I love. Quotes concerning welfare, our former leader and our attitude towards middle income voters arose regularly. Barely any were positive. Remembering the past means remembering those voters whose trust we desperately need to win back. Spencer Livermore added valid and valuable comments about how, a year on, there is a danger we still have not got the message.

So it is true that Labour needs to regain economic credibility. It is at that point where voters will start to take us seriously again. From there, they need to see and be sure that we will never compromise on national security, then fully understand that we understand they do not want big government dictating how every pound of their income should be spent. Remembering the past is partly therefore to recognise the progress we had made in government; a past that supported and championed enterprise, enabled the economy to grow and public investment to rise reducing inequality.

Just defending the record of the last Labour government however, as the leadership election showed, is not going to be enough. Just as Tony Blair encouraged us to move on from the 1980s, we have to move on from the successes of the 2000s. Times have changed, and so should we. Labour should acknowledge its shortcomings, not least on how much we spent in office, and regain, at the very least, the attention of the British people.

With Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation causing yet more rumblings of discontent in the Conservative party, Labour has a great opportunity to position ourselves as the credible party of government, not by offering a shopping list of measure, but a focused set of solutions that matter to the British people. A bold vision, bravely and effectively communicated, along with the political will and leadership to carry it out, is how the Labour party stays future-focused.

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Liam Martin-Lane is a Progress member

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  • Ric Euteneuer

    How hugely ironic that Progress should be criticising Momentum for living in the past. So, 6 months of doing little other than criticising the leadership and undermining the same, whilst yearning for a return to the kind of Blairism that has lost us 2 elections – and you have the neck to criticise the left for “living in the past” ? Move on from Tony Blair, David Miliband and Major Dan Jarvis and respect the democratic choice of the party or go and form your own.

    • Ric, the past I was talking about was precisely our years in government! That’s the whole point of remembering the past but not living in it. We have to move on because time has moved on. So I’m not going to take any more these kind of comments that actually do nothing to help or extend the debate Labour really needs. But if you argue Blairism lost us two elections – firstly Ed Miliband was no Blairite as he won the leadership precisely because of his ambition to distance himself from those policies – but why did people then vote Conservative and not for the Greens for example?

      • Ric Euteneuer

        Liam, I am immensely proud of our years in government, and the achievements made during this time, and am also a forward thinking socialist who looks to embed social justice in all the party does. However, the endless radio interference, the constant drip feed of poison to the existing leadership (precisely the accusation against us when the left were in opposition in the party), a dearth of alternative strategies when accusing us of ‘being unrealistic’…sorry, all of these, and the fact the the vast majority of Progress’s articles seem concerned with attacking the Corbyn leadership rather than the Tories – it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion that they can’t accept the democratic will of the party. Ed did not fight from the left, however Progress want to spin it. And people voted against him for a variety of things, but partially because he effectively stood for no change from the past.

        • People wanted Labour to change, and Ed was elected leader because he was seen to represent that change. “Moving on from New Labour” was just what we needed. But you move on, not back. Spending 4 years complaining about cuts cuts cuts, then a final dash for economic credibility just reinforced people’s views that we hadn’t changed. People referred to our manifesto as a “shopping list”. Corbyn based his leadership campaign on a couple of strong ideals which is why he won. However, when economic credibility is needed to win a general election (more perhaps than political leadership), then I still have doubts. I don’t want these next 5 years to be like the previous 5, because a 3rd Tory election victory in 2020 will be worst, not for Labour, but for the people that need Labour back in government. So my advice is this: don’t always read between the lines when you visit the Progress website. I’m certainly not going to NEVER support Corbyn, but I remain very sceptical of him, especially when he missed an open goal Osborne gifted him last week with his Omnishambles 2.0 Budget

  • ‘Blair’s dated, right-wing version of Momentum are having a get together’ was how one Twitter user described to me Progress political weekend. Nuff said right there.

    • well let me tell you, with the amount of young people in particular at the event, we sure do have momentum right now. Sorry, but if when Labour loses we believe something’s not right and something should be done about it

      • You may have forgotten how the Blairites undermined Ed Miliband, culminating in a near coup in November 2014. Also instead of defending the economic record of New Labour at the start of the Parliament, the Blairites sat on their hands, too busy sulking about Ed M winning the leadership, thereby allowing Osborne to convince he nation that New Labour caused the crash. They spent the Parliament watering down popular policies like rail nationalisation, culminating in that ultimate Blairite suicide note, the vacuous five pledges which they allowed someone, not Ed, to stick on what should have been called the Blair Stone. They sent the most Blairite people they could find – Jim Murphy and John McTernan – in what seemed almost like a calculated insult to Blairite-hating Scotland, and doomed Scottish Labour. Enough, or need I go on?

        • Ok, let’s try and dismantle these half-truths one by one shall we… First of all, have a look at the 1997 pledge cards, then the 2015 ‘Ed Stone’ and see how the language and focus differs. Concrete policies then, hollow words now.
          Second, the entire party opposed the privatisation of the East Coast Main Line in spring 2015, and we still lost. We practise the politics of the last election, we’ll lose the next.
          Third, it’s about whether the PUBLIC like the leader. And however much I personally admired Ed Miliband, the British public just didn’t think he was fit to be Prime Minister.
          Fourth, 6 times you’ve used the word Blair, or Blairite. See the latest post here (progressivesuite.blogspot.co.uk) and then perhaps you’ll see light at the end of the tunnel of the past.
          Fifth, Scotland voted for Blair three times. You now saying they were wrong to support Labour and should’ve voted for regressive nationalism instead?
          Sixth, the leadership understood the importance of gaining economic credibility, but far too late. The public just wouldn’t believe a futile repentance after 4 years of retreat to our comfort zone.

          Enough, or do I need to go on?