Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

‘Clause One socialists’ will win the day

The long Labour summer has been drawn-out and frustrating. No more so than for Owen Smith who trudged around the country making his case to the Labour party membership, significant proportions of which believe either Labour can win under Jeremy Corbyn or do not care about Labour winning. The Corbyn project moves Labour away from being a party of public service – about what has been and can be done for others – to a party of affirmation – I believe it so it must be true and my views as a paying Labour member are more important than the voting public.

Smith was by no means a ‘Progress candidate’ – this fight was led by the ‘soft left’. The theory goes: if we show how much in common we all have with Corbyn’s politics the membership will overturn its hard left idol and join with us in the task of getting more votes than the Tories. That theory has been tested to destruction. When Corbyn the man is popular and his coterie are not, and his ideas are either unknown or unworkable, the only way to beat Corbyn is to expose what lies behind the façade and win the battle of ideas. Rejecting the man but embracing the ideas has not worked, and will not do so in future.

Corbyn was able to run as both insurgent and incumbent. With his £5m of Short money to spend and a majority on the National Executive Committee the restricting factors of his leadership will be his ability to bring others with him and be successful in the eyes of the public. Expect more briefing against Labour party staff, who have no right of reply.

When Corbyn announced (very weak) plans to tackle abuse in the party, Smith should have taken out his phone and held it out to him, to call John McDonnell (shadow chancellor), Mark Serwotka (general secretary, PCS) and Dave Ward (general secretary, CWU). The seniormost people who swear, shout and abuse Labour figures not just in his name but at his events. Women in particular should not have had to wait until Corbyn is re-elected – or whenever he gets round to it – to see this situation change. He is currently, and was all summer, leader of the party with a place on the NEC and the ability to call anyone in the party to a meeting. But despite his majority on Labour’s governing body, he and his supporters make out they are victims of the processes behind the leadership race, not the curators of it. It is no one else’s fault if Corbyn cannot stay seated for long enough to make the decisions he agrees with. His victim mentality position has been indulged when it should have been exposed.

The best part of the leadership election is what one Corbyn aide advised on the Vice News documentary about the leader’s office: ‘Let him fail on his own terms’. ‘Traingate’ showed that for Corbyn and his team truth is as disposable as being electable in pursuit of the control of Labour. It may not have registered with his own supporters yet, but in this one failed stunt, the seeds of destruction were sown. ‘Straight-talking, honest politics’ rings pretty hollow here on in.

But the summer exposed something more fundamental for the non-Corbyn forces. None of us came to this contest with sufficient ideas, organisation and supporters.

This is our task now. The soft left, moderates and modernisers need to have a deeper understand of Britain and an analysis of Britain’s problem that is more than ‘the Tories are making it worse’. We must use this understanding to work out specifically where indeed the Tories are making it worse. But we must have lines of attack in parliament that not just oppose their actions but show that Labour has plans that prove, out of the clutches of the hard left, that it is a party that could replace Theresa May’s government. We must be exciting and insightful. Profound and principled. Practical and pronounced about how it would mean better lives for previous and would-be Labour voters. It will need to be consistent and compelling. If we get this right, with a lot of hard graft, the organisation and supporters will fall into place.

It will not be easy – if it were, it would have been done already – but the alternative is to concede over 110 years of history, and the potential to do good once again, to a cabal more at home on a march with the Alliance of Workers’ Liberty than on doorsteps across the land. This is our party and we are going nowhere.

Smith’s campaign still has the opportunity to play a vital role in the struggle to regain Labour. A legacy grouping must be created to give the Tribune group in parliament a supporter base in the membership. Many soft-left constituency officers and councillors pinned their colours to Smith’s mast – they cannot be left high and dry. While those behind McDonnell hate the modernisers in the party for ameliorating capitalism (as they see it) they hate the soft left – personified by Neil Kinnock – the most. For it is this grouping that halts their advance to their real aim: control of the party machine. Those who did the right thing cannot be left alone in the face of local Momentum bullies.

The summer might have set us back, but some progress was made. If a soft-left grouping emerges, that will be one good thing. Equally, Saving Labour proved that hard-working Labour members with some very clever technology friends can also recruit new members. How Progress, Labour First, members of parliament, councillors and party volunteers jumped on board proved what is possible. Not in the same numbers, yet. But it is a huge leap forward.

In the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s Labour was pulled away from its true path by syndicalist social movements. At its founding, the party’s intention was clearly spelled out for the world to see in the very first paragraph of the constitution: to ‘maintain in parliament … a political Labour Party’. If we stay, if we fight, and if our ideas and organisation improve, ‘Clause One socialists’ will win the day.


Photo: Tom Page

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  • “We must be exciting and insightful. Profound and principled. Practical and pronounced…consistent and compelling.”

    Sounds like you’re geeing yourself up in the mirror before a job interview you don’t deserve.

    What you need to do, of course, is to think less about comms and more about substance. That way you might eschew applying such desperate lipstick onto your proverbial pig of a movement and respect the electorate, who want a Labour party committed to structural improvements in the way society is governed, not rehashed Blairism.

  • sorry but unless we are prepared to wait for an election defeat , pretty inevitable ,before the far left are defeated then proper consideration has to given to breaking away .
    many such as i simply do not have representation or any party reflecting our views and beliefs . yes theresa may is making efforts to move to the centre ground and that may be sufficient to draw many of us to the tories but i suspect she will not carry her party far enough to capture the centre left ground .
    there is a huge constituency out there waiting for a credible centre left party to emerge . if we do not offer it someone else will or they will simply feel nearer to the tories than revolutionary socialists such as corbyn , mcdonell etc , not to mention momentum which has pretty captured the leadership

  • This article demonstrates how “easy” words are, and why Corbyn got where he is. Trouble is those Labour MP’s who donated their vote to him in the name of widening the debate. A bit like Nick Clegg joining the coalition in order to restrain the Tories. Labour will emerge again only when Corbyn resigns and the only strategy should be to bring that day forward as much as possible. Society is changing at an alarming rate and the Tories are culturely unable to control it to prevent all the harm that is happening to those unable to maintain their position.

  • Progress gives its verdict on Owen Smith: “This was the Soft Left’s caper, and it had nothing to do with us.”

    Tony Blair is still too vain to call his latest move “retirement”. He and David Miliband articulate the bewildered hurt of those who find themselves living in, or in their case observing, what William Hague might have called “a foreign land”. They do not know, like or recognise the Britain of the General Election result, of the election of Jeremy Corbyn, of the Conservatives’ second place in Scotland, of the EU referendum result, of the Chilcot Report, of the elevation of Theresa May, of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s evisceration of the war in Libya, and of the impending re-election of Jeremy Corbyn. But that is the Britain that there is. There is no other.

    Blair did not found the Labour Hard Right, and it will not die when he does. One wonders whether some of the people now running Progress, or who will run whatever comes after it, have ever even met him. This may not be his Britain. But it does seem to be theirs. At least in the sense that they accept that this what Britain now is.

  • You are absolutely comprehensively wrong in everything you have written here.

    I think that Corbyn will never win an election but following the logic of this editorial will destroy any chance for the Labour Party to survive never mind win. The right of the party have shown themselves to be incapable of self reflection and learning why they continue to fail. They are now simply going to campaign against the Labour Party from within.

    Progress has many excellent contributors and members who could do great things but reading this site Progress seems to be so jaded and dishonest that it will probably drag the good down. I would jump ship if I was them and forget about being a faction within the party while things shake out.

  • Progress for all their pronouncements about being fit to govern can’t even govern their own party, they have been seen by the “PUBLIC” to be an absolute shambles and laughing stock, this is the group who lost Scotland FFS, the very group who never think what they are doing, the group who thought it clever to abstain the worst welfare bill ever put before parliament sending the message to millions of supporters suffering under austerity that they didn’t care.
    During the so called Chicken coup the nation watched on in amusement as an unelectable scruffy nobody stood against them and beat them hands down, McDonnell may have been over descriptive in his comedy club put down but never was a truer word spoken, Progress is a shambles, it is possibly the worst advert for running a country you could ever give, every thing they do from the Chicken coup to the abstention is uncoordinated (sorry they coordinated the resignations but looked petty and self serving) I am no lefty, I am not a trot or a dog, I am not a racist or anti-semitic, I am a normal Labour party member who never went to CLP meetings until Progress started their nonsense, you have made me into the person who despises everything you do, I support Corbyn against you and will do my best to see he is reelected, I will do my best to see Progress stay as the ugly side show it is, you have made your bed, I think you will find it difficult to get out of it.

  • When Corbyn announced (very weak) plans to tackle abuse in the party, Smith should have taken out his phone and held it out to him, to call John McDonnell (shadow chancellor), Mark Serwotka (general secretary, PCS) and Dave Ward (general secretary, CWU).

    And what about Len “Fred Kyte” McLuskey?

  • To Josephine “too caught up in the mists of partisan hatred to realise the hypocrisy of putting snide insults in quotation marks within people’s names in an article complaining about the abusive behaviour of others” Bacon,

    When Corbyn announced plans to tackle abuse within the party, Smith along with every progressive and liberally minded person in the world should have joined with him to try to tackle a scourge on society that is a blight on politics. Instead those who wished to beat Corbyn in the election, jettisoned their principles and any semblance of legitimate debate and used it as a weapon against him thereby legitimising the use of abuse as a political tool.

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