Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Worth saving

One day, parliamentary democrats will win the battle for Labour, writes Jamie Reed

It has been an exceptional year for the Labour party. Only 12 months ago, faced with a Conservative majority government for the first time in a generation, the party sought to chart a new path as it struggled to learn the lessons of its second successive electoral defeat. Almost inexplicably, faced with a Conservative party led by braying scions of privilege – precise emblems of Britain’s still-existing, still-rotten class system – Labour’s electoral defeats became progressively worse.

Before the 2015 general election a largely supine parliamentary Labour party had indulged five years of fabulism from the weak and incoherent leadership of Ed Miliband. The fratricidal leadership contest of 2010 obscured the looming crisis facing Labour. The intellectual challenges posed by the economic crash of 2008 were not fully answered, Britain’s new role in a world spinning at terminal velocity was never properly explored or articulated and the intellectual heavy-lifting that the party still needs to do in order to govern again was neglected.

In the end, the contest was decided by a repudiation of the unprecedented achievements of the last Labour government. To win the Labour crown in 2010, it was not enough for a successful candidate to stand on his or her own merits, to articulate a vision of the future for our country and our party or to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the challenges facing the lives of those people whom we were founded to serve. To win in 2010, you had to trash the record. To win in 2010, even if you had spent your adult life working to support it, then representing it in parliament, then serving as a secretary of state as part of it, you had to define yourself against the Labour government that ensured the greatest progressive achievements of any party in office since the postwar creation of the welfare state.

This is how Miliband became leader of the Labour party. In defining himself against three successive Labour election victories, this is how Miliband gave life to the movement that today has installed Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell at the helm of the Labour party. An accidental leader, without the ability or interest to lead, who never wanted to lead, with an unparallelled record of disloyalty to those leaders he has served under. What has happened to the Labour party in the intervening period, and what will happen next, should be attributed to Miliband’s leadership.

A catastrophic first year for Corbyn resulted in the PLP (having regained its sense of purpose and responsibility) returning a no confidence vote in Corbyn’s leadership. This followed a year of extraordinary events, unprecedented in the history of the Labour party. To catalogue every disaster would require more space than allowed, but we can briefly recap some of the episodes of self-harm.

The refusal to sing the national anthem, the ‘solidarity’ with France which never appeared, the inexplicable declaration of ‘no place to hide’ for Labour members of parliament in the run-up to the Syria vote, the dissembling over a ‘shoot to kill’ rule of engagement for security personnel dealing with terrorists engaged in attacks, the extraordinary failure to appoint women to the shadow cabinet, the relentless and public pursuit of Hilary Benn, the leaked enemies list incorporating ‘core group hostile’, the refusal to support established party policy with regard to Trident (the first Labour leader to ever speak against party policy from the dispatch box in the House of Commons), the antisemitism scandal, and perhaps worst of all, the catastrophic mendacity of the strategy deployed by the leader and his team during the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

This catalogue of shame is not definitive, nor does it include equally determined efforts by McDonnell: Mao’s red book, describing Progress as the ‘hard right’ and indicating to Labour MPs that he would be prepared to split Labour ‘if that’s what it takes’.

Denial of the truth, even in the face of the facts, has become a trademarked feature of the Labour leadership. This was highlighted beyond doubt by the events surrounding the meeting of the PLP after the Brexit vote.

At the meeting, Corbyn repeatedly heard colleagues express their concerns with regard to his continued sponsorship of agitation against them. He heard MPs express fears for the safety of themselves and their staff. As he spoke in committee room 14 of the House of Commons, Ian Murray explained that, at that moment, the staff of his constituency office were subject to a demonstration by Momentum, the organisation that exists with the sole purpose of maintaining Corbyn’s leadership. Jess Phillips and other female colleagues expressed their anguish, frustration and fear at the political culture that Corbyn has ushered into the party, and the frequently misogynistic intimidation which often accompanies it and that is directed towards female Labour colleagues. 

The events that followed provide the definitive illustration of the leadership culture now running our party.

Corbyn sought to distance himself from the culture of his supporters (by no means a characteristic of every Corbyn supporter) and explained that he did not sponsor or tolerate the targeting or abuse of Labour MPs by those who support him. He then left the meeting to address an agitated crowd that had been assembled on Parliament Square with a view to further inciting precisely the kind of discontent that he had disowned only minutes earlier.

At that meeting, conveniently recorded and shared on social media, the Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack told the crowd that Labour members were fed up of the ‘betrayal of Westminster politicians’. Taking his turn, McDonnell told those assembled that: ‘We will not allow the democracy of our movement to be subverted by a handful of MPs who refuse to accept Jeremy’s mandate.’ 

The ever-reliable Richard Burgon, someone who had remained silent during the meeting of the PLP only minutes earlier, found his voice and his courage to tell the assembled faithful that, ‘There’s shouting going on in the parliamentary Labour party meeting … So if they ever lecture you about bullying people for their political beliefs, I tell you, there’s people in there tonight behaving like bullies too … To all Labour MPs touring the TV studios with hankies in hands, crying into those hankies, I say this: consider this, at this crucial moment, what do you want to be remembered as?’

In short, the Labour leadership and its supporters sought to convince an excitable crowd that its enemy was the PLP.

In the hours after the EU referendum result, David Cameron recognised that he could no longer lead our country, his party or his MPs. Consequently the then prime minister demonstrated the only sensible and credible course of action of anyone in such a situation and resigned his position. Having presided over a collapse in support for the Labour party in the polls, having gone backwards in the 2016 local elections, and having lost the support of 81 per cent of the PLP, Corbyn refused to do the same.

In the final days before the Labour leadership campaign finished, Corbyn posted his most effective performance to date at prime minister’s questions. A poor Theresa May, repeating the kind of performance with which she became synonymous as home secretary, was easily beaten over her bewildering desire to reintroduce grammar schools. That same evening, immediately prior to taking part in a televised leadership hustings, Corbyn’s office released a new enemies list of 13 Labour MPs. The leader’s office described the release of the list as an accident; incredulous observers asked why a list even existed in the first place. That the list should be released in the same week the Boundary Commission published its proposals for new parliamentary boundaries in England and Wales – necessitating the need for new constituency Labour parties and for those parties to choose parliamentary candidates – is not a mystery.

Richard Nixon’s infamous legacy was sealed in part by his desire to draw up lists of his enemies as his presidency entered a pit of paranoid despair and criminality. Damned by his own words on Watergate (‘I’m saying that when the President does it, it’s not illegal …’) Nixon wrote the book on political mendacity and the decrepit political culture it spawns by necessity in order to survive. It remains his political epitaph and will always serve as the final footnote on any political leader who chooses to fixate upon the imaginary ‘enemy within’.

The Labour party is the greatest vehicle for economic and social progress that Britain has ever seen or is ever likely to see. It is worth saving, and it will be saved. When this period passes, never again will the party succumb to those who refuse to acknowledge our unique achievements, our importance to our country and our fundamental political purpose: to sustain a parliamentary Labour party capable of winning a general election so that we can improve the lives of every person in every community, by redistributing power, wealth and opportunity. In the meantime, it is the responsibility of all of us to embrace those new members of our party who wish for a better society, but who do not yet realise that the most effective and purposeful route towards this goal is through parliamentary democracy. In time, they will.


Jamie Reed is member of parliament for Copeland


Photo: Dominic Campbell

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Jamie Reed MP

is member of parliament for Copeland. He is shadow minister for health and writes The Last Word column on Progress


  • Jamie, I have rarely read a more unbalanced, ill tempered and venomous article. Supporters of Corbyn are as strong supporters of parliamentary democracy as you. You seem to think it legitimate to tell a partial account of Ed Miliband’s leadership and have no sense of self criticism of the approach of your clique within the Labour Party.
    Remember in Scotland your clique led by Jim Murphy and John Mcternan led the party to an absolute disaster.
    If you were an ordinary party member you would have had your leadership vote taken from you for writing an article like this. You give fodder to the Tories and the press. Shame on you.

  • Most Labour MPs are annoyed that Theresa May is going to stop them from drawing fat salaries and expenses merely in order to abstain, and that instead she is going to make them oppose things.

    Specifically, she is going to make them oppose workers’ representation, controls on pay differentials, and an inquiry into Orgreave.

    But, with the illiterate budget surplus requirement abandoned and George Osborne sacked, and with the devastating reports into Iraq and Libya both published, who the hell still cares about the most right-wing force in British politics, the Parliamentary Labour Party?

  • A brilliant piece. For those of us leaving Labour now it is not just the unbearable idiocy of the Corbyn cult and their delusional beliefs , their isolationism from mainstream Britain, dogmatic policy polarisation and personal attacks on anyone more moderate than their leader, their utter denial of Labour’s worse polling and worst rating of a party leader in UK history, their distortion of Labour’s achievements following the four defeats by Thatcherism, their sinking into a protest SWP waving placard movement but the belief by some here and in the moderate quarters that you can again compromise with all this nonsense. We who can go believe that something else has to be possible. To collude with Corbynism is to deny Labour’s heritage, to sink the centre left in the UK and to provide a proper opposition party within our Democracy.

  • You say ‘never again’. I am sure that was said after Michael Foot and Tony Benn and I have no doubt that Labour will go through it again.
    Assuming Labour survives this time.

    Unlike the 80s, there seems to be a party capable of taking many Labour votes. Corbyns legacy might be the creation of UKIP a serious parliamentary party.
    Wouldn’t that be something to be ‘proud’ of?

  • Corbyn and Corbynism are repugnant to decent, honest, hard-working people. The PLP should not wait to be destroyed by the vicious, fraudulent fanatics of Momentum. Take the core supporters with you, Mr Reed, and form a new party, maybe integrating with the Lib Dems and Greens – call it the British Democratic Party, if you like. As for Corbyn, let his own Momentum take him and McDonnell off the cliff.

  • Okay, all fair up until the conclusion with its “one day, my friends, we will see sunlit uplands” bit.

    How, exactly? Corbyn’s hopelessness, his movement’s nastiness are there for all to see. And yet, his victory is the leadership election is certain. The hard Left’s control of the party, at every platform except the PLP, is becoming absolute, and election successes of the recent past are openly derided as “the wilderness years” by those for whom victory is a compromise too far.

    Progressive debate must move away from listing Corbyn’s many failures to a serious, strategic discussion of how this can possibly end. It’s desperate, apocalyptic stuff for the LP. The progressive grouping needs a leader worth the name. So does the country.

  • We couldn’t go on just being Tory-lite. The Left’s experiment with Blairism has failed: crash of 2008, election defeats, Iraq etc. Let’s come together and get back to our roots to make Labour socialist once again!

  • The prize for “self-deluding counter-factualism in the face of overwhelming evidence” has now had its most outstanding entry.

    Parliamentary democrats have just won. Those who think they won previous elections by dictat and denial of their previous record have had a serious set back. If you want the party to follow your lead you have to actually offer leadership. You and your fellow travellers have never offered anything of the sort. You simply claim the mantle of great leaders of the past and then spit on their legacy. Jeremy Corbyn has said more in support of the good that Tony Blair did than you or any of your cronies, with your overweening sense of entitlement, ever have. All you lot ever talk about is how he won three elections and that you love him the most. The only people who I have read on here who actually offer anything of substance have been Alison McGovern and John Mann. The rest simply spew empty hatred for their comrades. Until you look in the mirror and actually question your motives and values you will continue your destruction of the party.

  • An excellent article which sums up the nastiness of the Labour party under its leadership. I can recall every incident mentioned and could add many more. Mr Corbyn is unfit to be the leader and many of the shadow front bench are also unfit for the role. They crow when they have a decent performance for example over grammar schools. They skirt over the numerous poor performances. I have never in my lifetime seen such a poor opposition front bench. Yes, I have torn up my membership card after 45 years! I am one of the many. The ones that Caroline Flintcwrote about following the last election. The mature voters who left the party in droves. The ones who have been active and who have followed the careers of Mr Corbyn and McDonald. The ones who saw them celebrate the IRA and Hamas. The ones who watched Press TV. The ones who studied Hansard and noted the serial votes against their own leaders and not all on matters of conscience. I agree that Ed Miliband started the downward spiral. A poor leader and like the present one full of arrogance when everything indicates incompetence. What a disaster it all is. I was up to date with Militant in the 1980’s and I can honestly say Momentum are worse. They are also egged on by the leadership. Only recently they were told to protest outside The Tory Party Conference. We all recall the appalling abuse attendants at the conference received last year. All of this in the name of a political party who hopes to be in government! Appalling!

  • Those of leaving this party today do so with a heavy heart; we have been part of this movement as it has fought social inequality, challenged power elites and privilege, sought proper education, proper health care and a balanced economy delivering growth, jobs and decent wages to the many. We have envied the Social Democracies of Scandinavia and western Europe and over 43 years we have often tried to copy their better quality of living especially as our economy improved. We envy them for their more balanced media, PR and politically progressive systems.

    But the UK has chosen to go down a polarised track as its political and media leaders have delivered a distorted democracy Corbyn is as much part of this as is Boris, UKIP and the right wing Brexit press. The UK is adrift economically and politically because the Centre has totally collapsed and lacks the determination to a create third force between ugly Brexit Tories and the deluded Corbynite cult.

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