Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Don’t give up on progressive politics

‘This is your captain speaking. The new president of in the United States is … Donald Trump’. News that the Barack Obama’s successor is the rightwing orange demigod is met with groans on my flight as I head as far away from last night’s new as is humanly possible. The realisation that there is nowhere you can fly out of the sphere of influence of the 45th occupant of the Oval Office feels horrifying. Watching the results creep in it is hard to suggest a feeling of shock, the final result – as with Brexit – was present in the early results in Michigan. As Sunderland had foretold the inevitable news that Britain had rejected the European Union, Florida confirmed US voters had voted to reject a neoliberal world order of free trade and outsourcing, political elites and mass movement of people providing cheap labour. But as with Brexit, it is not clear what they voted to replace it with. Will Trump bring about a new wave of protectionism and government spending? Will the billionaire TV host and former Democrat donor not surround himself with a like-minded inner circle? Is he really going to build a wall, kick out immigrants, ban Muslims and separate families?

There are so many questions we ask ourselves. How did it happen? Could we have won anyway? Should and could we have sought to hold back globalisation? Are there reasonable things centre-left politicians could have done that would have been able to prevent this? If so, what were they and at what point could they have been? Are progressives destined to trash their own record, side and chances even when up against an ugliness as profound as Trump?

All I know is that 2016 has seen the worst year ever. Also, that all the wrong people have been left cheering. Not just Trump and his acolytes in Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Rudi Giuliani, but the populist rightwingers who are desperate to break through in other western democracys: Nigel Farage, Marian Le Pen and Geert Wilders. However, the loudest cheers of all will surely come from within the Duma. Vladimir Putin is stronger today than at any point before. This is a victory for Russian foreign policy they could have only dreamt of in the Cold War.

At the other extreme are bitter Bernie Sanders supporters who trashed a ‘progressive who wants to get things done’ so much so that they damaged the Democrat candidate standing for the White House on the most progressive platform ever. Closer to home, John McDonnell and various parts of the revolutionary left will privately lift a glass with close confidants. Richard Burgeon and Neil Findlay seem to be almost enjoying the moment; equally, they have clarity about what happened in America in a way that they lack when up against the Tories and the Scottish National party respectfully. They will see this as yet more evidence the public are prepared to rip up the old order and elect Jeremy Corbyn. This is a stretch, at best.

I do not have words of hope at this time, but I do have three ‘don’ts’ for dispirited Labour members:

  1. Don’t … give up on progressive politics

This is not the time to throw the towel in with progressive politics in general or Labour politics in particular. While the prospects of both feel bleak right now, an articulate, coherent and genuinely new approach from that taken in the 1990s is more necessary than ever than ever before. It must be built. It will be hard work. Our pain must be bottled and deployed as we reach out to the dark places we must go to genuinely reconnect.

  1. Don’t … draw too many analogies

The result seems to confirm that if you cannot win on a ‘cosmopolitan coalition’ in the US, it is definitely not possible in the UK. There are obviously analogises with Brexit. But we should all guard against the glib and reach for something deeper. The answers we find may prove to be less than reassuring – but finding solace in wishful thinking will send us on a false errand.

  1. Don’t … lash out at the US and the voters

Hard to resist, I know. Social media will have a field day. Memes – many of them funny and perfectly capturing the moment – risk reinforcing The Donalds’ coalition. Unknowingly, it might also help spread, or worse embed, it in Western Europe. Virtue signalling will only separate those wanting to prevent a similar outcome in France next year – or at a UK general election, were an early poll be called – from the voters that are clearly frustrated. Equally, Americans here in the UK will have mixed emotions about the result – on both extremes. They should not, like our European Union national neighbours, feel they are not welcome or be judged for the fact Trump is making his way to the White House.


Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell



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Richard Angell

is director of Progress


  • I don’t think we should go back to just being a Tory tribute act. We need socialist, not Tory-liteness. I think the New Labour dinosaurs should wake up and smell the coffee.

  • For many, I understand that Progressive Politics is about local, political “representation” actually doing what it should be doing – “being a “champion” and fighting for local people hindered or failed by policy”. Instead, Local, Political Representation goes unmeasured for its Qualitative and Quantitative outcomes. Also, Conflicts of Interest prevents the sort of “champion” ideals that is desperately needed by those who have been failed… and failed again.

    Thus, Political Progress should only represent a BOLD stance on changing the political system – from the outside inwards. Politicians should NOT be building a system that fails to IGNITE social change and enable a Fair and Just society.

    TRUMP is an example of an outsider whose BOLDNESS shattered the surface of political weakness. Without this level of arrogance and boldness, the political system would have trampled all over him. He knew it. Others knew it.

    Ed Milliband LOST a great opportunity to become a Political Leader of British Parliament. he had all the evidence and tools at his disposal and still FAILED to understand them and to utilise them successfully – even after a recession, and an “austere” approach by the Tory’s. This is his failure!

    Many may question WHY is it that the Milliband’s and Clinton’s of this world FAILED in their attempt to Lead a Country. Others will say, it is simple. They have FAILED to connect with the reality ‘on the ground’ – the Silenced Voices, Failed policies and Productivity Stagnation that has existed for far too long.

    Without an “investment in people” programme – that runs through the heart of these people, their veins and their desperation to become an addition to economic redevelopment and success, how on earth can many of the politicians still be in their place – arguing about BREXIT… or TRUMP?

    The GREAT life that these politicians lead means that they should resign. but, self interest keeps them in their place… as well as the career-binding interests that keep their functioning.

  • Alf. I also think people need to find their own voice and stop repeating others.

    How many times do you think I’ve read ‘Tory-lite’?

    Do you think people pay money to be labour members and give up their free time to support Labour when they are conservatives? Really, I’m asking you, Alf. Do you think that?

    Are you unable to article the varying views of labour? Is that the Issue?

    Do you honestly believe that anyone accept trolls are looking to repeat elections from the 1990s, 2015 or even 2016.

    You wake up. Read the text and welcome yourself to the 21st Century. Btw, it sucks. There has been a major right wing resurgence while you were busy ‘fighting’ others on the left.

  • It’s always someone else to blame when one of progress’s icons/ progressive who wants to get things done loses. So this time it was Sanders, for Brexit it was Corbyn, in Scotland it was – who knows since John McTernan and Jim Murphy were progress boys on the spot running the campaign and determining the message.

    Maybe it is not malevolent ‘hard left revolutionary trotskyist/Maoists’ that are to blame. Perhaps progress should do some analytical work and see whether its progressive centre actually stands for something tangible which voters recognise and support. They may find that their policies and practice are now inadequate for the times.

    Perhaps it is time the reassert the importance of class politics. Progressive centrism has no real commitment to social justice or change. It is a cynical attempt to defend the status quo because they think that the system is unchangeable and only small gains can ever be made. Those making real progress now see the need for boldness rather than more of the same.

  • I believe in a CARING SOCIETY.
    To be a fully paid up member one has to care about many things: other people, one’s children, the weak, the poor, the less well off, the sick, the countryside, the natural environment, other creatures/animals cohabitating with us … and so on. It is a diverse concept that cannot be analysed/explored in just a few lines. However, for me, Co-operative Principles and Values underpin the Caring Society. I believe that I have my faults but I am, fundamentally, a caring bloke. I never really thought about it until one of the “lads” (apprentices) I used to teach at the (then) Oxford College of FE – back in the 70s and early 80s – said (in an end of course evaluation session) “Vic, you care about us.” In 1985 I started up and ran a CG 730 Teacher Training course for teachers in FE and Adult Education [20 to 60+ y.o.], East Surrey College, for the next eleven years. A greatly respected fellow teacher trainer/course leader in another Surrey FE college reinforced “The Lads’” view in a Training the Trainers session: “You care about your students.”
    Based upon Donald J Trump’s public statements, his view of society is opposite to mine. His narcissism and attitudes towards people, the environment, other races, ethnic minorities, women, etc. is abhorrent. For him, it’s “all about the money” – not social values. He is not worthy of leading the most powerful country in the World. The USA ought to be a role model for other nations: – values founded upon understanding, tolerance and compassion. It is a paradox as to why voters from religious (especially Christian) groups voted for him. What does it say about their tenets? Is it Hypocrisy or just the abortion issue?
    Trump’s journey to The Whitehouse was lubricated by blatant lies, misrepresentation, innuendo, insults and half-truths. Some commentators assert that there is something psychologically wrong with the man (one Radio 4’s Point of View [6 Nov] was: “He’s nuts!”).
    I have often said/written that Progress is a breeding ground for career politicians. There is little doubt that the general public are sick to death of them. This is a world-wide phenomenon. The USA calls them “The Washington Elite” whereas we call it the “Westminster Bubble.” Trump’s so-called anti-establishment rhetoric trumped many of Trump’s disgraceful negative traits.
    I predict Trump will not be there by the end of his term. He may be impeached, made impotent by Congress/Senate, in prison for sexual assault, weighed down by civil, sexual cases or assassinated (especially by his own angry, far Right supporters when he fails to deliver on his promises – or the CIA).
    OGR’E [Old Grass Roots Geezer]

  • I have not given up on progressive politics. It’s just I am fed up with our political message being so dull and boring or, in the case of Jeremy Corbyn a throw back to corporate bureaucracy of the 1970’s. The shock-waves of 2008-2009 are still reverbrating around the world and progressives, anti-demagogues nevertheless need to have passion for their politics, a determination, notwithstanding the abuse that will come to call out Farage and Trump as liars who will let their supporters and voters down.
    Also, we need to challenge economic orthodoxies. Gordon Brown, although he did not get the credit did understand the economic crisis and what needed to be done. Since then Cameron, Obama and Merkel have gone for economic orthodoxy which has seen our core voters suffer more than ever before. That is why in the UK they voted for Brexit and in the US for Trump. Because although Farage and Trump are cynical liars they sound like we care. Whereas we sound like sociology lectures and over analyse everything so nobody knows what we stand for. The caring left, not the hard left, are facing electoral defeat all over the western world. It can be changed but we need to show some guts and some passion.

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