Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The broad church is under threat

Ian Lavery’s comments are the latest representation of the Labour leadership’s hostility towards diversity of opinion within the party, argues Progress deputy editor Conor Pope

Almost a month on from the general election, the first in which both major parties both got more than 40 per cent of the vote since 1970, and Labour and the Tories both appear torn by the result.

The Conservative grassroots is acting as though it suffered a terrible defeat, despite a leader acting as though nothing has changed, while the Labour grassroots is responding as though we won an historic victory, despite figures close to the leadership turning to the kind of internal battles that normally follow a loss.

The shadowboxing for the upcoming leadership battle in the Conservative party began as soon as the exit poll came out on 8 June, with Andrea Leadsom the latest candidate to have her credentials briefed to the press. The trigger happy nature of both Boris Johnson and David Davis’ campaigns has left them vulnerable to very specific negative briefings which, as the campaigns have to be run in such ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ circumstances, carry much more weight than the vague assurances of broad backing coming from either camp. It may be that one of them pushed out the ‘Leadsom for leader’ line as a way of deflecting attention from how bad their own candidacy would be.

A little further down the chain, however, Tories are more alert to the bigger problems they face. As Conservative member of parliament Andrew Bridgen pointed out to the Sunday Times yesterday, the party has ‘failed to win a good, solid working majority for 30 years’. There is clearly an institutional problem there, and the Tories must, at the very least, look at their campaigning.

However, Bridgen’s idea for a ‘Momentum-style’ Conservative group based on inner-city Church of England parishes and pushing social media is clearly looking at Labour’s success from the wrong end. In 2015, the Tories ran amok on Facebook advertising, and their focused messaging hit home with targeted swing voters in crucial marginal seats. Their problem this time was not in lacking a network to share it at no cost; it was that their message was not good enough.

The grasping for random organisational solutions is a sign that no lessons have been learnt.

Sadly, the same appears true for Labour. Some in the party are now simultaneously championing a vague idea of ‘unity’ while also calling for swathing internal party reforms that would be the sign of a party truly more interested in fighting itself than appealing to the country. In the past 10 days, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and new party chair Ian Lavery have all refused to come out against deselecting members of parliament who were elected by their constituents less than a month ago.

Despite that, shadow foreign secretary Thornberry tweeted out her interview in Saturday’s Guardian as: ‘What next for Labour? Campaigning, policy development & unity, above all unity’. Intriguingly, it was not a topic that came up in the published interview – unless you count her admonishing MPs who voted for the pro-single market amendment on the Queen’s speech as ‘virtue-signalling’.

Most worrying is that Lavery, who was the first-choice leadership candidate for some on the hard-left before Jeremy Corbyn got the nod two years ago, has joined Paul Mason in talking up a narrowing of Labour’s historic broad church. Mason took his particularly abrasive stance at Progress annual conference a week ago, but Lavery took a different tactic in a Huffington Post interview over the weekend.

Telling the website that ‘unity is of paramount importance’, he nevertheless said MPs being threatened with deselection had ‘a reason for it’ and that ‘the whole of the party’s structures’ were up for reform. That is the kind of root-and-branch overhaul that usually comes on the back of a defeat we are assured we did not just suffer. There is only one other reason you might embark on that at a time like this.

One of Lavery’s other comments might shed light on that. He said that Labour has become ‘too broad a church’. We should not shy away from what that means. Take it in the context of his other comments: deselections happen for a reason; the entire structure should change; our ideological base is too broad.

The logic there is clear. We know what that is. It is a threat. Not to the parliamentary Labour party, but the composition of the party as a whole. It may start at the top, but it works its way down; a party establishment breeding hostility to diversity of opinion and seeking to gerrymander the party structures to push out dissenters and promote only allies. It is a threat to members.


Conor Pope is the deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope



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Conor Pope

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  • I think the author is unduly worried. Surely no one has said the Party should not be a broad Church only that there are limitations to the boundaries of all organisations, the question is what constitutes that breadth and who should decide. I would prefer it if the individuals took the mature decisions themselves.

    When any individual disagrees with the direction and thrust of most or almost all of the Party’s policy then they need to ask questions as to why they should remain. Why should others be charged with making the challenges to their position surly they need to decide that themselves and so seek out other political directions and not piggy-back on something they that they reject most of the time.

    My personal emphasis would be on the economics of neo-liberalism. Chris Leslie for instance has far more economic policy sympathies with those outside the Party than in it, so surly he should decide it is time to move on, not wait for his CLP to do so and for him to cry foul.

  • One of the reasons I read progress is to be astonished. As usual it is astonishment at the lack of self awareness or self criticism by progress writers. It does not seem so long ago the progress was accusing the Left of the party to be hard, Trotskyist entrants who should be shown the door, and demonising Corbyn while calling McDonnell the trotmaster who should find another home.
    I watched the u tube of Paul Mason at your rally and he seemed to make a reasonable point – if you want to belong to a neo liberal, war mongering party then Labour may not be the place for you. If you want to stay in Labour that is fine but you need to accept the party has moved on and it is no longer 1997. Progress can no longer throttle dissent from its views or gerrymander selection panels to get its acolytes into safe seats. It will have to fight the battle of ideas – and take defeat gracefully rather than rushing to put articles in the ‘Telegraph’ and Times’ bemoaning their position.

  • So, after all that effort since 2015 by Progress to ensure no left-winger can ever even stand for the leadership again, you cry foul when there is talk of limiting the job security of PLP members who refuse to accept the views of either the membership or the electorate!

    The only saving grace of Progress is that it sometimes publishes articles it does not itself approve of.

  • What is needed is definitions of both “neo liberalism” and “warmongering”. Does hostility to the former mean that the left want a command centralised state controlled economy, a model that failed so dismally in the soviet union or if not what model do they propose. I myself would prefer scandinavian style Social Democracy.

    Warmongering is also poorly defined. Was Blair wrong to support military intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone or even Thatcher wrong in the Falklands? I accept that the Iraq war was clumsy and too driven by US neocons, not neoliberals. Military force in support of an ethical foreign policy is always justifiable.

    The reason why this argument should continue within the confines of a Democratic Socialist party are self evident.

  • Surely it is time for Progress to grow up. The Labour Party is no longer a Neoliberal party – Neoliberal Capitalism has been shown to be a failure by most top economists who recommend “Investment-Led Growth” as followed by Corbyn and McDonnell – it is a Centrist policy.
    Persisting with the term “Hard-Left” is hardly either helpful or accurate and presenting yourselves as “Moderates” is hardly helpful – you seem to have done your level best to make Labour an undemocratic right-wing party that backs Israel to the hilt, in spite of all the crimes they commit in relation to the Palestinians. The vast majority of Labour members are hertily sick of all this shenanigans…

  • Ian Lavery appeared on TV during the election a couple of times. He may be fit for an internal party appointment but keep him off the telly. He drones on and on like a speak-your-weight machine hardly pausing for breath. Dull dull dull yet at the same time a bit scary.

  • I believe that the author and commentators have missed an important angle in this debate. It is not simply about Left and Right philosophy, attitudes and policies but voters’ perceptions and reasons as to WHY they voted. There appears to be a worldwide revolt against the Political Class, particularly Career Politicians (e.g. US, France). This is a subject that has vexed me for many years – writing many articles/letters over that time. Some years ago, in one particular article, criticising the Bright Young Things and Career Politicians, a senior Labour/Co-op Party official (a BYT) suggested that I was in the wrong party. My views, then, were fringe but, now, they are mainstream. It is widely accepted that politicians ought to have varied and extensive “life experience.” Thus, they ought to have had a substantive career outside of politics. In my view, Parliament should be a cross section of society from caretakers to rocket scientists. Ministers should have substantial experience of the area that they head up (e.g. educationalists for Education, doctors for Health). Many Career Politicians may be “bright” but they are often incompetent. There have been many bad decisions over the years through “ignorance,” knee jerk legislation and the law of unintended outcomes (e.g. PPPs, PFIs, diesel cars, immigration). The Tory government is stuffed full of them and they have done much damage to the Public Sector (especially Gove and Grayling).
    In general, wisdom DOES come with age, provided he/she has had wide experience. I suspect that few Career Politicians come from Science and Engineering backgrounds. Probably most have Degrees in Humanities. In my view, Progress is a “breeding ground” for Career Politicians and many of these (including MPs) have been deliberately and publically undermining Corbyn. It’s his strength of character and values that has kept him afloat. It is one thing to have a difference of view but quite another to sabotage an election campaign. If the Blairites had pulled together we could now have, quite possibly, a Labour government.
    There is little doubt that the drive and enthusiasm of Momentum put Corbyn centre stage and gave Labour a massive boost. It is an irony that many, plotting anti-Corbyn MPs kept their seats because of him! However, one concern that I have with the de-selection issue is that we might have yet more Bright Young Things, but singing from a different hymn sheet. My plea is for mature candidates with a career outside of politics!
    Vic Parks (Old Grassroots Geezer)

  • Interesting that “progress should grow up”.

    I was a member of LPYS in the 1970,s and sold the militant newspaper on Chapel Market in Islington. Indeed I believe our ward selected JC as a candidate for the council at the time because I was perceived as too extreme! I am now a member of progress having had a full non political career and am now retired.

    It is precisely because I have “grown up” that I find the simplistic solutions promoted by Momentum as essentially immature. I suspect in 40 years time many youthful members of momentum will also cringe at their own current beliefs when they have grown up.

    JC appears not to have followed this path although there is still time!

  • I was a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 60s before it allegedly became extreme in some areas . My views have always remained the same though I have served the Labour Party all that time loyally . I have in the past been treated very badly by some people on the right of the party , but that has more to do with their nature than beliefs . I support young Jeremy Corbyn , unfortunately the way he has been treated by many members of his own party is sickening .He was elected by the membership and please respect that .
    I will continue supporting the Labour Party whilst it is the most caring political party we have . Please support our elected leader in the way that I have always supported Labour,through Hell and High Water . We are Comrades both Right and Left .

  • Yes, as one gets older, one realises that things ARE complicated. There are NO simple solutions! This is the lesson that Blairites and BYTs ought to learn. In the pursuit of “simple solutions” there have been many bad decisions made, as I indicated above. In the pursuit of The Market philosophy, we have seen the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Many people cannot now afford to get on the Property ladder and we now have the “housing crisis.” Is that “growing up”? Because Career Politicians have to show that they are “doing something” (to make a name for themselves, to enhance their careers) we have, for example, seen knee jerk legislation and re-organisation after reorganisation which had done immense damage to the Public Sector. Tories are continuing this from an ideological perspective, as well as incompetence. Politicians ought to have the courage to make the case for doing nothing!!! Widely experienced, mature politicians are more likely to do this as they are not dependent upon a career in politics that has to pay the mortgage, etc.
    Vic Parks (Old Grassroots Geezer)

  • Sadly change is inevitable. The key is to adapt to change. There is a housing crisis predominantly in the South East and London so there has to be decentralisation particularly of the Public Sector to areas such as the North East. Old mining villages have dozens of empty homes for example. Many jobs in clerical and administrative jobs are going with IT and artificial intelligence will increasingly change things. The left will need to be agile and not cling to obsolete beliefs to speak to this century and not the last.

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