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
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.