Progress director Richard Angell’s diary on the road to conference
Monday 18 September
So much for the new politics
The focus is well and truly on next week’s Labour party conference. The leadership seems intent to get caught up in a debate about process, not policy – so instead of facing outwards and giving the manifesto that inspired so many a starring role at conference, divisive rule changes look set to dominate the agenda in Brighton.
Yesterday, Christine Shawcroft – who sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee and Momentum’s steering group – and I discussed the divisive rule changes that have been mooted by the leadership and their hard-left allies. Regrettably, Shawcroft refused to rule out attempts by Momentum to alter the reselection process for Labour members of parliament.
Another lost opportunity.
This morning however we are still waiting to see what the leadership are proposing to tomorrow’s meeting of Labour’s NEC. So much for the new politics. We learned a little about what they are intending from Jon Lansman’s interview in The Independent today.
All of this overshadows the real issues that matter to the public – like ending the public sector pay cap that is punishing Britain’s public sector workers. You can read my piece in today’s City AM calling for National Health Service workers to be given the 3.9 per cent pay claim they deserve.
Tuesday 19 September
Equality takes a back seat
Today Labour’s National Executive Committee finally found out what rule changes the leadership is determined to pursue at this year’s annual conference. In a series of backroom deals they have agreed proposals to reduce the nominations threshold, create extra places on the NEC for supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
For some reason the zone one leadership refused to give places on the NEC to members across the country but are creating de facto places for members in London and the south east of England. Worse still, it has been revealed that the leadership is seeking to marginalise Labour councillors and members of parliament and is actively looking for ways to make deselections easier through a review process lead by Corbyn’s political secretary Katy Clark.
The leadership normally picks an ally – Ed Miliband choosing Peter Hain and Ray Collins respectively to lead his reviews – but never has a review into party democracy been led by members of the leader’s office staff.
It is disappointing that the NEC has blocked Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Carywn Jones from setting out their stall at this year’s conference. It seems that the leader’s office is desperate to block the city mayors and first minister from speaking. Considering the hype, it is such a missed opportunity to be sidelining some of Labour’s best advocates, to be denying a voice to those outside of London and when these factional stitch-ups take place, equality and gender representation are forgotten, and that is exactly what has happened with the new NEC places.
Wednesday 20 September
Down, not out
Yesterday was not the best for those on our wing of the party. Labour’s National Executive Committee agreed to put forward a package of rule changes to conference, including giving the NEC the power to postpone its own elections and reduce the role of members of parliament in nominating candidates for leadership elections.
That one hard-left member of the committee repeatedly told the meeting that ‘some of our MPs deserve to be attacked’, and that the review – named the ‘Corbyn democracy review process’ – is being conducted by the leader’s office should give us some idea about whether those pushing the package are really driven by a desire for greater party democracy. The leadership is the establishment in the party, and this is how it chooses to use its power.
We are far from in the strongest position. But the hard-left is not yet unassailable. That is why its desire to bring in the ‘McDonnell amendment’ has had to be diluted, and why directly-elected moderates in power across the country are being prevented from addressing conference. There are still more of the latter to come, following Damien Egan’s selection as Labour’s candidate for Lewisham mayortoday, beating not one, but two Momentum supported candidates. This again demonstrates that Momentum does not have a complete grip on party members and their choice of candidates.
We have two more stops left on our moderate meet-up tour ahead of conference. Join me tomorrow in north Wales, or my colleagues in Warrington, to see that there are other like-minded people in the party who are not willing to lie down either.
Then on Sunday our roadtrip culminates with the Progress conference rally in Brighton – come and join us, to hear from people who still want to stay true to their centre-left values and change the world. We are not giving up yet.
Thursday 21 September
Respect the mandate
Some good news: following yesterday’s Conference Arrangements Committee, it now seems likely that two of Labour’s most important voices in local government, Sadiq Khan and Nick Forbes, will get the chance to address delegates in Brighton next week.
In this month’s magazine, our insider covered the backroom shenanigans that had led to the leader’s office trying to marginalise anyone with any power from the conference schedule. In the October issue, which will be available at conference, shadow local government secretary Andrew Gwynne says that he supports the call for metro mayors to speak from the stage. It looks like sense – and popular mandates from the voting public – may now prevail.
As mayor of London, Khan has the biggest personal mandate of any British politician ever, while Forbes, the leader of both the Local Government Association Labour group and Newcastle city council, will speak for the party’s 6,500 councillors and the millions that vote for them, as well as provide an important non-London voice in the conference hall.
We read on the front page of the Evening Standard that their speaking slots will have to be approved by conference delegates on Sunday morning, and we can hope that party members will embarrass those in Labour’s new establishment who were petty enough to try and block Khan and Forbes.
Friday 22 September
Labour can take back control
It was anticipated more than it had promised, and certainly more than it delivered. Theresa May’s big Brexit speech in Florence came after a week of cabinet infighting, but surely cannot have pleased anyone. She remains at the mercy of her unhappy members of parliament, and serves at the pleasure of the 1922 committee.
The prime minister was right that the United Kingdom needs its own deal with the European Union – but she remains stuck between forces pulling her towards ‘Switzerland light’ and ‘Canada plus’ arrangements with the world’s biggest trading bloc. While Brexit is about the Tory party, the only options are between two hard Brexits – both a disaster for Britain.
What this country needs is more akin to a ‘Norway plus’: a deal that would prioritise, above all, keeping us in the single market. Every alternative would just make Britain, and those we joined the party to defend, poorer.
With May’s party in such disarray, a strong, simple line from Labour could cut through the debate. Thankfully, we can help with that.
If you are a delegate to Labour conference next week, make sure to vote for the Brexit amendment in the priority ballot on Sunday. It is time to take control of this issue.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.