2017: the year in review

Welcome to the review of our year on Progress

I am looking forward to this year coming to an end in a very different way than I awaited the turn of the year 12 months ago. 2016 was a year when progressives took blow after blow. 2017, however, was exhausting – but not the clean sweep for the political-right they hoped for – and started to expose the false-promise of the populists. Emmanuel Macron winning in France; Jacinda Ardern becoming prime minister in a Labour-led government in New Zealand; Theresa May losing her majority; Donald Trump and Steve Bannon’s controversial and bigoted candidate losing in Alabama – the most conservative of states; marriage equality being enacted in Germany and receiving popular support in Australia; and the realities of a hard Brexit being found wanting and finally hitting home.

But the absence of victory for the right, does not mean things for those on the political-left are ‘going our way’. There are, albeit small, signs of recovery.

For Labour, the party’s fortunes have changed – Jeremy Corbyn is the front runner to be prime minister whenever the election is called (I still think the parliament will go long) and elections in 2018 should see massive gains for the party. The manifesto – the star of the show – means Labour has a strong retail offer, especially for middle class voters. On Brexit, ‘strategic ambiguity’ might have worked in a snap election, but it fails the young people who turned out for Labour to stop a hard Brexit and the country which cannot afford a future outside the single market and customs union. Whether the idealist young ‘Remain’ Corbynistas or the old guard of Brexiteer-Bennites in the leader’s office and leadership of Momentum win out is, as yet, unclear. Corbyn’s choice is to upset the crowd at Glastonbury or his comrades of old.

However, 2017 is best understood by Labour as a year of coming second, and the various responses that has elicited. In January Labour lost Copeland, a seat the party has held since 1935; in the general election Labour lost to an absent Theresa May and her voter-repelling manifesto; Labour ends the year level pegging in the polls to the worst prime minister the country has ever seen. In response to Copeland there was general despair – from all wings of the party; at the general election there was widespread joy that May had thrown away her majority and young people had turned out in huge numbers, but from some there is a bizarre indulgence in victory laps at being the runner up in a two-horse race. Labour did better than Owen Jones, Len McCluskey and everyone on Labour’s centre-left expected, but winning an expectation game does not feed any of those we seek to represent who instead rely on food banks or are facing the role out of universal credit. Not being ahead of this appalling government in the polls can only be explained by the fact that complacency seems to have set in on the leadership and its vanguard.

Within Labour the fortunes of the centre-left, especially for those of us from the modernising tradition, is mixed. It annoys our opponents that we have not packed up and quit the party we love; that no amount of bullying and intimidation will get the next tranche of progressives out of Labour. Their attempts to sweep away Labour councillors has been confined to one London borough and a handful of small victories elsewhere and the process of Momentum working with Socialist Workers party-front groups has exposed to many in their idealistic membership that there are some in the leadership who are not committed to a ‘kinder, gentler politics’. The irony of the hard-left replacing BAME and LGBT activists with white, middle-class, straight candidates has not been lost. Labour party conference was a clean sweep for Momentum. They used their majority on conference floor to stop members having a say on Brexit, which disappointed many and exposed their desire for ‘party democracy’ as factional nonsense. Equally the ‘democracy’ review established by the unelected political secretary to the Labour leader has already been overruled by the Momentum-controlled National Executive Committee, with unilateral reforms of the NEC Youth representative position. The one victory – passing the Jewish Labour movement amendment into the party rule book – was overshadowed by unchallenged antisemitism on conference floor, Holocaust denial in officially advertised fringe meetings and media performances by the Kens (Livingstone and Loach) and Len (McCluskey) trying to suggest it was all made up or a non-issue. On the other flank, Labour getting 40 per cent in a general election has killed off attempts to create a ‘centre party’ – the only show in town is staying in Labour and winning a battle of ideas. Progress members and supporters rallying to our side to give the organisation – and the politics we espouse – a future is heartened and a reminder of the important task ahead of us for both the party we love and the country we seek to serve.

2017 has created the space for those idea to flow. 2018 must be about using that space. If we do not, we will be judged harshly by those outside the centre-left political bubble that are wishing us well.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress


NEWS, EVENTS AND CAMPAIGNS

PROGRESS IN THE GENERAL ELECTION

When the snap election was called in April, Progress was quick to get back on the doorstep for Labour. Before the end of April, we had relaunched our ‘three seats challenge’, dropping into marginals and campaigning in three constituencies in a single day. By the end of the campaign, we had organised three seats challenge campaigning in 24 different seats – and we were to be found in many more constituencies around the country, knocking on doors day in, day out.

The editorial in the July issue of Progress magazine celebrated the shock result that saw Labour move forward to close the gap on the Tories, saying that ‘this election showed the role hope can play, and the effectiveness of a policy agenda that is optimistic about Britain and its people’. It also warned that the party must still recognise that it came second, and seek to understand why.

The result cemented Jeremy Corbyn’s power in the Labour party, and made him and his supporters undeniably the new establishment – giving the leader a choice: ‘double down on internal divisions, or […] focus on beating the Tories’.

That whole issue was devoted to examining the election defeat, with journalist Anoosh Chakelian examining the apparent popularity of the manifesto, leader of Camden council Georgia Gould delving into the youth surge, Philip Collins arguing that Corbynism needs to be taken seriously as an ideology, and the Fabian Society’s Andrew Harrop and Olivia Bailey take a look at where Labour needs to win next time.

PROGRESS FUNDING

In June, Progress announced that we would no longer be receiving funding from David Sainsbury, who had decided to step away from funding party political projects after more than 20 years.

This gave us a significant shortfall that needed to be met, and there was a very real chance that the organisation would close by the end of 2017.

But it also gave us the opportunity to rethink how we organised and supported ourselves. We turned to our members first and foremost, and asked if they could give any more to keep Progress afloat.

The response was phenomenal, and the outpouring of support should give every progressive heart that there are plenty of people in this country still willing to argue for centre-left values – and support them financially too. Over 50 per cent of members increased their contribution, and our membership rose to new heights. We saw more members join our 100 Club – which costs just £10 a month – and more still become founding members of our new Thousand Club.

In October, we reached our initial funding target and were given the green light to continue.

However, we will not rest on our laurels, and as part of our commitment to work more in the grassroots of the Labour party, we will carry on fundraising as part of our ambitious mission to grow in the future.

Progress will be eternally grateful to the generosity of David Sainsbury – and, as the largest ever single donor to the Labour party, we are sure that is a widely-shared feeling – but we are excited to be entering a new, member-led chapter in our history.

If you want to support our work, you can join hereincrease your contribution here, join the 100 Club here, or the Thousand Club here.

PROGRESS ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Coming just weeks after the general election – and organised entirely in the same timeframe – Progress annual conference was the place to be to discuss the general election result.

We heard views from across the party, with a keynote in-conversation session with our chair Alison McGovern MP, and a range of opinions from Wes Streeting MPLiz Kendall MP, Caroline Flint MP and Ayesha Hazarika, to shadow cabinet members Emily Thornberry MPDiane Abbott MP and Barry Gardiner MP. The appearance of Paul Mason at the Progress Question Time ensured it was as lively a debate as ever.

You can listen back to the debate on Soundcloud.

PROGRESS AT LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE 2017

Progress held 13 fringe events at this year’s Labour party conference in Brighton, including an unmissable Progress rally chaired by Peter Kyle MP with speeches from Richard Angell, Stella Creasy MPSamantha Jury-Dada, Caroline Flint MP, Ayesha Hazarika, Liz Kendall MPAlison McGovern MP, Jess Phillips MP, Jonathan Reynolds MP, and Wes Streeting MP.

You can listen to many of the Progress events in Brighton on Soundcloud.

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IN PROGRESS MAGAZINE AND ONLINE

THE PROGRESSIVE BRITAIN PODCAST

In October, we launched the Progressive Britain podcast. Each Tuesday, Alison McGovern MP, Richard Angell and Conor Pope are joined by a guest to discuss a big issue – and then on Fridays Richard and Conor respond to listeners’ comments in our shorter, ‘extra’ episodes.

Hundreds of people download the show every week, with guests including Peter Kellner, Ayesha Hazarika, Liz Kendall MP and Andy Burnham covering topics from the single market and universal credit to football in Cyprus.

You can listen via iTunesacastPlayerFM and Soundcloud. Make sure to subscribe, rate and leave us a comment.

PROGRESS EDITORIAL

Celebrating success – There is no going back to New Labour, only going forward with its ‘attitude of mind’, our editorial argued on the anniversary of the 1997 general election

A new establishment – There are lessons for all sides from this general election

Corbyn’s choice – The UK staying in the single market is in the gift of the Labour leader and his ‘new politics’

COLUMNS

Late in the year, Robert Philpot took over the ever popular end of the week Last Word column from Richard Angell

For much of the year, deputy editor Conor Pope was starting the week off with some Monday morning analysis

In November, Adrian McMenamin brought a weekly dose of historical context to the current political goings-on

THE PROGRESSIVE

Frankenstein’s Momentum – The eternal truth that the far-left loves schisms has been proved right again

Our Rorschach test – Emmanuel Macron stands the best chance of beating Marine Le Pen but offers no hope for Labour’s modernisers

A Bennite Brexit – The ‘Lexit’ campaign might have come to nothing but Corbyn and McDonnell believe leaving the EU could precipitate a socialist government

THE DEBATE

Eight long yearsMaeve McCormack and Matthew Doyle on whether Donald Trump will win again in 2020?

Strategic thinking – Labour’s electoral strategy was more successful than expected – can it deliver victory next time? Ellie Mae O’Hagan and Conor Pope debate whether the next campaign should continue to focus on non-voters and youth turnout

Manifesto matters –Was Labour’s 2017 manifesto really the progressive platform the left has been waiting for? Adrian McMenamin and Matt Zarb-Cousin take a look

LETTER FROM …

Paris – Leftwinger Benoît Hamon surprised pundits to win French Socialist candidacy, Felicity Slater wrote in February

Berlin – SPD candidate Martin Schulz made two disastrous errors when launching his candidacy, Simon Vaut found in September

Wellington – New Zealand has a new government under Labour prime minister Jacinda Ardern. But how will it work? Darren Hughes explains

COMMENTARY

Missed opportunity – Philip Hammond missed the chance to change course with his post-Brexit budget, argues Seema Malhotra MP

Refounding New Labour – Ten years have been wasted but New Labour’s instincts and approach remain relevant, writes John Woodcock MP

Nobody can stop Labour members deciding Brexit – Skulduggery at conference won the battle but will not win the war, write Alison McGovern MP and Heidi Alexander MP

PROGRESSIVE REVIEWS

Everywoman – Bex Bailey finds encouragement from Jess Phillips’ feminist volume

The French Exception – The biggest driver of Emmanuel Macron appears to be his own ambition – but that is not his shortcoming, writes Conor Pope

My Life, Our Times – Gordon Brown is likely to be remembered as Labour’s greatest chancellor. Will his reputation as prime minister improve with time too? Spencer Livermore thinks so

CARTOONS ON PROGRESS

Cartoonist Adrian Teal captured some of the moments of the year for The Insider column

View them all here

THE PROGRESS INTERVIEW

‘Yes we did, yes we can’ – Women are doing it for each other. Harriet Harman and Jess Phillips tell Richard Angell and Conor Pope about bringing through a next generation of women  

‘We’ve got to make them fear us’ – Labour only ever wins when it is at the cutting edge of modernity, Tony Blair tells Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting  

‘Where the majority of politics happens’ – James Graham tells Richard Angell and Conor Pope why his new play Labour of Love is set in a ‘grotty’ constituency Labour party office

READERS’ FAVOURITES

The Corbynite ideology – Brexit reveals the Labour leader’s longstanding worldview as a paradox of open borders and a closed shop economy, writes Richard Carr

I will not be shamed out of Labour – First they tried to bore us out, then they tried to bully us out … now they try to shame us out. It will not work, writes Progress director Richard Angell

Corbynism’s phase two – What are the implications of Jeremy Corbyn’s relaunch as a leftwing Donald Trump? Conor Pope explored the question in January

Where did it all go right? – Peter Mandelson and Spencer Livermore exchange reflections on 20 years of running Labour’s election campaigns

The first rule of relaunch – Jeremy Corbyn’s year did not get off to the best of starts, writes Jacqui Smith

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Thanks to everyone who has been part of an extraordinary year in the history of the Labour party. We look forward to working with you all again in 2018.

If you are not yet a member of Progress then sign up here to be the first to receive Progress magazine and receive discounted entry to our events. If you are interested in writing for Progress and contributing to the discussion about Labour’s way forward then please get in touch with us here.

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