They’ll stop chasing you, when you stop running.

12196111_10207819003290487_8790553924892083285_n

Remember when New Labour brought in CBI chief Sir Digby Jones to advise on trade promotion and Gordon Brown’s economic policy? Yep, that’s the same Digby Jones who said that trade unions were increasingly irrelevant only a couple of years previous.

Remember when good old Sir Alan Sugar was welcomed into the heart of Gordon Brown’s government, as an “enterprise tsar”. Yep, that’s the same Alan Sugar who recently said we should all move to China if the present Labour Party were elected.

Remember when Blair’s Labour rolled out the red carpet in 1999 for Shaun Woodward, who two years previous had been quite happy to be elected as a Tory MP for Witney, and two years later became a Labour MP for St Helens South. Tony Blair welcomed him as a “serious” and a “decent” politician. From 2007 until 2010, he even served as Labour’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Do you remember the shock and outrage amongst the British press? Do you remember their old tweets being dredged up by right-wing newspaper hacks – goaded on by people in their own party? Do you remember the carefully co-ordinated character assassinations, designed to bully them out of their positions and livelihoods? Do you remember Labour MPs summoning up faux outrage from the depths of their bowels and excreting it all over the right-wing, tabloid press?

No, neither do I.

Yet, the appointment of lifelong socialists and radical economists to advise Jeremy Corbyn is deemed scandalous. In turn, John McDonnell, then Andrew Fisher, Seumas Milne – and most recently – James Meadway have been subjected to the most spiteful and personalised campaign by the gutter press, with quite transparent help from the Blairite malcontents in the Parliamentary Party and those lingering within the party machine. I recall how Ed Milband’s office reacted when he was subjected to just a fraction of this onslaught: his advisors recommended that he try to ameliorate the press – and specifically, pose with a copy of the Sun newspaper. Did any of that stop the attacks? Did it satisfy the tabloid hacks that they’d had their little bit of raw meat? No, it had the reverse effect. They sensed blood and went in for the kill. So I’m with Mick McGahey, former vice-president of the NUM, on this:

“They’ll stop chasing you, when you stop running.”

The problem is that we’ve been running for so long, that we need to learn how to stand and fight again. Together, we can.

Standard

That joke isn’t funny anymore: from #Tories4Corbyn to a Very British Coup

corbyn2One day, someone like the Glasgow Media Group, will do an analysis of this leadership election and how the attitude of the right-wing press has changed towards Jeremy Corbyn. It will be fascinating. 

Stage 1: Laughter

It seems like an age ago when it was all jolly larks and #Tories4Corbyn. Smugly and patronisingly, they laughed into their sleeves, safe in the knowledge that Corbyn even being on the ballot would show that the loony left (guffaw) was very much alive and kicking and the Labour Party at large hadn’t changed. By not having changed, of course, they mean not accepting all the tenets of the disgustingly unequal and brutal society that their chums in the city had created. That self-satisfied superiority complex, which seemingly couldn’t be shifted, had been aided and abetted by the Labour Party in Parliament, filled with New Labourites who did just that – who had “changed” and had accepted the rules of the club.

Stage 2: Confusion

Then came the period of incredulity, as the madness of “Corbynmania” seemed to be sweeping the country. What on earth was going on, they wondered? Hadn’t this stuff – like collective values, solidarity, compassion – been left behind in the 80s where it belonged? Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall they understood: they too played by the rules. The deal was, they would let us keep the fundamentals of the Thatcherite settlement in place as long as they could play with the ball occasionally. The “fun” being had at the Labour Party’s expense became a little less sure footed. #Tories4Corbyn faded and turned into “Shock! Horror! Look what the oiks are up to!” They actually believe this crap? Rent controls? Public ownership? Democracy in our education system? Whatever next? Fake indignation and incredulity ruled, but now with a frown.

Stage 3: Anger

Latterly, the terms of reference have turned around completely. As arrogant bullies do, no public acknowledgement of this volte face was to be allowed. But to anyone who has been paying attention, it’s obvious that things have shifted dramatically as the election campaign has gone on and Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has gathered real momentum, not just in the Labour heartlands, but in the Tories’ own backyards. The chuckles have been swallowed back and been replaced with anger. What the hell? As the movement around Jeremy Corbyn has become a “thing”, evidenced by the enormous crowds turning up all over the country and the rapturous welcome that Corbynite policies were receiving, things have taken a nasty turn. Quietly at first, but then gathering momentum, the word was put out that “this has to be stopped”. As that lad from Manchester once said:

“That joke isn’t funny anymore. It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone.”

At the time of writing, this latest phenomenon has morphed into an almost a pathological obsession for many in the right wing press. Whereas previously, the writings on Corbyn positively oozed condescension, now you can smell the fear and a strange lack of confidence. It’s starting to resemble something out of a Very British Coup, but every smear story, every outright lie and every petty, personalised attack on Corbyn, his family, or his army of supporters betrays how petrified they are at the thought that, for the first time in three decades, they might actually face a real opposition to their project – not just to this detail, or that policy, but to their whole individualist, consumer-orientated, callous ideology.

Standard

See you, Jimmy: what the SLab collapse means for all of us.

jim-murphyLet’s face it. The overwhelming backdrop to the 2015 election wasn’t hope. It wasn’t even predominantly fear in the end, though that played a part. It was anger. And it was directed towards our party as much as towards a Coalition Government which had slashed and burnt its way through public services, privatised everything it could lay its hands on and showed a callous disregard for the vulnerable in our society. They were seen as the bad guys by many – probably a majority – but we definitely weren’t seen as the good guys, and by many of our former supporters, we were seen very much as part of the problem.

Now we can deflect blame for this. We can blame the naivety and selfishness of voters in large swathes of the South and Midlands in the betrayal of SNP switchers who have been suckered into supporting nationalism dressed up as social democracy. We can retreat to the comfort blanket of saying that we are fighting a losing battle against the twin forces of nationalism and individualism. Or we can quit this blame fest and try to understand our own failures. Why has this calamity (and let’s face it, we are in a crisis) happened? Why have we been overwhelmed in an explosion of anger towards the party we are members of?

Firstly, the anger towards the Labour Party is blowback from two decades of New Labourite politics. Particularly in Scotland, where the Scottish Labour Party was used as an incubator for the careers of many a Blairite politician. In so doing, the party machine also wrecked the internal life of the party north of the border, closing down democracy and evacuating the party of real, decent socialist and trade union activists. Scotland has blown first because it was the most extreme example, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this process hasn’t happened all over the UK. The election of Jim Murphy was the final straw, illustrating that the party hadn’t learnt the lessons of Better Together, and the scene was set for Thursday’s cataclysm.

Secondly, the anger is about Labour’s failure to challenge the austerity consensus. This obviously has a historic dimension to it. Blair’s governments entrenched the idea that redistribution and progressive taxation, aimed at the rich, was off the agenda. On this score, “One Nation Labour” continued in the same vein. For all the talk of tax avoidance and “everyone paying their fair share”, Ed Balls’ tightening noose around Labour’s economic policy and the disastrous decision to stick to Tory spending plans cemented the idea that they were all in the same club. It forced Labour into a cul-de-sac when it should have been shouting from the rooftops about the economic vandalism being perpetrated in the name of deficit reduction. It hasn’t just been the SNP who have benefitted from Labour’s cowardice on the economy, but the Greens – and even, in a bizarre, complex way, UKIP. Ed Miliband said that he was making a definite break from New Labour. In style, he did – but on questions of substance he really failed to. Where was the commitment to rail renationalisation, kicking the private sector out of the NHS altogether, or bringing schools back into local authority control? Until Labour rediscover this kind of radicalism, they will be vulnerable to a Scottish style implosion in the rest of the UK too.

Thirdly, what about us? Us socialists in the party? Surely it’s not our fault that our party was overtaken by careerist cuckoos and set the time bomb ticking? What could we have done? We tried our best, right? But look what they did to us we? We were powerless. Or so the story goes. Often, people ask why on earth we carry on in a party which is so wedded to neoliberalism? Wouldn’t two decades or more of failure to change the party indicate that it is a lost cause. Well, let’s go back to Scotland for a second. What on earth was going on while the Blairites were tearing down local democracy and imposing yes men and women? Where was the organisation, where was the united front with the unions to challenge the selection of those New Labour zealots in local parties? The answer is that too many people, good socialists went into hiding, too disillusioned to fight back or too divided to come together. A small band of hard core socialists were left to fight the good fight. It wasn’t enough – and we can see similar pattern all over the UK. If there’s any hope to be gleaned in these fairly dark days, is that the Labour left will learn those lessons, and come out of hiding to start the long task of rebuilding a party we can all be proud of. If that doesn’t happen, we can almost certainly say good bye to the Labour Party in its present form.

Standard

Who are you calling a Red Tory?

red_tories_out_badge-r953cb0b9b1974d8eac61cbd1d55f3ef7_x7j3i_8byvr_324

There’s a glorious and comforting myth doing the rounds on the left. It’s like warm milk and honey to those who like their politics black and white, with little or no space for any grey. It goes a bit like this: the Labour left offered no opposition to Blairism North and South of the Border. In fact, those laughable people who dare call themselves socialists in the Labour Party have simply been apologists for the anti-working class politics of New Labour and its continuation as “austerity lite” under Ed Miliband. It’s only by the widespread spreading of this muck that is been possible to lump Labour members and supporters under the headline grabber ‘Red Tories’, with no distinction between socialists in the party and New Labour. It’s a comforting thought for many of those making the break with Labour, because it draws a clear party line between those on the right side of the fence and those on the wrong side. Evil must be punished and good will prevail. But it’s simplistic bullshit, actually.

Not only has there always been a vocal minority in the party which attempted to fight New Labourism from its very origins, but many of that group (who coalesced around Tribune, the Socialist Campaign Group initially, and later, the Campaign for Socialism in Scotland, the LRC and Welsh Labour Grassroots) were there at the coal face well before the broader left – and tried to warn against the Blair revolution while others in the party were being seduced by the charmer himself and the idea that after a succession of electoral disasters, there really was no alternative. The ‘Campaign Group’ left begged to differ – but it faced an uphill struggle to convince those around them. This group has been depleted by the fall out and demoralisation in the wake of Benn’s defeat in the deputy leadership election of 1981; the 1983 General Election defeat; the defeat and betrayal of the Miners during the strike of 1984-85; the abolition of the GLC; the near constant attacks on the left during the Kinnock era and had witnessed at close quarters the accession of Blair – who announced himself as the gravedigger of the left by stripping the party of Clause IV in 1995. At this point, many simply had had enough. Some socialists – mainly from the activist left of the party – departed to start a new venture, the Socialist Alliance, while others stayed in to fight another day.

What’s clear from this little potted history, though, is that the left in the party had taken a battering. It felt like a defeat, if not a final one. How did it happen? What were the root causes of the succession of wounds inflicted from the mid-80’s onwards? It certainly wasn’t about waving the white flag. There was no surrender, but the left voice was getting submerged, quieter year by year. What really inflicted the damage on the left wasn’t “losing the argument” but bureaucratic manoeuvre. The Blairites learnt very quickly that it wasn’t about winning the ideological battle, but about capturing the party machine – as a precursor to winning the Parliamentary party.

Strategically those early New Labourites were very astute – and they understood that if you were genuinely going to remove the party from its roots, you needed to take away the voice of the ordinary party member. That was the real Blair revolution, right there. In a series of anti-democratic changes to the way the party debates and reached decisions, including turning the party conference into a showcase for the leadership, the apparatchiks of New Labour seized control of the party machine. Well funded and organised, it wasn’t long before they started the task of winning the Parliamentary party. Like dominos, selection after selection went to bright young Blairites. CLP’s became, in many cases, mere vehicles for New Labour branded careers – and old Labourites fled from local parties as they became increasingly alienated. This didn’t always manifest itself in tearing up the party card, but the effect was the same as former “troublemakers” went to ground.

Blair’s was a classic ‘top down’ revolution, one which was premised on silencing and marginalising dissent. On those terms, it couldn’t have been more successful. The fact that it didn’t trigger a ‘bottom up’ revolution in return is hardly surprising, considering the history outlined above. Grassroots resistance isn’t something that can be conjured out of thin air – and the demoralisation left by those defeats was hardly confined to the Labour left. Many a left project withered in the vine at this time, including the Socialist Alliance. However, it would be wrong to say that the Labour left simply gave in. It’s a forgotten footnote in history that 139 Labour MPs voted against the War in Iraq. Not long afterwards, the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) was set up specifically to address the crisis of representation of the left in the party. What was missing, though, were the much larger numbers of unaffiliated socialists in the party and the unions, beyond that activist core. They were the ones most affected by the disillusion which set in with the onslaught of Blairism. So there was always a vociferous and committed leftwing, it just didn’t have the wider base in the party that it needed to really be heard. That’s where we’ve been stuck for nearly two decades.

Now, we can debate the finer details of strategy, of what went wrong and the Labour left ended up in such a precarious position, but I don’t think that is what the “Red Tories” trope is all about. It too wants to silence debate, to dispel complexity and bury the Labour left once and for all. The idea that there might be several thousand socialists in the Labour Party still is dismissed quickly and ruthlessly, because to admit that would be to acknowledge an alternative strategy. At the extreme, the ‘Red Tory’ brigade berate those socialists on the left of the Labour Party as “left cover” for the leadership’s neoliberalism. It’s not too far off the old, discredited British Communist line during the ‘Class Against Class’ period , which castigated the left of Labour as “social fascists”. That had to be abandoned as the threat of real fascism in the shape of the Nazis focused the left’s minds. And this is the point.

People will no doubt say, “What’s the big deal about a few lefties slinging insults about? Surely you can understand the anger?”. In some senses that is right. Not only do we, as socialists in the Party, understand the anger, we share it. It’s been an everyday reality for us for over two decades – and often we’ve been there, on our own, fighting the New Labour spin, and triangulation over privatisation, foreign wars, anti-trade union legislation, financial  deregulation and austerity. But there are deeper implications of this unthinking and at times sectarian line of attack from our comrades on the left, and not all of them come from a sense of personal grievance, they’re also about the future of the left.

Firstly, the use of the term “Red Tories” to describe lifelong socialists is deeply insulting. Amongst some within the Labour Party, it quite understandably provokes a reaction – and we end up in a downward spiral of name calling and bile. That can’t be good for any of us.

Secondly, the vitriol may serve an immediate purpose – to draw a massive, fat line between the parties and therefore boost both morale and sense of mission within the activist base of those parties, but over the long term, it burns bridges that we may regret in the future – for instance in a political realignment on the left caused by economic crisis, a shift by the major trade unions, or in the event of an upsurge in the racist right.  Even on a practical level, it may stop us from working on joint platforms against austerity (whichever party forms a government) or through anti-racism campaigns in the here and now. That too, can only be healthy in the eyes of the most extreme sectarians.

Thirdly – and this is something that is not generally being considered at present – those socialists and radicals who have left the Labour Party for pastures greener, or have found a new hostility for Labour leftwingers, will almost inevitably come to a point where their politics come under challenge by a strong right or centre faction. It’s possible; likely even, that they will have to deal with disappointments, and defeat.  When that day comes, it might require different tactics from the uber confident trashing of everyone else on the left. It might even be that there are lessons to be learnt from the history of the Labour left.

It would be a travesty to claim that we on the left of the Labour Party have got it all right. Far from it, but the really important thing about the experience of socialists in the Labour Party is that we have had to deal with reality, with all its disappointments, failures and challenges. That means that we have lost our innocence. Of course, that can work both ways – it can make us cynical and prone to inertia, but it can also give us the chance to “do it better” next time. As an optimist, I tend towards the latter. I think, if we got our act together, the Labour left could be a massive force for change, not just within the party, but in wider society to. Yes, we’ve been beaten, but not decisively – and we’re not the only ones. In a truly hostile climate, no group should be castigated for their defeats. You don’t have to be a fan of what we do. You don’t have to agree with us ideologically or strategically. You don’t even have to show us #solidarity. Just don’t call us “Red Tories”.

Standard

Repeat after me: “I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me”

dunningI write this, not as a response to Jack Monroe, who announced that she’d left the Labour Party to join the Greens this week, but as a response to the many hundreds of good, socialists activists who have left the Labour Party over the years. It’s not meant as a rebuke, but merely to ask some important questions about their reasoning and our strategy as socialists. Whilst it’s understandable that people who consider themselves socialists have constant battles with their conscience about leaving the Labour Party, we must be careful of the mantra:

“I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me”

In the social media age, where most people know little about each other or their histories, it sounds good. It’s a nice soundbite that will no doubt have lots of other Facebookers nodding at their screens. But what does it say about us as actors, as activists in the Party which we chose to join? Nothing says “look what they did to us” more than that statement. It’s a victim mentality – one which has been the comfort blanket for the (dis)organised left in the party for too long. We’ve gone along with the myth, created by Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and co, that the Labour Party is a brand which we have no control over, but to which we pay a monthly fee as an act of weak solidarity. So that’s our allotted role, as socialists – to complain from the margins and when it gets too tough, to bail out. That’s boxed off then.

Let’s think about this for a second, though. What a gift that is for the right-wing of the party and their enforcers in the party machine. It implies a spectator’s view of the Party. Coincidentally, that’s exactly the relationship that the Blairites want and expect the membership to have with the party. Get out, leaflet, cheer, hold up placards, wave flags in a uniform fashion, but don’t expect to play a democratic part in the party of Labour.

Now, we’re socialists. We have a deeper sense of what history tells us and what the Labour Party means, so why do so many of us simply accept what the party apparatchiks tell us? In every aspect of our lives, we challenge the powerful and organise, so why is the Labour Party an exception? Did we think they’d roll over and give us power? Or, just like in wider society, does our activism and understanding mean that, for every knockback, we have to organise better, make new alliances and work together to build our alternative?

So to those who have left, those who are leaving, or those who are thinking of leaving, we just need you to answer this question very truthfully. Have you done everything you can to join with other socialists in the party, to seek them out and to plan together, to get organised within CLPs and as a counterweight to all the Blairite rubbish that comes from on high? If you’ve done all that and still feel the same, fair enough. If, being honest, you haven’t, then come join us. Use Red Labour as a base and a starting point for the building of a party which we can all be proud of and where no one can legitimately say that it “left” them.

This is not so much about the Labour Party. I’m no tribalist – and I’ve been in and out of the Labour Party myself over nearly 30 years of activism. But I do think it’s about our relationship as activists to the parties we join. If we’re interested in achieving real power (which can change society at a practical level) at some point we will all need to mobilise, build and organise. If we stand still, and expect power to be given to us, just because we selected that party (or that brand) over the other, we will continue to end up in the same, frustrating place. If it’s too hard to challenge elites in the Labour Party, the chances are that it will be in any other party too – and it’s a certainty that it will be too hard to challenge the power of organised money and capitalist structures in wider society. So, although it’s easy enough to repeat the myths, we should also look at ourselves and learn the lessons from three decades of wasted chances for the left. If we want to change anything, we’re going to have to do a lot more than raise our banners and wait for the flocking masses. Don’t mourn, organise.

Standard

Why we need a Red Labour alternative

829709500_85c84686c6_bA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece for this blog entitled ‘Sleepwalking in the Labour Party’: about the failure of the left in the party to get ourselves organised in the context of the long hegemony of the right in the party and in the face of a Blairite retrenchment in “One Nation Labour”. The article was meant as a provocation – to ask individual party members:

“If you’re not in the party to cause trouble, considering its trajectory for the last 15 years, what are you in it for?”

The reaction was interesting. The vast majority of comments were supportive. That was the easy bit. We can hardly fail to agree on what is wrong. However, a few people asked the more pertinent questions, which were “How?”, “What now?” and “What can I do?” That article didn’t seek to answer those questions, or map out a plan of action. I want to start the task of doing that now.

Firstly, although the article was an appeal to individual responsibility for the situation we’re in, the answers can only ever be collective. Like anything else in the Labour movement, it has to be rooted in collective experience and collective solutions. I believe that some of the answers lie exactly in some of those problems we’ve experienced both as a party and a left in the party. Specifically: education; democracy and organisation. The first one is the lack of education in the party. When I say education, I don’t mean in a formal sense, but informally, through discussion in party meetings. This has all but gone – and it is a massive vacuum. Secondly, the Blairite “revolution” in the party had at its heart the closing down of democracy in the party. Blair and his friends needed this to secure their “New Labour” project. This is a clear block on any movement which seeks to change the party. Thirdly – while the right wing of the party, and the Progress wing specifically, have been extremely well organised, not surprisingly, considering the financial resources at their disposal courtesy of Lord Sainsbury, the left in the party have been fragmented, disorganised and ineffective at getting their message across and winning positions in the party.

This is not the sum of everything that is wrong in the party – far from it, unfortunately – but those three areas (education, democracy and organising) might come together in a project that attempts to grab some power back for members. A few of us on the left of the party, involved in the Red Labour Facebook group, have been talking about this for some time. That involvement has led us to the question: should there be a Red Labour in the real world? It isn’t (and never has been) a case of trying to replace anything else on the left of the party, but to gather forces and organise them with an explicit focus on the Labour Party – to give a coherence and confidence to attempts to present an alternative to “New Labour lite”. At present, there are other positive things going on in the party – the Defend the Link campaign, the Labour Assembly Against Austerity, Unite’s engagement in party selections, the continuing efforts of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy to name a few, which will hopefully slot together with Red Labour in a virtuous cycle as opposed to the vicious cycle we’ve been trapped in for the past decade or more.

The Red Labour Facebook page began its life just over two years ago, in June 2011. In a couple of years of existence, it has grown to become the largest Facebook group on the left of the Labour Party. At the time of writing, the Red Labour page is ‘liked’ by (as in followed by) 4,693 people. Compared to other broadly Labour-left orientated groups, it is now the largest by quite some distance:

  • Red Labour 4,693 likes
  • Fabian Society 3,147 likes
  • Compass 1,648 members
  • Labour Left 1,225 likes
  • Left Futures 1,180 likes
  • LRC 667 likes
  • CLPD 198 likes

Granted, we’ve still got some way to go before hitting the Labour Party’s 147,675 likes, but we’ve gained nearly 2,000 followers in the last 2-3 months, so who knows what’s possible? What is significant too, is the amount of ‘buzz’ that there is around Red Labour. At the time of writing, 14,389 people were “talking” about Red Labour on Facebook (i.e. interacting in some way with the group). This compares to the 6,124 talking about the Labour Party on Facebook.

Red Labour creates online discussion about Labour movement politics. We have aimed to do so in lively and at times controversial ways. It has proved an enormously successful formula over the last two years. In the last six months, particularly, it’s been apparent that we are sitting on a phenomenon. We now regularly get 100 likes and 200 shares of our statuses, some reaching over 100,000 people on Facebook. A recent post quoting Keir Hardie on the arrival of the royal baby in 1894 reached 181,568 people and attracted 14,970 likes, comments or shares. Our interaction with those people who have liked the page grows on a daily basis.

About six months ago, in this context, we started assessing the impact of the page politically. We looked at the state of the Labour left and felt that it should be making the sort of progress that we were online. While all the time bearing in mind the difference between social media political activity and that in the movement itself, we nevertheless started to wonder about the huge void that there was for socialist education, discussion and debate in the party and how Red Labour might be able to plug that gap and help build the left in the party more practically. Over the last few months have been developing this idea while steadily building its facebook (and now twitter) presence. It seems to us that there is a desperate need for a project that takes the Red Labour approach to Labour members and supporters in different parts of the country, offering an alternative not only to austerity, but one that boldly and confidently challenges the narrowing of the political agenda in the Labour Party – offering radical alternatives and allowing members to develop and voice those alternatives in independent “Red Labour” fora. This would not be about building a membership organisation, it would be about creating forums for socialist alternatives in the party and organising the Labour left specifically.

Red Labour is a project in the making. It is not the finished article and will require building over months and years. Although it is a long term project, with education at its heart, there is now an urgency caused by the ‘One Nation Labour’s backsliding towards Blairism. The last six months have seen a clear change in the leadership under Ed Miliband as the 2015 election comes into view – and it is bad, rather than good news for the left as New Labour retrenchment gathers pace. What has also been noticeable, however, is the beginnings of a resistance in the party. We should all be wary of overplaying this, but it seems there is the start of a groundswell of anti-austerity sentiment amongst sections of the party – and not just amongst its union affiliates. This has been fuelled in particular by the abstention on workfare sanctions, the fudging of the opposition to the Bedroom Tax and most recently, the seven day ‘Wonga’ extension for benefits claimants.

A week or so ago, we decided to put that idea to our Facebook followers, hardly expecting the incredible response we got. The question was:

If Red Labour were to move into the real world, to start to organise within the Party and to hold public meetings based around issues that ordinary people faced, would you support it? Like if you would, and also comment if this interests you.”

In under 12 hours, we received 449 ‘likes’ and 115 comments, 90% of which were wholly positive. Here are some of the typical responses

  • “Absolutely. I want my Labour party back out of the clutches of the current lot in charge”
  • “Yes this would bring me back to Labour”
  • “Yes, definitely! Apart from anything I’d feel a lot happier going along to, and speaking up at, meetings of my local party and university Labour Club knowing there was an organised group and others around who have similar views of what politics should be about. Progress desperately need an organised opposition, especially so in universities etc. where the trade union connection isn’t particularly strong”
  • “I was at Tolpuddle last weekend and heard many similar sentiments; we need to rid ourselves of public school career politicians greedy for personal power. We need discussion groups to establish fundamental principles (remember them?) & then, organised, we need to reclaim OUR party. Hell yes I’m in.”

Even taking into account the obvious caveats about online activism, the response shows that there is a clear desire amongst party members (and those who have recently left) for a clear, socialist alternative in the party, popularly expressed and demanding a voice for our members. It ties in with similar sentiments echoed in the affiliated trade unions over recent months.

Practically speaking, what we have talked about is piloting a few Red Labour meetings around the country, with a broad brief to challenge both Progress and Blue Labour – as well as a developing critique Ed’s One Nation re-branding of New Labour. The real development of the project would be in the regional meetings which would come quickly after any launch. Meetings would initially be planned in areas where we feel we have some base. Each series of meetings would have policy, campaigning and organising outcomes. We could theme them for maximum impact nationally – e.g. having meetings on “free schools”, “defending the welfare state” or “tax avoidance” in several locations over a period of two week, with local media coverage – as well as all the usual social media. The emphasis would be on giving Labour Party members a voice again, gradually building confidence that we could effect change in the party.

In some ways the Red Labour name is a direct challenge to the Purple and Blue variants and therefore would have a wide appeal. This defines our approach, in a sense. The Red Labour project is based on a belief that there are thousands of Labour members and supporters out there who believe similar things to us or can be convinced by a strong, bold challenge to New Labour lite. This would not be about bringing together the 57 varieties of the left, however – it would be focused on changing the Labour Party solely. It wouldn’t be set up to compete with any group on the Labour left, but act as an umbrella and work on common campaigns and policy interventions. It would also be about engaging those five million mainly working class voters who have stopped supporting the party since 1997 and those members who have left the party in despair, but are equally despairing of the left outside the party.

It is also about organising the left in the party better – in order to challenge the bureaucratic control of the right. We would hope to attract support from the unions, whilst acknowledging that the success of the Red Labour facebook page has been based on its independent nature – and it will be important to retain this in “the real world”. Most importantly, the point of this would be that it would be grassroots-based. It would not be encumbered by the committee structure, as it would be more of a forum for our socialist views rather than a membership organisation. Red Labour would have supporters, people who engaged and contributed to the project at various levels, rather than members. Undoubtedly, there are other attempts to do similar things – e.g. on a broader scale with Unite or the Labour Assembly Against Austerity – and we see this as a positive not a negative. It shows that people are starting to stand up and are planning some kind of resistance – at last. We’d welcome joint working, while at the same time believing that Red Labour has both a distinctive approach and longevity. There is a massive leap from where we are now to a fully functioning, confident and effective left in the party. Obviously, too, there is a long way to go with the Red Labour project, but if the latter can support the former, it has got to be worth our time and effort. Please support us, help us, but most importantly, join us.

Standard

Over on Channel Twitter…the Über Blairites gather for #pac13

PROGRESS-NOVEMBER-2011-e1339706359378

By now, you should know who Progress are. For those of us in the Labour Party unfortunate enough to have been engaged in ideological warfare with the Blairite pressure group, the battle lines are clear. However, for the uninitiated, it’s by no means so obvious. Jon Lansman did an excellent job on the Left Futures blog in summarising their “project” back in 2011. Not long after that, in February 2012, Progress were dealt a seemingly knockout blow when a 20 page dossier was circulated amongst Constituency Labour Parties, calling for an enquiry into their activities, funding and attacks on Ed Miliband’s leadership. Since then, they have been denounced by union leaders and been the subject of much scorn amongst ordinary union members. However, they weren’t to be deflected either by the report or by the increased scrutiny of their activities and merrily carried on as if nothing had happened.

The people involved in Progress are not stupid, however. They are fully aware of the unpopularity of much of their core programme and their ideological framework. They’re equally aware of how few Labour members actually want to continue or resurrect the New Labour project, so they blur the lines between their Blairite values and Labour loyalism. They do this with the sophistry of language. Nobody can miss the fact that their name, Progress, is a misnomer, but listen to the way they describe themselves:

“Progress is the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”

Impressive stuff, but what could it possibly mean?

Well, let’s see. Would an organisation set up (in 1996) by Paul Richards, Liam Byrne and Derek Draper really be interested in developing a radical and progressive politics, unless you skew the meaning of those words beyond recognition?

In the introduction to their ‘Purple Papers’, tantalizingly subtitled ‘Real Change for Britain, Real Choices for Labour’, we have this:

“We seek to discuss, develop and advance the means to create a more free, equal and democratic Britain, which plays an active role in Europe and the wider the world. Diverse and inclusive, we work to improve the level and quality of debate both within the Labour party, and between the party and the wider progressive community.”

If you were a teacher, you would simply have to get your big red pen out and scrawl all over it: “define this”, “don’t waffle” and “and….”

I thought it would be an interesting and possibly comical exercise to read between the lines of the excited Progress twitterati as they gathered for their Annual Conference last Saturday, the 11th of May, at Congress House in London. For full comedic effect, imagine that this is an episode of ‘The Thick of It’. You never know, I thought, they may even let their guard down and let us in to the (purple) heart of darkness, if only for a second or two:

Early doors, and new Progress MP Steve Reed, fresh from winning the Croydon by election, seems pretty excited about cutting, sorry, I mean reforming public services:

@SteveReedMP Looking forward to @progressonline conference today – will be speaking about reforming public services by empowering users #pac13

Progress die-hards always use very positive sounding phrases like “empowering users” when we all know that they mean outsource, privatise, sell off and take away people’s universal rights to free health care, welfare etc.

The amount of times a “Labour Majority” is mentioned is truly astonishing. Why bother? Surely it’s pretty vacuous to go on about a “Campaign for a Labour Majority”? What’s the alternative position? A “Campaign for a Labour Minority”? However, you see, Progress are like those awful managers who think that we’ll all be impressed by their jargonising. Of course, it’s also important for Progress to project the image that they are the hardest working, most loyal part of the party (unlike those lefties). What would we do without them? I think the hashtag from Stephen Twigg may have been gilding the lily a little though:

@StephenTwigg Heading to #pac13 to hear @Ed_Miliband & speak in closing plenary to promote Campaign for a Labour Majority http://prog.rs/53j  #LabMaj

No populist, rightwing-sounding policy must ever be off the agenda – especially “the anti social behaviour agenda” (TM Hazel Blears). Conjure up images of lager swilling yoofs as much as you possibly can. Apologies from Gloria De Piero’s spelling by the way. I blame the parents:

@GloriaDePieroMP Off to #pac13 to listen to Ed Miliband. Afterwards ill be talking about why the anti social behaviour agenda is crucial to Labour’s success

And Richard Angell, who has done much to build up the organisation from a collection of Blairite MPs and councillors to, well, a collection of Blairite MPs and counillors, loves this one from Ed – straight out of the Progress Bible.:

@RichardAngell No issue can be a ‘no go’ area for Labour. If the voters are talking about it, Labour is talking about it’ says @Ed_Miliband #pac13

No no go areas is a mantra for the average Progressite and it of course has the added benefit that it can be used as a catch all for any anti-immigrant, anti-welfare rhetoric:

Of course, Tory switchers are manna from heaven for the true believers. We must reassure them, the story goes. We must not challenge middle England. Repeat ad naseum (check out the hashtag, making another appearance):

@FelicitySlater Peter Kellner: We need to convince those Tory to UKIP switchers tht they have nothing to fear from an Ed Miliband premiership #pac13 #labmaj

Even John Denham gets in on the act. Prog pluralism, he says:

@JohnDenhamMP Real progressive change depends on active support of millions of people not all of whom vote for the same party  Prog pluralism. #pac13

However, is that the mask finally slipping? Yes, we want a #LabMaj, but let’s face it, we need the Lib Dems and the Tory switchers to scare the left in the party a lot more.

And just in case you thought this was about politics and an agenda to push the party back to a discredited Blairism, it isn’t. It’s a technical thing about credibility (Read: cut hard and cut fast):

@owenalunjohn Bang on from @andrew_harrop. It’s not about how left or right we go, it’s about how credible we are #pac13

Sorry, I meant “realistic spending”:

@JoshNewlove Impressed by @PCollinsTimes as always. Vital words on realistic spending met with indicative policies based on resources available. #pac13

Indicative policies, by the way, are ones that don’t really exist in the run up to the election, or at party conference, but are made up on the hoof by Special Advisers linked to Progress once in Government. Thank the Sun Tanned One for that!

This one is a real treat for all of our Newcastle based readers:

@Joe_Dromey Just heard from @nick_forbes, leader of Newcastle at #Pac13. Sounds like great things going on there. He’s one to watch

Yep, great things are happening in Newcastle. Great things, like closing libraries, youth services & swimming pools. ‘One to watch’ in the next safe selection in the North East, I would presume. With a record like that, what could possibly go wrong for speed boat enthusiast Forbes?

Ed Miliband is politely tolerated and whatever Blairite treasure can be dredged from the whole One Nation thing is pounced upon, but the real excitement is reserved for the entrance of the Dark Lord, Peter Mandelson. Stephen Bush even tells us (the whole darn Twitter universe) how we feel about the man:

 ‏@stephenkb I love Mandy – who doesn’t?

Mandy’s opening remarks occasions one of my favourite tweets from the whole of the Progress conference. What makes it even more beautiful is that it was tweeted by the official ProgressOnline account and that it was retweeted by 5, presumably sentient, adults. Genius:

@ProgressOnline ‏Peter Mandelson: we shd simply aim to win outright in 2015 #pac13

Delving into the murky world of Progress should come with a health warning. If this is what they’re saying on their iPhone’s to millions, imagine what they are saying in Pret a Manger! It’s not all bad, though. Just by searching the #pac13 hashtag, you do come across some healthy cynicism about the management double-speak of Progress. This one is my favourite, only let down by the fact that the offending statement is not attributed to anyone:

@SohoPolitico “@ChrisMasonBBC: Where else but at a political conference could you hear the phrase ‘proofing our narrative’?? #pac13” <In hell, maybe?

And on that bombshell…

Standard