Jeremy was right to go and schmooze with Progress

Corbyn and Schmoozing ProgressIn yet another example of the lion laying down with the lamb, last Saturday say Jeremy Corbyn deliver a keynote speech at Progress conference. Yes, read that again. Jeremy Corbyn. Keynote. Progress conference. Debate rages whether it’s broken, but everyone can agree that politics has definitely got weird. That speech then, yes. Not a great deal was said, and all was pretty cordial. The questions at the end were polite and business-like. No one attempted to be a hero or went nuclear or anything like that, and for his part Jeremy gave the kind of speech few, if any, on the left could disagree with. You can find an overview of it here.

There was, however, something of interest buried in the subtext. As I’ve argued before, Labour is part of a movement and for its continued health and electoral success it first has to be conscious of the its roots in particular constituencies, and use whatever influence it has to build up their strength, cohesiveness, and social power. This is something a great many in the PLP have forgotten (some of them purposely) or were never aware of in the first place. Jeremy’s speech to Progress was a reminder of this.

Accepting the pointless Progress mantra that Labour exists to win elections (pointless, because even those with the dimmest awareness of conventional politics knows it’s about votes and voting), Jeremy set out how progressive Labour policies become embedded and long-lived because the labour movement takes them, makes them work, argues for their deepening, and defends them from rollback. And that movement through its deep roots in wider society and its pushing the interests of working people fuels Labour and powers it along. This is the ABC for politics rooted in the experience of the class that must sell its ability to work for a living, a revelation to those whose politics would rather pretend this isn’t the case.

There are a couple more points about this as well. From the standpoint of pro- and anti-Jeremy forces in the Labour Party, this was a master stroke for both sides. For Jeremy as he continues to signal, after the local and devolved election results, that his kind of politics needs to build a coalition that goes beyond core voters plus habitual abstainers. It’s a soft power move, effectively. And for Progress it’s an indication to its support that they’re pulling back from the hard, openly hostile position to one that is more quiet, more long-term, and one that engages with the programme while slowly extending its influence. There will still be a few MPs who shout their mouths off, but it is interesting how since the New Year those same MPs are starting to look more isolated and, well, obsessed.

There is a school of thought on the left (which finds a mirror on the Labour right) that Jeremy shouldn’t bend over backwards to accommodate the right. They’re never going to reconcile themselves to the democratic wishes of the party membership, and are forever destined to play a disruptive and counterproductive role. It’s best they be allowed to split off and waltz into SDP-style oblivion. While all this is true and likely to prove itself time and again over the next few years, the idea of resolving it in this way is utterly ridiculous.

Labour is a party of labour as it is, and finds expressed within it the outlooks, prejudices, and sectional interests of all kinds of occupations, ranging from the unskilled to the professional. The main and ongoing political crisis affecting labour as a whole are the multiple processes undermining the building of collective strength. The party’s greatest strength (as well as its chief weakness) is it represents another arena in which these groups articulate their interests and assists in the process of becoming more than just a variegated collection of otherwise isolated and atomised workers.

When rebuilding the power of labour so it’s fighting fit for the awful challenges this century has in store, agitating for a left split or the expulsion of the right will not open the path to mass radicalisation. It’s a recipe for tearing our movement apart and throwing back the necessary political work of organising ourselves in the present difficult circumstances.

In short, Jeremy was right to go and schmooze with Progress not just because it’s good factional politics, but also he instinctively wants to, and is working toward, preserving our movement.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

  1. There can be no objection to Jeremy attending a meeting. However a minority of Blairite MPs have embarked on a deliberate strategy of undermining the party leadership. They would rather not have a Labour government than have Jeremy as Prime Minister and Campaign Group MPs prominent in the Cabinet. To that end they repeatedly use appearances on television in order to undermine the party leader. Why should the Party tolerate this sort of sustained campaign against its electoral interests?

    A policy of appeasement is not going to work with these individuals, and the offence of “bringing the party into disrepute” is well established. It is imperative that there be a series of exemplary expulsions so that MPs realise there are limits to the extent to which they can undermine the Party if they wish to remain Labour MPs.

  2. I have no problem with Jeremy Corbyn addressing Progress and if it means that a section of the Labour right is going to pull back from disruptive opposition to his leadership then so much the better. I hope that the striking failure if Liz Kendall as the Progress leadership candidate has shocked some of them into re-thinking a few things.

    The spectrum of the Parliamentary Party spreads from a small gobby right-wing to a small core of Corbyn allies. In between there is a wide range of views but most of them could be, should be and must be kept on board with a clear viable radical programme which is seen as gaining traction with the public.

    The problem is that we don’t have such a programme or even the elements of one. This is the crucial ground on which the project to make Labour live up to its self-description as a democratic socialist party will be won or lost.

    The middle-ground MPs appear to have neither the will nor ability to do this work (just think about Labour’s extraordinary under-performance on education). It’s up to Corbyn’s allies in Parliament and throughout the Party to do it. So far the signs of this are almost non-existent. Momentum, for example, does not include policy development in its activities. It has set up no work groups to do this and has initiated no debates. If we don’t step up to this task then we are bound to lose out to a right-wing which is working on a raft of programme proposals. I just wish that I didn’t have a sinking feeling that this message is not getting across.

    • I think part of the issue is that, even for those of us receiving your message, it feels like trying to hold back the tide. How do we make Momentum begin doing policy development? I suppose you could get branches to endorse motions to that effect, but even that would be difficult. I’m not saying that such struggles aren’t worthwhile, but they can be extremely intimidating and disheartening.

    • David:

      We in Gloucestershire are building communications among ourselves, we are coordinating activities and creating joint motions so that we are all singing off the same hymn sheet. The only ones out on a limb at the moment is the Forest of Dean, being on the opposite side of the river Severn means a round trip of 30 miles to get to meetings.

      We are actively building policy from the ground floor up, that is the way forward, don’t wait to hear what conference has to say, we need to get out and create the policies to support.

      such as:

      The NHS reinstatement bill.

      Communications between local parties regions, and nationally.

      The economy; Money creation, the fundamentals of how money enters the economy, and why it is not at present working for people.

      Education, returning education back into local authority control, ending the privatisation of our schools. (Cameron is imposing education standards onto children at school that even he can’t answer when challenged, showing that it is not fit for purpose).

      Job Creation: The private sector has destroyed jobs and do not create them as the propaganda machine claims, Local authorities can meet the needs of people whilst providing real jobs with real purpose. We can afford our public services, but Neo-Liberal politicians are determined to force people into debt slavery rather than working for the common good.

      The private sector has been failing the country now for over forty years, instead of propping a failed system up we need to generate industries and commerce that are controlled to serve people not vested interests.

    • Labour first MPs do you mean Luke Akehurst endorsing Tom Wason, Yvette Cooper, Sadiq Khan, or Ed Miliband and, I don’t think it has MPs running it as an organization,