What is Progress up to?
SPENDING SPARE TIME IN A LIBRARY, I decided to flick through some issues of the Progress magazine. We have seen what its supporters are up to in practice, doing everything in their power to prevent the election of Corbyn supporters to any position within the Party. One issue of their magazine last year contained a plea from Neil Kinnock for their readers not to leave.
He described his battles with Militant in the 1980s. After a summer when the Labour Party membership faced an unpleasant threat from MPs that the PLP would split away if we dared to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn, leaving us and millions of voters unrepresented in Parliament, it is now clear that they decided against it and they will stay. The lessons of the damaging split in the 1980s, when a group of dissident MPs launched the SDP, splitting the Labour vote, have been learned.
So what do Progress supporters stand for politically? That is a mystery that will not be solved by reading their magazine. Some of their contributors describe themselves as “moderates”, “modernisers” or “centrists”. But what do they mean by this? One contributor said that portraying Owen Smith as “Corbynism without Corbyn” was not successful. They call for new political ideas which they think will come from backbenchers.
They seem to accept that the era of New Labour is over. An editorial in October 2015, entitled Into the Unknown said that they should not be looking to Blair or Brown to save them, or even describe themselves as their followers because, “Being a Blairite or a Brownite under Corbyn is like being a Gaitskellite under Michael Foot, it is tired, dated and redolent of a time that has been and gone.” So what next for the centre-left? The reader is not given an answer.
Following a second leadership defeat and the shock of the EU referendum result, an article in the September 2016 issue, makes the astonishing (for Progress) suggestion that Tony Blair and New Labour could have been the architects of Brexit. It says, “After introducing a political vocabulary that stripped out working class interest and pushing ahead with free movement, Tony Blair embraced a professionalism of politics that carried little resonance in traditional Labour voting blue collar communities.”
It goes on to say that the percentage of working class Britons who felt that government no longer represented them reached its zenith under Blair and a Labour government. Tony Blair lost his gamble that he could carry the working class with him, as levels of political abstention rose. This continued with UKIP attracting working class votes, and in the 2014 European Parliament elections, it forced Labour into second place when it was the main opposition party.
So what does Progress have to say about winning back working class voters in the north of England? There is little mention of soaring levels of inequality, falling real income and a failing infrastructure. In fact little coverage of practical political issues at all.
Throughout the entire magazine there isn’t any sign of engagement with current campaigns against A&E closures, welfare cuts or trades union struggles of any kind.
Ironically local councillors who profess to support Progress are being confronted with these issues on a daily basis, but where is the anger in their magazine against the Tories? As the New Labourites abandon their admiration for neo-liberalism, will they try to accommodate to right wing populism, on issues such as immigration?
The left of the party must counteract this and stand up for the politics of socialism, as the only alternative in these increasingly difficult times. By-election results in Oldham in 2015, and in Stoke in 2017 have shown that UKIP and its divisive policies can be defeated.