Thursday, 7 January 2016

... And Neither is Progress "Hard Right"

This time, it was John McDonnell turning up the rhetoric while drowning out the sense. On Channel 4 News last night, he said "there’s a group within the Labour Party who have a right wing conservative agenda. Within Progress itself, there are some who are quite hard right, and I think they’ve never accepted Jeremy’s leadership." I don't think this is particularly helpful, and it might be an idea if someone passed around the chill pills. Progress, of which - surprise, surprise - I'm not a supporter of, does receive generous funds from Lord Sainsbury, but I think people are mistaken for viewing the organisation as a right-wing iteration of Militant.

Progress is a pressure group that publishes a magazine, has its own events and, in some locations, meets at a local level. It has internal elections for its strategy board, sets campaigning priorities, and provides training for members and supporters. Unlike Militant, there is no internal discipline. The views of Richard Angell, Progress's national director, aren't taken as holy writ and no one is expected to parrot a line. Of course, there is some ideological coherence but it's not like Progress possesses a political theology members organise around - it magazine regularly carries debate, which is something you tend not to find in the periodicals of the far left. And because Progress isn't a Blairite monolith, there are members in it reconciled to Jeremy's leadership, but want to steer it into political waters with which they're familiar, and members who moan, whinge, and are disruptive. In other words, just as you'll find on all wings of the party. Lastly, Progress pursues a "best builders" strategy for gaining influence - it has an excellent record of consistently turning activists out for elections at all levels.

Of course, Progress does have disproportional influence in the PLP and therefore, until recently, on the policies of the party, but I don't think there's anything particularly sinister or "hard right" about this. That was a political reality and one, as we know, that is now shifting. Progress nevertheless has the right to organise around their views, as do any members in the party and that remains the case. The party isn't becoming a "Trot cult", to use the words of some more excitable members.

Look, we know what's going on here. Both sides are trying to delegitimise the other. As Progress are seen as a key organisational prop of the Labour right, it's long been the butt of left-wing critiques that portray its politics as non/anti-Labour. Not that the centre and the right are blameless angels, eh Jess Phillips?

The issue is whether the members and the electorate have much of an appetite for endless ding-dongs of this nature, and I don't think they have. There are huge differences over policy direction, and it's fanciful to imagine anyone's going to shut up about them, but when they do come up the party benefits from honest argument and evidence-based discussion. In this regard, I'm in complete agreement with Paul. Only anti-politics and cynicism wins from playground jibes and name calling, so how about it?


Phil said...

I'm mystified by the reaction to this phrase. Most of your post is rebutting things that McDonnell never said (e.g. that Progress is a monolithic entryist clique) and asserting things he'd emphatically agree with (e.g. that they're free to put forward their views).

What he actually said was "within Progress there are some who are quite hard right". If by 'right' we mean 'the right of the spectrum covered by the contemporary Labour Party', which McDonnell obviously did, and by 'hard' we mean 'inflexible or uncompromising', in what way is that not a simple statement of fact? The interviewer even got him to clarify - was he saying they didn't belong in the party? To which he said no, it's a broad church.

I wouldn't even say he's trying to delegitimise Progress. What he is, clearly, trying to do is marginalise them - and to do that he needs to shift the terms of debate, such that 'left' is normal and 'right' is extreme. Naturally the right are going to push back against this - they've been the definition of 'normal' within the party for almost two decades now. They can manage without your help.

Alex Ross said...

I've ended up ditching Labour now (not very dramatically - have just changed address and bank account and can't be bothered resubscribing for the time being).

Main reason is this ridiculous polarising politics, a form of politics I so hated when I was nominally part of the Trotskyist left in my 20s. Of course the party isn't becoming a "Trot cult" but the "you are either with Corbyn or a Blairite/right-winger/neo-con" is very much reminiscent of that base mentality that makes me squirm. Those of us who would take left positions on many issues (e.g. supporting a substantial minimum basic income, a strong trade union movement, resisting privatisation of health and education services...) but also find Corbyn's more weird authoritarian associations and appointments deeply worrying (e.g. Seamus Milne, Andrew Murray) seem to have lost a home.

Would like my old "broad church" Labour party back please!! (don't mind the shift to the left so much...just keep the pluralism...and ditch the oddball dead Russian fetishists).

BCFG said...

I am surprised Alex Ross didn't leave Labour in 1996 when Blair destroyed any remnants of a party of and for the working class and moved the party and the entire national politics to the right. Thus polarising the party and effectively alienating its natural base. It is even more mystifying that Alex chooses the moment to leave when a new leadership is re-engaging with the natural Labour base.

We know that Blairism moved Labour and the nation to the right because Corbyn's rather modest policy proposals are now seen as hard left and the most right wing government I can remember is now seen as occupying the centre ground. Alex's 'broad church' in reality amounts to varieties of neo liberal right wing economics. Historically called Toryism.

So from my point of view there are hard right elements within the Labour party, but speaking from a purely economic point of view. I would have to accept Blairism did move us forward on social issues such as gay and women's rights and racism. I guess we should acknowledge that. But Corbyn fully embraces those advances. So the problem for people like Alex is that Corbyn is just not Tory enough.

Alex Ross said...

BCFG, that is very much a distortion of what I said. Labour is supposed to be a social democratic party. Personally, I place the emphasis on the democratic over the social(ist) and don't particularly like some of the far-left elements from authoritarian political traditions who have been attracted into the fold. I wasn't in the party in the Blair years (joined under Brown, possibly the only person who did??) and can't say I'm a fan of Blair...but he's not in power anymore so not really a concern of mine.

By "broad church" I mean the ability of people from different leftist backgrounds (all with sincere concerns around social justice but different approaches to policy) to thrash things out, sometimes in a heated but respectful manner. My personal experience with the "I'm right about everything and anyone who disagrees needs to be sent to Siberia" hard left is that they aren't very good at that.

So I'm out for the time being...will focus on the grand revolutionary cause of enhancing Sunday public transport in Hertfordshire...and saving the local library in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

I dislike conspiracy theories, but whenever I hear about progress, I think of this lot:

Gary Elsby said...

You're direction of travel is quite remarkable Phil.
One time cheerleader for the isolated left and now champion of progress.

They are led by a MI5 agent and funded by Billionaires in the Lords who hijack safe Labour seats filling them up with extreme right wingers.

Nothing wrong with that then.

Vote Jeremy (even if he loses).

Phil said...

Do you have a dictionary, Gary? I recommend looking up the terms 'reasoned', 'nuanced', and 'discussion'.

Gary Elsby said...

Forgive the wayward apostrophe, I normally scatter them anywhere so as not to miss any.

Phil, I'm all for reasoning in politics but you opened the account by suggesting they are a 'pressure' group.

They are not. They are an entryist organisation who Ed Miliband got it wrong when he described them as 'not a party within a party'.

They are a party within a party and should be expelled from Labour accordingly.

I have proof of their culpability to implant their group members into seats that had no desire to invite them.

The Fulcrum said...

I'd say Progress have pretty much lost influence, in part because the 94% of the PLP who are non-Corbyn are now split between a million different groups; I still don't, for example, have any idea what Open Labour or Labour for the Common Good are about in detail, or what they intend to do over, say, the next 2-3 years. People just formed these things without a clear agenda.

The problem for people like Alex Ross is that dead-Russian-fetishism is a feature, not a bug, of Corbynism. I get the feeling that, just as Cameron adopts a chummy, shiny-happy tone to put a smiley face on Osborne's agenda, leaving the Chancellor himself free to look like a vampire mafia boss in press photos and take the boos at public events, so Corbyn's supply-teacher persona allows Seumas Milne to act like a shit with similar cover. The problems are that a) this fools no-one (it only half-works for the Tories, even with overwhelmingly favourable press); b) it makes Corbyn look weak, and c) Corbyn's persona appears to have no gloss whatsoever. Part of the problem is that Corbyn ran because it was "his turn" - Momentum, Milne, the scuffle over Trident etc. is the real point of all this, leaving the actual leadership hollow. But without strong leadership, there's no clear direction, resulting in the weird combination of success and carnage Corbyn's had so far.