Sunday 15 May 2016

Jeremy Corbyn's Speech to Progress

In 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.


BCFG said...

So it is ok for the right to tear the party apart, to become the enemy within as soon as a whiff of leftism is introduced into the party but the left must accommodate, bend over backwards and be happy to be a few isolated back benches there simply to keep up appearances.

And this is the problem. I do not have a problem with the right existing in the Labour party but I expect them to be a tiny minority, tokens. i.e. Just how the Labour right view the Labour left.

You do not recognise that Labour is in a civil war, if Corbyn fails labour is lost to the right in perpetuity, they will not allow another Corbyn if they have their way. But if the members have their way then it will be the right who through this process become what the left have historically been.

Until the right are defeated and assume their rightful place, i.e. at the margins of the labour party, this war is not going to end anytime soon and the PLP will continue to act as spies for the Tories.

So stop pretending this is some minor scuffle and wake up to the profundity. And the same goes for you too Jeremy!

Gary Elsby said...

Has he won you over to our cause Phil?

Lidl_Janus said...

"And this is the problem. I do not have a problem with the right existing in the Labour party but I expect them to be a tiny minority, tokens. i.e. Just how the Labour right view the Labour left."

-except Corbyn is the historical anomaly in the Labour Party; the moderate left likes of Lisa Nandy have been historically typical (gender and race aside), but Stoppers, Bennites and other revolutionary-reactionaries haven't - hence the trajectory of Militant.

To call Corbyn the norm and those to his right (i.e. most of the PLP) an aberration is akin to arguing that Priti Patel and the Britannia Unchained lot are typical of how the Tory Party has always been.

Unknown said...

Well I suggest Phil moves for a few years to the gulag that is Progress Labour in Lambeth. Here new members are not contacted, membership lists kept secret, new members driven away as soon as they arrive, trade union delegates to GC's are told to wait almost 2 years after they are elected to vote, and Momentum supporters are barred from the approved list of Labour candidates.

The only thing Jeremy should have said to these people is "Dissolve your right wing gerrymandering organisation or leave the party. And take your millionaire financiers Lord Sainsbury and Peter Mandelson with you on the way out".

Gary Elsby said...

What list of approve Labour candidates are they barred from?
Progress is doing the barring?