Thursday 5 October 2017

The End of Progress, Revisited

I see Progress have avoided the knacker's yard for at least three years. We're told "over 50 per cent of existing members have increased their contribution" and "many have joined". You can bet it's substantially less than the 20-odd thousand in Momentum, and I doubt they even touch 2,000 - otherwise Progress would be crowing its phoenix-like return from the roof tops. But still, as oblivion came knocking at the start of the summer, a sense of relief must pervade Progress towers. Even if it does mean future fringe meetings see the prosecco traded in for the lambrini.

Okay, the money is sorted for the time being. But that doesn't answer the big question: what is the point? Yes, there's the usual talk about fighting "the hard left" (i.e. frustrating the democratic aspirations of the membership) and "renewing the centre left", but here we are four months on from an election forecast to be a disaster for Labour and over two years since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, and still they haven't hit upon an explanation of what has happened. Progress's raison d'etre, at least officially, is to keep Labour in the middle because it can only advance on the basis of appealing to the centre. And that centre meant kicking immigrants and social security recipients in the face, celebrating markets, and standing up for "aspiration" - typically defined as an extra car in the drive way. The 2017 General Election proved this was not the case and Progress, as well as the Tories, find themselves out of sorts.

It's not difficult to understand what's happening, but it does mean abandoning a view of politics as an interplay of personalities and semi-static tribes competing for attention in a market place of consumer-voters. We need to grasp politics as social relations that articulate and express a range of collective interests. Labour and the Conservatives do not exist as entities because they're populated by people with different ideas, parties are simultaneously effects and authors of class struggle representative of at times tense, at time openly antagonistic interests. Trying to make sense of politics without understanding its conditioning by these conflicts can lead to the most ridiculous muddles and hopeless confusionism. This is the zone Progress and sundry liberals inhabit. And so when economic crisis is exacerbated by politically-inspired cuts, where wealth accrues to the top, wages remain stagnant and young people are denied opportunities, sooner or later politics is going to polarise. Guess what's happening right now? A confluence of age and class is cleaving society into two broad camps. This explains why the Tory vote is holding up and why Labour is ahead, but not by a country mile.

Yet none are so blind as those who refuse to see. Despite the activation of young people in large numbers, of scooping up the sorts of seats Blairism has always coveted, and building a truly impressive coalition ranging from the zero hours worker to the secure and comfortable professional, Progress clings to a template that has zero sociological correspondence to political realities. So much for The Master's guff about the future being the "comfort zone" of "the modernisers". The middle ground as Progress understands it just doesn't exist, yet they're insulated to a degree from polarised politics by the committee room culture of Westminster, its close relationship with friendly MPs and media people, and the fact they are a small organisation with little presence on the ground. The group is little more than a clique appended to a faction of senior Labour figures, and is therefore entirely unrepresentative.

Long-time readers know I spent a while knocking around the far left. Therefore Progress reminds me a great deal of these outfits it often affects to despise. Insulated from the real world and a sense of being under siege, here we have a small number of true believers venerating some revealed truth of politics. Progress has become a sect, a group swamped by the muck of history and rapidly fossilised by it. Like Blairism, liberalism, all varieties of so-called centrism and, increasingly, Conservatism, it has set itself against a new politics of a rising class of workers and finds itself thrust aside. That doesn't mean it's about to die, but does suggest the bliss of permanent irrelevance is standing by, with Progress eagerly reaching out for the embrace. It would be a kindness to end it now.


Robert said...

Ah well, goodbye then, Progress. Can’t really say it’s been nice knowing you, but the landscape will be a little less colourful without you.

Phil said...

Sadly, I fear that the struggle to prevent the new majority in the party from expressing itself (aka keep the far Left from taking over) will keep Progress busy for a while yet, and the inertia and self-protective instincts of existing office-holders will be effective enough for them to imagine they're having some effect.

Anonymous said...

"but it does mean abandoning a view of politics as an interplay of personalities"

I get the impression that Marxists are required to believe, as an act of faith, that personalities don't matter. Although it's odd that the most extravagant personality cults have mainly been created by self-styled Marxist governments! But before you run away with this idea you ought really to consider how the Party would be doing right now if two years ago, by some bizarre miracle, Dianne Abbott had been elected leader.

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is how people like IPPR have pivoted. Since Tom Kibasi became Director, they've become a lot more progressive on economics (maybe because as a McKinsey consultant he knows that the current version of capitalism has knackered itself and needs rethinking, rather than centrism as a political pose or cultural marker), although he is not as good on issues like immigration as I might like.

Keith said...

Anonymous has forgotten Hitler had a pretty good personalty based cult of hero worship as did mussolini; so marxists are not the only ones. Have progress had any juicy sex scandals yet? Since that would be normal for cultish groups divorced from reality.

Ed said...

Abbott's Law strikes again ... notable how few of the people obsessed with denigrating her can manage to spell her name correctly.