First published on ProgressOnline
It has been a rocky few months for the new leadership and for all us who worry this experiment in anti-West statism will fall flat with the voters on whom we rely to deliver for those we came into politics to serve.
I for one wanted to return in the new year with the good will normally associated with December. I wanted to feel more positive about my party’s prospects and get stuck into elections for Mayor of London, in Scotland, Wales and local government. We have three seats challenges planned for Sadiq Khan this Sunday and every month until polling day,as well as in South Wales later in January.Within hours of the new year starting, and before parliament had even resumed, the top of our party decided to turn on party colleagues and not the woeful record of this government. Had the leadership, Seumas Milne and his team of spin doctors focused their fire on the Tories – let’s face it, they were spoilt for choice – we might have won yesterday’s Cumbria by-election and be making headway with the voters. The list feels endless: flood chaos, cabinet irresponsibility on Europe and reactionary housing reforms.Our chair Alison McGovern has done a better job of attacking George Osborne’s failures this week than the frontbench treasury team. I could go on and on. They did not. Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden were picked off for ‘incompetence’ and ‘disloyalty’ respectively. Irony aside, this was disappointing to those trying to give Labour a workable frontbench under a leadership that they had not chosen.
Surprised by the support that Dugher and McFadden clearly have in the parliamentary party, and then in turn for Jonathan Reynolds, Stephen Doughty and Kevan Jones, some at the top of the party were clearly desperate to distract from the mess they had caused. So we had the familiar but disappointing dead cat strategy – a provocative attack designed to start a fight and move the story on – deployed by the leader’s spinners.
John McDonnell let the mask slip. He went on the media to attack Progress – the organisation I lead – and those hard working Labour members associated with it. Viewers watching Channel 4 News, many of them Labour party members, were told ‘there is a group in the Labour party called Progress, who have a sort of right wing conservative agenda’. He then described our politics as ‘hard right’, a term in the Labour party historically reserved for fascists – the Blackshirts, National Front, British National party and Britain First. Not comradely.
Tired he may have been – the first week back has been more difficult than most had predicted – but in letting his true feeling known in what appeared to to be a series of interviews, he ended the excellent start the shadow chancellor made at Labour party conference. Striking a more emollient tone, the shadow chancellor said to those who ‘refused to serve’ that ‘in the spirit of solidarity upon which our movement was founded I say come back and help us’. Just three months later it is those who served that are beyond the pale and those who campaign week-in week-out that are to be attacked.
On this occasion, it was McDonnell who was off message. When interviewed by Progress during the summer, it was Jeremy Corbyn who condemned attacks on Progress and said clearly, ‘I would never be so intolerant’.
So who are these Progress members? We are all Labour party members – ‘them’s the rules. All wanted Labour to win in May. All worked to have Miliband not David Cameron as prime minister right now. Nearly all want to stay in Europe. Everyone wants a more socially just country and a government that tackles, not deepens, inequality.
McDonnell cannot bring himself to apologise for comments, but I am ready to start the year again and forgive him for those comments. Why? Because an act, that I fear was, intended to make moderates leave Labour party backfired and turned into a recruiting sargent for Progress and the positive politics we stand for. Anyone wanting a Labour government is welcome, if you have not yet joined, please do it now: http://prog.rs/join.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell