First published on the Times Redbox
Last year I left Labour party conference in Brighton exhausted. Moderates had fended off attacks on Trident and Labour’s defence policy, the rulebook was left largely unchanged, and the mistakes made in full view of the public were all homemade, by Jeremy Corbyn and his Short money-employed staff.
Recently I was back in Brighton for the Labour First/Progress Road to Conference tour. While Labour itself heads to Liverpool this year, conference is back in Brighton in 2017. Could the party be unrecognisable by then?
Jon Lansman, through his various front groups – the ‘Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’, the Labour Representation Committee and Momentum – is pushing motions that could see the Labour party abandon the principles on which it was founded.
One such is the ‘McDonnell amendment’, so dubbed by Caroline Flint this month when she exposed the dangers of a motion whose innocuousness masks ramifications that are potentially enormous.
The change it puts forward would see the threshold of nominations that an MP needs to stand for Labour’s leadership slashed from 15% of MPs and MEPs to only 5%, or just 13 individuals. That’s not a faction getting their candidate on the ballot, that is a friendship group. Who becomes Labour candidate for prime minister is too important for that.
We are living through a time when the leader of our great party prefers to address crowds outside parliament rather than be with his own MPs and work with them to defeat this terrible Tory government. If the ‘McDonnell amendment’ makes its way into Labour’s rulebook, the party’s commitment to parliamentary socialism would be brought to a sad end, just short of the centenary of its landmark 1918 constitution. Then, in the shadow of the Russian revolution, the party chose to be the British Labour party, not the British revolutionary socialist party. Clause I of that constitution expresses our intention to maintain a Labour party in parliament. This historical commitment would, at a stroke, come undone, and would leave the Conservatives – already stretching away from Labour in the polls – to run riot the House of Commons.
The great people who founded the Labour party were not looking for a lone parliamentary spokesperson for their social movement in the country, they knew it took a team of people to oppose and then replace the a Tory government.
Along with our friends in Labour First, we are on the road in the lead-up to Liverpool, talking to Labour party members about what to expect at conference. Tonight’s event (7pm, committee room 11, House of Commons) will shed light on what proposed motions – which sound dry, or even reasonable, on paper – really mean for the future of the party.
Richard Angell is director of Progress