Moderates and modernisers will not be proved wrong by the new establishment, writes Richard Angell
Michael Cashman and Gloria De Piero did us proud in the Conference Arrangements Committee elections this summer. It is a thankless task standing for a committee where is it hard to show impact – as important as it is – and relevance, especially when it falls on everyone’s first summer holiday since 2014!
The result was disappointing, even if it was what we might have expected. 109,763 and 92,205 for the Momentum-backed candidates, and around half that for the two incumbents is not what anyone was hoping for. It is, however, a nice reminder that there are at least 50,000 moderates in the Labour party – some would have you think different. Low turnout is further proof that members agree with Progress and care more about the free democracy of the British public than the paid for democracy in the party.
I congratulate Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes who were the clear victors. They have a huge responsibility as members of Labour’s new establishment to run Labour party conference in a way that brings people together rather than divides the membership.
So, what does this mean for Labour moderates and modernisers? Many have talked about walking away, not to a new party – that idea has thankfully been killed off by Labour getting 40 per cent of the vote – but to issue-based campaigns, community groups or … the sofa. This is the time to bed in for the long haul. Remember no one in Jeremy Corbyn’s team, the Unite the Union hierarchy or the Momentum office believed Labour would perform half as well as it did in June this year. They do not really understand why Corbyn won not just one, but two, leadership elections. Victors often do not reflect in the way losers are forced to. Their project is time limited, even if they do not realise it.
Progress and Labour First’s joint ‘Road to conference’ tour went the length and breadth of the country ahead of the party meet-up in Brighton. It was optimistic without being delusional. The task ahead of us is tough. The leadership is determined to bring forward rule changes that threaten to overshadow Labour’s policy offer and stop it from piecing together a coherent attack on the Tories. Momentum and the leader’s office could correct this bizarre display of priorities any day in the run-up to conference. Sadly, I fear they will not.
We all know the hard-left is hellbent on the ‘McDonnell amendment’ – Momentum’s attempt to throw a future Labour leadership contest into chaos with between nine and 19 candidates and a nominations threshold of a handful of supporting members of parliament – but there are rumblings afoot to create a second deputy leader – clearly being done to undermine Tom Watson; attempts to make Young Labour an ‘autonomous’, factional tool of the hard-left; create more London and south-east members of the National Executive Committee – not, as Labour First and Progress have long proposed, extra places for members from gender-balanced twinned regions and nations. This conference, nor any in the future, can be one side of the party pushing for a factional advantage. In the past reform has either come in an incremental form or after a big consultation – think of the Clause IV campaign or Refounding Labour. The argument made – and legitimately resisted – is that how Labour is structured has either held us back with the electorate or with modernity. However, Momentum’s only qualm with the status quo is that it holds back its faction.
Every regional stop on the tour was united on one particular point: that the Jewish Labour Movement’s rule change on racism and discrimination must pass. It can no longer be a defence – in the party of equality, of all places – that you can get off scot-free with antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny or any other form of hate speech because it is a ‘strongly held view’. We must draw a line under the recent past, the antisemitism Labour has experienced and the party’s relationship with Ken Livingstone. Labour is rapidly running out of second chances with Jewish voters and those beyond the community that find antisemitism repugnant. On this, and many other things, actions speak louder than words.
Richard Angell is director of Progress