Part three in the Labour Summer of Chaos trilogy looks to be over. Parliament is back, Chris Williamson’s Democracy For The Converted roadshows are over and the NEC has caved in on the IHRA definition of anti-semitism (albeit with a clarification that could have read, ‘We’re not racist, but...’).
In the middle of all of this has been a story about a split in the Labour ranks with the moderates leaving the party altogether. A new party. A new name. A backbone. The idea that this wing of the party is set to run off and do something so drastic is as laughable as it is unlikely. I should know, I count myself as one of them.
It seems like a lifetime ago now but in 2010 the Labour party membership voted for David Miliband. Yet the warning shots that were fired through the election of Ed over David, were seemingly not detected.
That is because in spite of winning the 2010 leadership contest through the back door, the left wing were in no mood to rest on their laurels. Since 2010 they have been able to call on a pool of people from different cohorts, online and through sister movements such as the Socialist Worker Party and Communist Party, that they had kept close during the New Labour, electable years. They have played the long game.
Perhaps more importantly however, is that for a decade they have allowed the narrative of the last Labour Government’s record to be written by their opponents on the left and the right of British politics. From the “economic chaos” of Gordon Brown to the “illegal wars of Bliar”, the left and the right have been allowed to trash Labour’s record.
The result has been a moderate wing perpetually on the backfoot. Defending, retorting, denying. They haven’t been able to set the agenda. They haven’t been able to make the comparisons with what Labour did in office on welfare, education and public services, with what the Tories have done in office since 2010 or what the left has never done in office because they’ve never been elected.
For a wing of the party that is always crudely associated with ‘spin’ we seem to have been pretty bad at it. Consider for a moment that since 2010 there has been concerted and coordinated efforts from the left and the right to use the 24/7 rolling and online media to promote their ideological stances.
No politician appeared on BBC Question Time more than Nigel Farage in the two years leading up to the EU referendum. A platform to speak, mislead and inflame the debate to 2.7million viewers almost every month was afforded to him. Likewise figures on the left such as Owen Jones have somehow managed to fashion profiles for themselves that mean he is now the poster boy of the left wing. Their constant TV appearances helped to grow grassroots support for their political views. Our absence from the Millbank studios has also led to us being shut out of crucial debates.
In fact, who has made the case for the moderates on the airwaves? Who have we looked to as our attack dogs that we can unleash to defend Labour’s record in government and talk about what we could do again?
Many of the most effective moderate communicators such as Chris Bryant, Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh have kept their heads down recently or have been silenced into submission thanks to Twitter trolls and CLP militants. Those who have been brave enough to take to the airwaves haven’t had many good ideas to talk about.
Indeed, the most tragic part of the moderate story over the last eight years has been one of constant negativity. On the rare occasion we have moderate representatives on TV and radio, they’re on to talk about how devastating Brexit will be, how awful anti-Semitism is in the Labour Party, how ineffective Jeremy is as a leader. There is hardly ever a Labour MP or commentator from the moderate wing of the party taking to the airwaves to talk up Britain, the party or their policies.
Allied to this is a non-existent online presence capable of taking on a Momentum juggernaut. In the late noughties the Tories, aided and abetted by The Sun newspaper, were helped out by the invention of Guido Fawkes. By the time of the 2015 General Election ‘Guido’ had become a watch word in the offices of Labour MPs. On the left, the Morning Star has reinvented itself, as has The Canary and Skwakbox. Like, love or loathe, there are now well-established news outlets on the left and the right pumping out copy and content on an almost hourly basis that gives their ideological supporters things to share and promote on their social media channels.
There is no such thing for the moderates. We are left isolated in the middle reading the New Statesman.
It is easy to understand why voters are left completely underwhelmed by us. They don’t know what the moderate vision for Britain is, other than what they are told it is, by our opponents. And when they do see or hear a moderate, our message is negative.
Even the word ‘moderate’ doesn’t inspire. The correlation between being a moderate and delivering transformative, radical public policy reforms is difficult to square. We have become the bastions of the status quo on the one hand but also, confusingly, married ourselves to positions now out of kilter with the country on the other.
As YouGov polling at the start of the summer revealed, popular opinion on a whole range of issues has shifted away from centrist liberal values. This is in part due to the vacuum left by moderates not willing to defend Labour’s record and not willing to speak to the public in simple terms that they understand, on channels that they employ.
For example with freedom of movement, we defend it to the hilt, yet we know it is the one policy that the majority of working class people are against. We rebelled on the Syria vote to support military intervention, yet the public are now more protectionist and anti-interventionist than ever.
This is just two examples of where, in the eyes of many voters, Labour moderates are at odds with them. This is our 21st Century clause IV moment and we are yet to fully realise it.
So we rightly seen by too many on the left, right and everywhere around us, as too stuck in our ways.Forget forming new parties. Right now we are the Jose Mourinho of British politics. People are questioning whether we have had our moment in the mid-2000s but modernity has overtaken us because we have been too stubborn or slow to see the change coming.
We have to convince them we are still capable of turning results round and winning things. That starts, not with new parties, but with a set of beliefs people can rally behind and be inspired by, organisation, media presence and leadership. The real question for those in Britain who are not ideologues but look at the current Labour leadership with despair is; are the moderates finally prepared to change course, to understand that the rules of the game have changed and we need players to either reinvent themselves or be replaced?
There will be another Labour leadership election inside the next 4 years. The moderates must be ready well in advance. If we do have the courage to change and to inject some passion back into moderate Labour politics, I believe the country will respond positively. The damage is not yet terminal because our side of the story has not yet been told, by us.
Ours is the wing of the Labour movement that gave Britain Atlee, Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown. Ours is the wing of the Labour movement that gave the country the NHS, the welfare state, gay rights, EU, Nato and UN membership and the national minimum wage. And what unites us, is that every step of the way, those on the left and the right that have been quick to denigrate our successes, have never had the ideas or the wherewithal to turn vision into delivery.
The future can still be shaped by us but it needs fresh leadership, a rejection of timidity and a positive story to tell. Do that and we can end the revelling in our irrelevance that has dogged the moderates for a decade.