THE BLOG
06/10/2015 07:27 BST | Updated 06/10/2016 06:12 BST

Labour's Progress Problem

A week on from Labour Party conference, it felt at times as if there were two parties meeting in Brighton. For all the talk of unity, the committed party right have gone into bunker mode. Richard Angell, director of Labour right group 'Progress' used a speech to attack name-calling and bullying from the Corbynistas, only to dismiss the broad Labour left as 'trots' in the same breath. A group of us who struck up a chorus of Labour's anthem, the Red Flag at Usdaw's bash had cries of "scum" and boos hurled our way.

Read Progress's round-up of conference and you'd be forgiven for summoning images of pitched-battles on the conference floor - the "phoney war" as the group labelled it - between those 'trots' trying to force a vote on trident and the noble Labour right succeeding in standing in their way. The truth of the matter for those who actually attended is a touch more sober. In the end, delegates decided there were one or two slightly more urgent issues, namely the European refugee crisis that demanded action. Trident would just have to wait, and that was largely that.

Not so for Progress. "The Labour left are on manoeuvres," declared their round-up, not so much a fair and moderate reflection of an interesting week, more an active and pretty shameful attempt to stir division where it needn't exist. With both Jeremy and his shadow chancellor spending their week calling for comradely debate and defending Labour's broad church, the Progress right look set to occupy the tribal ground vacated by the now ebullient far left. If - and it's a big if - Corbyn can dissuade his supporters from plumbing the depths of personal abuse, then that might just be very powerful indeed. The onus will be on Labour's "Progressives" to follow suit.

That is looking like an increasingly big ask for the self-appointed guardians of all things moderate. Retreating to fringe events where you're simply not allowed through the door without signing up to a mailing list or three, Progress this week began to stray into the realms of self-parody. The most supreme irony of all seems utterly lost on this band of unlikely rebels: that a policy of self-imposed exile from the existing structures of the Labour Party flies in the face of just about every lecture the group has ever given about the requirement for unity, compromise and working with the system we've got.

Critics of Progress are a dime-a-dozen on Labour's hard left. The trouble is, when Progress attack the "Labour left" as if it is an organised, homogenous force ("the trots"), they do little more than project their own tribal prejudice where there is none. This was the conference that never was, where "Blairite lambs lay down with Brownite lions" (Progress words, not mine), united as the voice of all reason against the 'power-hating' Corbynistas. For those of us on Labour's 'soft left', we can't help but wonder where we fit into this heroic analysis.

Squeeze out the soft left, and the Labour right has a problem. For as long as Labour have existed, the 'soft left' has provided the lynchpin for our broad church. Time and again, we've shown that in order for Labour to win back trust, neither principle nor pragmatism alone can offer a compelling case. Defending the mixed economy, embracing culture, patriotism and the case for real, working class aspiration - these are areas where we share ground with Progress. Yet this is no agenda in itself that can respond to the changed certainties of a post-crash world. Liberal market capitalism stands as compromised, erratic and flawed as ever it did. The pace of globalisation threatens to subvert communities, punish hard graft and uproot ties of belonging and place. Put simply, the centre cannot hold.

The sooner Labour's right can understand this, the sooner we can all set about building a true movement of the left. Were Progress the true heirs to Blair, then they'd recognise that when our people change, Labour must change too. In today's terms, that means recognising not just how markets can provide a return on ambition, but also where they alienate, atomise and impoverish. It is the latter recognition that has secured Jeremy Corbyn such an unquestionable mandate, but it remains the former where Progress has such a valuable contribution to make. So let's offer a hand of friendship to the Labour right: get behind our new leader for his sins, stop this sniping from the sidelines and bring your voice to the table. If Jeremy Corbyn's "new politics" is to mean anything at all, it is a voice that will be most welcome.