Todd Hamer attended the rally organised by the right-wing Labour faction Progress on Sunday 25 September at Labour Party Conference.
“I say to the people who voted for Owen Smith. This party belongs to you.” Hilary Benn addressing the Progress rally at Labour Party conference.
And seeing those people in their sharp suits, smelling the expensive perfumes, and hearing the posh accents, I realised that the Labour right are actually from a different class.
Speaker after speaker provoked that all-too-famliar braying of a ruling elite as they affirmed their proprietorial ownership of the Labour party against the new working-class membership. “I’m not going to be told what to do by someone who has only been in the party for two months” bellowed Wes Streeting.
This was a group of people with an overwhelming sense of entitlement.
The rally demonstrated how the right organise as a faction. In fringe meetings, from conference floor, and in press interviews the same political points had been hammered home in a well orchestrated intervention. At the rally they were showcasing these political ideas and preparing their activists to “fight, fight and fight again”.
Many were wearing Gaitskill’s words on their lapel. They were coming to that fight with all the pomposity characteristic of their class. But what exactly are they fighting for?
The central contention is that Corbyn and his supporters just want a “party of protest” and are not interested in power. Hence many have taken to wearing “Clause 1 Socialist” pin badges designed to mark them out as the only people serious about winning elections.
They insist that you cannot win elections without winning over Tory voters. They then jump to the conclusion that you win over Tory voters by aping the Tories. As John Reynolds MP put it: “the only way to win for Labour values, is to compromise on Labour values”. They insist that we have to “listen” to Tory voters and accuse Corbyn of preaching to the converted. In the spirit of Victorian philanthropists they plead: “the working-class needs Labour in power.”
Yet beyond a desire for power the Labour right has a shocking paucity of political ideas. They have no analysis of how we lost five million voters between 1997-2015. They do not understand what has happened in Scotland. They do not even understand what is happening within their own party.
Instead of analysis or political principles the Labour right have triangulation. That involve drifting towards a “public mood” which they claim to have special insight into. Their political wisdom can be boiled down to two simple “winning ideas”. The Scottish referendum and triumph of the SNP reflects a growing nationalist mood, ergo we should be more “patriotic”. The Brexit vote was a vote against immigrants, ergo we should be tougher on immigration.
The triangulation strategy, which was the beginning and end of political wisdom for Blairites and New Labour, has resulted in a faction of politicos who are deeply disorientated.
After several decades of chasing other political currents, the Labour right’s main message to the electorate, encapsulated in Owen Smith’s woeful leadership challenge, is the political equivalent of a beg friend. These are people who will say absolutely anything if they think it will get them into power.
The evidence that this strategy “works” is that it won three general elections for Blair’s New Labour. But lots of things won elections for New Labour, not least relative economic stability, which was largely incidental to anything those governments did.
The faulty logic does however explain the third “winning idea” they brought to conference — Labour should celebrate the Blair and Brown governments. In the words of Tom Watson: “trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand”. When Watson was heckled “what about Chilcot?” he shot a steely glance and quipped “Jeremy I don’t think she got the unity memo”. The right wing guffawed.
Yet Blair has 62% negative approval ratings, the term “Blairite” has been banned and is regarded as “abuse” within some sections of the party.
The right want us to believe they are the only people who understand how to win elections and that our electability relies on rehabilitating a war criminal who lied in order to take the country to war.
Alongside a patriotic rebranding exercise (which went so well during the Brexit campaign) and immigrant hating, this is a winning formula for the next general election. Convinced? Me neither.
How out of touch do you need to be to joke and laugh at the Chilcot enquiry? How indifferent do you want to appear in the face of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths? Not only have these people no political ideas, but they do not even understand PR.
You cannot win people to socialist ideas without first listening to their concerns. But the Labour right are not listening.
There are hundreds of thousands of party members who are clamouring to make themselves heard through the remaining bureaucratic obstacles of the old party structures.
The actual living breathing working-class people who have joined Labour in their hundreds of thousands, inspired by Corbyn’s socialist message, are dismissed as entryists. Yet the real entryists are the posh folk who took over the party 22 years ago.
Beyond their self-assurance and media profiles, there is a desperate lack of political culture. These people are Labour’s greatest electoral weakness.