Skip to main content

Politics Labour’s right wing is vanishing. Who cares?

UNLEASH the bloodhounds. Mobilise the sleuths. This is serious. An entire once-dominant wing of a national political party has gone missing and no-one seems bothered in the slightest.

That’s correct. Labour’s right wing has totally vanished without trace, apparently leaving the party with only a centre-left and a wild Corbynista Momentum rabble replete with Stalinist incomers from Straight Left and the Communist Party of Britain.

Labour First describes itself as “moderate,” so it backs Nato, nuclear weapons, EU membership and keeping the party “safe from the organised hard left and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.”

Most parties of whatever complexion have a left, a right and various gradations in between, but not Labour.

The nearest equivalent to this phenomenon must be those self-marking assessments in which men are asked to grade themselves as below average, average or above average in such key pursuits as driving or sexual performance and everyone is above average, making average as non-existent as the right in Labour.

The Labour Party’s right wing used to have two distinct, though mutually supportive, flavours — Labour First and Progress.

Labour First describes itself as “moderate,” so it backs Nato, nuclear weapons, EU membership and keeping the party “safe from the organised hard left and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.”

It distinguishes itself from Progress by insisting that trade unions must be “an integral part of our party.”

Progress was the original Blairite pressure group inside Labour, set up in 1996 and bankrolled by former supermarket boss Lord Sainsbury who pulled the plug last June, announcing he would concentrate on charity donations in future rather than party-political causes.

New circumstances demand radical solutions, so Progress suggested it might recruit more members to provide new finance now its sugar daddy has walked out.

It has hooked up with Labour First to present a slate of candidates, headed by ex-Hackney Labour councillor, former national executive committee (NEC) member and Labour First mainstay Luke Akehurst, for the constituencies section of this year’s NEC elections.

But they self-describe as “centre-left,” which must have involved selective amnesia for Akehurst who proclaimed in the different political climate of 2011: “Labour First, then, as now, the network for the traditional right of the Labour Party.”

Another symptom of changing times is his clarion call for an “NEC where all the traditions and currents of opinion in the Labour Party are represented.”

He contrasts this with an NEC “dominated by one faction pursuing a narrow and partisan agenda about its own internal control of the party,” which can surely only be a stinging criticism of how Tony Blair and his allies stitched up the NEC as his catspaw.

Indeed, who can forget — or even remember — those strident demands Akehurst made when Labour First/Progress ruled the roost that left-wing candidates should be included to build an NEC of all the talents?

Two members of the “centre-left” list are Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan, who stood last year as “independents” untainted by allegiance to lists, although this was questioned since their website was financed by Labour First.

Their new approach is based on NEC regionalisation, with “diversity” the key and Josan selling himself in identity terms as a West Midlands representative and a Sikh.

Progress director Richard Angell gushed that this “centre-left” slate is “the most diverse team of candidates that has ever been fielded for the NEC” without mentioning their politics.

Given Josan’s reference to “Momentum and their supporters on the left in the trade unions” as “the new Establishment,” it’s probable that he, Baxter and fellow “centre-leftists,” if elected, won’t be lining up behind Jeremy Corbyn.

Indeed, when sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party organised the 2016 “mass resignation” coup against the leader, Progress and Labour First championed it.

Corbyn’s even more crushing victory in his second leadership election and Labour’s far better than expected general election performance, despite the timid and conservative stance of the party’s bureaucracy headed by general secretary Iain McNicol, have put direct challenges on the back burner for the moment.

McNicol’s resignation, followed by a number of other HQ staff, and his replacement by Unite officer Jennie Formby offers the opportunity to refresh the party’s organisational structures with personnel who welcome the exciting changes of recent years.

Labour’s general election performance was the biggest leap forward from a previous result since the 1945 landslide.

How much more successful could it have been had McNicol and company not given the order to batten down the hatches, take defensive mode, especially behind kindred MPs under threat, and seek to minimise losses rather than capitalise on a popular resistance movement driving Theresa May onto the back foot?

Yet Corbyn’s detractors in the PLP and in the liberal capitalist media that embraced Blair felt obliged to remind party members that “Labour still lost,” as though their obstructive and defeatist tactics had played no role in this.

A party membership of approaching 600,000 that began to lift off in the run-up to Corbyn’s first leadership joust ought to afford joy to all Labour MPs — those Derby MP Chris Williamson reminds constantly that they constitute less than 0.04 per cent of the party.

Too many MPs see in this massive influx a threat to their authority and, especially, their overplayed ability to undermine the leader.

Some justify their rebelliousness by citing the 500 or however many times Corbyn voted against the whip as though putting his criticism of imperialist wars, anti-union laws, encroachments on civil liberties and a panoply of triangulated Tory-lite economic policies on a par with their insistence on Labour’s front bench returning to the old ways that lost the party millions of votes and government office.

One key distinction between the leader’s historical dissidence and that of today’s Blairite undead is the overwhelming silence — apart from within the Morning Star — that greeted Corbyn’s protests.

Party leadership and media ignored them. In contrast, early day motions attracting a couple of dozen signatures from the usual suspects or contributions at Prime Minister’s Questions hostile to the leader are now rewarded by TV and radio invitations to comment on the extent to which this underlines Corbyn’s incompetence and all-round political hopelessness.

As the saying goes, one hand washes the other.

Self-identifying Labour supporters, especially those purporting to be on the left, are rare enough in the mass media, so Nick Cohen from the Guardian-Observer stable stood out positively at one time.

However, his obsession with “knee-jerk anti-imperialism,” underpinning his support for all Nato humanitarian bombing exploits, placed him at odds with Corbyn remaining as leader.

Almost exactly a year ago (March 19 2017), he wrote in the Observer: “The Tories have gone easy on Corbyn and his comrades to date for the transparently obvious reason that they want to keep them in charge of Labour.

“In an election, they would tear them to pieces. They will expose the far left’s record of excusing the imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s gangster state, the oppressors of women and murderers of gays in Iran, the IRA and every variety of inquisitorial and homicidal Islamist movement, while presenting itself with hypocritical piety as a moral force.

“Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.”

Uncanny, really, isn’t it? At such a huge time frame from the election, less than three months, and to get so close to the actual result of Labour hitting 40 per cent and 262 seats, it’s almost as though Nostradamus never left us.

He’s still at it, working his readers into a lather earlier this month with a blood-curdling yarn about Unite leader Len McCluskey, his chief of staff Andrew Murray, Corbyn’s media supremo Seumas Milne, Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin.

From Labour’s other direction, nominally, Blair embraces George Osborne — yes, that one — to warn jointly of a “polarised political culture” caused by “hard Brexiteers” dragging the Tories to the right as Corbyn has taken Labour leftwards.

Osborne said reassuringly: “I don’t believe that the moderate, pro-business, socially liberal, internationalist part of the British people has disappeared.”

His fellow moderate responded: “Those of us in the centre are going to have to do a lot of rethinking.”

This is the guru in whom the “tiny minority of irrelevant malcontents,” to quote Williamson, still find inspiration.

No wonder he favours mandatory reselection for all Labour MPs, dismissing the notion that they represent a constituency larger than the party membership.

“Let them stand as independents and see how far they get,” he scoffed.

“The only reason why they are in Parliament is because they stand under the Labour flag, the Labour brand and the hard work of ordinary party members going out and knocking on doors.”

Blair never got this, but it should be spelled out to his fellow moderates, independents, centrists and any other label devised to undermine Labour’s leader and its chosen political direction.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 16,988
We need:£ 1.012
11 Days remaining
Donate today