What I found at the Progress conference rally

By Rebecca Lawrence, Lewisham Deptford CLP

There is little point in only listening and talking to people who agree with you. In that vein, I headed to the Progress Rally at Labour Conference. As more people entered  the standing room, the attendees racked up to only about 130; far more men than women. What was I expecting here? Possibly a different angle on some issues being discussed at conference that would challenge my (socialist) point of view, and to see what the centre and right was talking about at conference.

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I should not have been surprised, but I was disappointed by the overall level of condescension, mockery and disrespect of left MPs and everyday members that the speakers demonstrated, and the lack of actual policy discussion. I was hoping it had moved further past this. I was left with the distinct impression they do not understand the Corbyn project at all; it’s not only that they disagree with it, it’s that they just do not get it.

Speakers included Connor Pope, deputy editor of Progress magazine, Alison McGovern MP, Wes Streeting MP, Luciana Berger MP, Angela Eagle MP, Ayesha Hazarika, Tom Beattie, a Corby Councillor and a few others. It was a rally so no questions and no other audience interaction.

Most of these speakers referred to the left “navel-gazing” during conference. Trying to democratise the party and wrestle it back from the centralized control-freakery of their ideals is ‘navel gazing’ apparently. Trying to improve democracy to make sure that MPs don’t feel and behave as though they have a job for life, and crucially that we have people that actually represent us they called “navel gazing”. Newsflash: you get selected for a term, not forever.

Streeting began immediately with ripping into two of his parliamentary colleagues, Chris Williamson MP for his roadshow and Dawn Butler MP for the comment about Militant. Total disrespect and dismissal to them, not political but personal, and then three minutes later – with no irony – denounced the “toxic” atmosphere into party, after just using his platform to slate his colleagues! Absolutely blind to the hypocrisy of that. He was not the only one who chose to denigrate other Labour colleagues. By the way, Wes, you’re not the only one from a council estate; most of us didn’t go to Cambridge and work for PWC afterwards though! Don’t condescend to me, a working class woman and ordinary party member, after you’ve become part of the establishment that screws me over on a daily basis.

We move on to the haughtiness of Stella Creasey. Wow. Fellow lefties, I’m sad to say I’m pretty sure she absolutely despises us. To be honest, I also think Aaron Bastani is more or less an ‘absolute melt’, but she was mocking and derisory to all of us not just him.

“Socialism isn’t a scout badge you sow on after going on a few marches …”

Seriously? Said with a huge superiority complex from Stella, another Cambridge graduate. When I’ve spent years working for minimum wage, and like so many of us, spend hours of my life every week volunteering for the party and trade union, I really don’t appreciate being talked down to by one of our own MPs so vehemently about her cowardly, compromised and triangulated version of “socialism”.

Overall, it was less like a rally and more like a session of consoling and self-comfort. Most of the speakers referred to how difficult, how hard and demoralising things are; cue a circle of metaphorical back pats. Seemingly oblivious to the insults, derision and bullying myself and other supporters of the Corbyn project have been subject to by them, including those they had just engaged in. Most made a plea for people to stay in the party, i.e. because people don’t agree with your soft attempt at socialism and unwillingness to challenge the status quo, you don’t have to throw your toys out of the pram and leave.

The nature of politics is that people often disagree, it’s time we got all got used to that and remembered the broad church. Maybe also wake up to the fact your ideology is dead in the water. The degree to which they were trying to reassure each through their obvious despair almost made me feel sorry for them… or I would if they were not constantly trying to sabotage the best political opportunity my class has had in a generation.

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4 Comments

  1. Creasy et als version of ‘socialism’ is none of the sort as far as I can see. At bare minimum socialists ought to espouse some vague aspiration to socialise our economy and improve the standing of labour versus capital in the crudely laundered fuedaliam we call modern capitalism. Even then, I’d call such vague aspirations social democracy rather than socialism per se.

    Their policy propositions (speaking in the past tense – as they don’t seem that concerned with policy formulation now a days), ideological and intellectual moarings, and attitudes all smack of liberalism. At a stretch revisionist social democracy. The kind of definition of socialism that bails on a set of orthodoxies and policies embracing privatisation and the paramountcy of the market, saw precisely no efforts to allow modernisation and revitalisation of the labour movement (hobbled by anti-Union legislation) and oversaw inceases in inequality and the decline of secure, well paid and fullfulling working class jobs, is positively Orwelian. Which is why even Blair dropped his attempts to cover up his gradual revelation as a ‘progressive conservative’ with the term. The man rarely use the term once in power.

    Of course maybe I’ve got Creasy et al alall wrong. Perhaps they do aim for things like industrial emocracy, social ownership, removal of natural monopolies from the vice like grip of rentier monopolists. Just in a subtle, unspoken and imperceptible paced manner which will see us regain the ground made between 1945-1979 by, Ooo, 2522 at the earliest.

  2. Disappointing, I had no idea that they could so easily secure an attendance of 130 for fringe meeting at conference. This fits in with my experience at CLP level there are still hundreds of sleepers that will become restored when Chuka or D. Miliband believe they can have future revival. There is still so much to do to win the arguments and reinforce the changes.

  3. Nonetheless, solidarity was the word of conference. Progress should stay and fight for their views – though they do seem to go for the personal rather than philosophical which is disappointing. I did go to one Progress fringe on Housing which was excellent – but speakers included John Healey, Peter Mason the Housing lead for Labour in Ealing and a Guardian columnist whose name escapes me. So not everything they do is bad, not everyone involved is bad. But derision of colleagues really has to stop.

  4. If the Labour Party needed a Shadow Minister for Bitterness then there would be several candidates on the right-wing Neoliberal side of the party who would fit the role very comfortably. They still have no policies other than Remain in the EU and support the Israeli Regime. Last year the balance was 71 – 28 in favour of the left-wing delegates. This year it was 80 – 17.

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