Left Watch

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Labour left seek to ban Blairite group Progress

By Harry Phibbs
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Being in opposition means you are less important than if you are in Government. Therefore, quite reasonably, the media pay less attention to you. Often this is frustrating for an opposition party. But it can also have advantages. The Labour Party have been able to get away with being muddled in their response to major Government reforms - for instance on housing and, as noted by The Economist, education.

Labour's muddle is designed to cover up Labour's splits. But there is impatience on the part of the trade unions to pick a fight. As Labour's paymasters they want the Party to be clear about backing strikes and fighting spending cuts - not trying to dodge the issues. The mechanism they have come up with is to attack Progress, the Blairite faction within Labour Party.

The GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny says his union will put forward a motion to the Labour Party conference "which effectively will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party." Not quite sure how such a rule change will be able to ban Blairite factions but permit left wing ones. The claim is that the eradication of the Militant Tendency offers an example to be followed - but Militant weren't stuffed with Shadow Cabinet Ministers.

Over at the Daily Telegraph Dan Hodges says Ed Miliband's declaration that "New Labour is dead" has given the Left this opportunity.

Hodges says:

What’s happening at the moment is less a fight, more a pogrom. Labour is being purified, and it’s Blairite elements expunged from history. The Left is getting its party back, and there is no room in it for those traitors and turncoats who inflicted a decade of three successive election victories on the Labour movement.

There here has been a mild backlash as the progressive forces go house to house in their hunt for cowering New Labourites. One candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee, Luke Akehurst, wrote a brave article condemning what he dubbed a “sectarian feeding frenzy”. Stephen Twigg, Progress’s President, issued a rather less heroic tweet, which lamely declared “Labour at strongest when united. Progress doing great work to foster debate and ideas on Labour's renewal.”

But that was about it. “People can moan about the GMB’s tactics,” one Labour insider said. “But they work. Look at the coup attempt against Liam Byrne. OK, he fought it off. But then the next week he’s up doing a speech on how universal benefits are here to stay. They’ve got to him.”

What difference does this make to the Conservatives? If Labour support unpopular strikes and oppose popular policies on such issues as welfare reform, the right to buy and school choice it menas it will be harder for them to win the next General Election. But I suspect that despite this most Conservative Ministers would prefer to have a consensus of support for some of the key reforms they are implementing.