Socialist Worker

Which way forward for the Labour Party

The Progressive London conference on 30 January 2010 reflected tensions inside Labour—and disillusionment in its base

Issue No. 2187

The deep tensions within the Labour Party are intensifying as the general election approaches.

Chancellor Alistair Darling and business secretary Peter Mandelson say that the party should continue with the same right wing policies.

Others believe that the only way Labour can win the election is by shifting left.

The Progressive London conference last Saturday reflected some of these tensions.

Ken Livingstone, the former Labour mayor of London, set up Progressive London.

It claims to be a “uniquely broad alliance for progressive policies in London”.

Over 700 people came to its second annual conference. It included people from the Labour Party, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and those to the left of Labour.

There was consensus about the need to unite against any attempt to make working people pay for the economic crisis.

There was also agreement that the left must oppose the fascist British National Party, the racist English Defence League, and imperialist war.

But the looming general election, and the prospect of a Tory victory, hung over the conference.


Many Labour supporters urged attendees to forget their criticisms of Labour’s 13 years in power and campaign for the party’s victory.

Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, used her speech to push this argument.

She said, “The future of the progressive values we share is under threat from a potential Tory government.

“Everyone who stays at home and doesn’t vote is helping the Tories.

“Those who vote for other parties where Labour is fighting the Tories are helping the Tories.”

Quite rightly, this did not please everyone in the audience.

Bel Harris from Tower Hamlets in east London said, “I feel that I’m at the Labour Party conference. You say we should get out and vote but we haven’t been involved in influencing the policies of the government.

“We know the Tories would be worse—but they will also be able to build on what Labour has done in the last 13 years.”

Another asked about the rise in inequality.

And the next speaker talked of her inability to get a job under Tory and Labour governments.

One woman said, “The sight of Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry reminded me why I won’t vote Labour again. His posturing was very upsetting.”

Harman had few answers to these criticisms, stating, “Maybe we haven’t achieved what we want to, but that’s why we need a further term.”

Livingstone said, “I would like to get an arrest warrant for Tony Blair over the war—but that’s in the past. We’re about building the future.”

But simply airbrushing past crimes out of history prepares the way for more in the future.

While avoiding criticism of Gordon Brown and other Labour leaders, some trade union leaders used their speeches to call for the party to move left.

Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, said that Labour’s election campaign “needs more class war not less”.

He added, “Whatever the result of the general election we have to take the Labour Party back for working people, for 21st century socialism.”


Livingstone closed the conference with an attack on Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London, and the Tories in general.

He also denounced the Daily Mail newspaper for its smearing of Azad Ali, one of the speakers at the conference, as a supporter of Al Qaida.

Progressive London is now setting up working groups to discuss policies and other issues.

The debate about the way forward will intensify on the left, in and outside the Labour Party, after the general election.

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Tue 2 Feb 2010, 19:19 GMT
Issue No. 2187
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