Miliband as new flag bearer?

Trevor Fisher reflects on the Labour Co-ordinating Committee and possible successors

The 2015 election marked the death knell of the old Right of the Labour Party and its close relation the New Labour tendency – the main old Right grouping known as Labour First still continues and was name checked by Roy Hattersley in the Observer on December 3rd. Progress, the New Labour vehicle started by Derek Draper continues as a marginal presence and its standard bearer Liz Kendall gained only 4.5% of the members vote in that year’s leadership election. The Old Left won that election not because it was in the ascendant – Corbyn was put on the ballot paper to take votes off Burnham – but the majority of the Party membership were soft left and revolted against the three main candidates. Was this the moment for a soft left revival?

Clearly this has not happened and while there is still a remnant old Right, the Soft Left is largely invisible. Momentum will continue to rise, and is likely to take the extra three NEC seats created by the 2017 Party Conference. The soft left cannot mobilise, though Angela Rayner has come out as Soft Left and others in the PLP have similar views. But to what effect?

In 2018 will see the 20th anniversary of the folding of the most successful Soft Left group in Party history, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee. What successors exist? There are really only two, Compass and Open Labour. However Compass is no longer Labour oriented, so what is the state of Open Labour which floated at the end of 2015?

Having been one of the 50 or so signatories to the press letter that started its career, two years ago, and attending the positive discussion sessions in the Midlands and the North which followed , I was suprised when a fringe at Labour Conference was addressed by ex-leader Ed Miliband. Politics Review in November 2016 described Open Labour as Milbandite, suprisingly confirmed when Miliband addressed its formal launch at a London Conference in spring 2017.

The conference approved a long policy document which was rooted in the Miliband era, and while Open Labour declares itself a membership organisation, but there are no membership cards and voting was by holding up an Open Labour pin badge. The event was dominated by speeches, limiting movers of motions to one minute per proposal. Following this a second conference was held post the election in Manchester but with few decisions open to membership participation.

The elections for the committee were by postal ballot and the results were notified, but little else has been formally notified to members. Rumour is that there is an active social media debate. Certainly the website is active, and has been revamped. But the most prominent feature on the home page is a picture of Ed Miliband. The only sign at the time of writing in Mid December the members have a role is a call for applications for sponsorship from members – and supporters – in selection contests in Labour marginals..

Although Labour launched an election for the three extra NEC seats at the end of November, Open Labour is not supporting any of the candidates. It is difficult to see how a Miliband supporting organisation in a party whose membership rejected Miliband in 2015 can have any influence on events.

This is still more so for Compass. It has been promoting a ‘Progressive Alliance’ which now seems to be
morphing into a ‘Common Platform’. But there is a hole in its strategy. Compass has never taken a  position on the EU. Promises of a debate have yet to materialise. No other tendency has opted out of the Brexit debate. It was notable that early in its career Momentum surveyed its members showing they were  opposed to Brexit by a big majority. This puts Momentum in a strong position to build membership and
influence the Party development. This is not so for Open Labour and Compass, both failing to come out  strongly in favour of Remain.

While 2018 may or may not see a Labour government, it is certainly going to be dominated by the struggle over Brexit. It is clear that organisations that sit on the fence particularly if they favour  Ed Miliband’s form of triangulation are unlikely to have any influence. Two decades after the LCC closed down, there is nothing remotely as effective as that organisation was at its height.

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