Rebuilding the progressive left

Back in June, Left Foot Forward wrote about a project being run by a collective of community organisers, environmentalists, campaigners, Labour and Lib Dem activists, bloggers, writers, and development workers. A wider group convened again this week to hear the interim findings of the research.

Back in June, Left Foot Forward wrote about a project being run by a collective of community organisers, environmentalists, campaigners, Labour and Lib Dem activists, bloggers, writers, and development workers. A wider group convened again this week to hear the interim findings of the research.

In an article in today’s Guardian about the rebuilding of grassroots alliances between Labour and Lib Dem activists, Patrick Wintour and Allegra Stratton write:

[The Latimer Project] has sought to learn lessons from two recent experiences of a party losing power only to re-enter after a significant period of renewal – the experience of the Democrats in the States and the Tories here in the UK, saying: “Both show that they wasted four years, and that there were four stages.”

The project aimed to answer four questions:

• How can British progressives learn lessons from recent political renewals in the US and UK?

• What is the funding, impact, and organisation of the British conservative ecosystem?

• How does the progressive left do by comparison?

• What more is needed?

As discussed on Left Foot Forward in June, “From 2004 onwards, a process of institution building took place across the American left to reclaim from the right an advantage in policy formation, political communication, movement development, and voter engagement lost during the ascendancy of US conservatives over three decades.” Since starting on the project in June, research lead Daniel Elton has discovered a similar rebuilding process among the British right. An interesting observation is that, in both case, four years were wasted before the renewal began.

Wintour and Stratton discuss the “four stages” of renewal. On the British right this meant (i) new think tanks like Policy Exchange and Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice devising policies on issues like health, education, and social justice that had been seen as left-wing issues, (ii) new media-facing campaign groups – like TaxPayers’ Alliance and MigrationWatch – moving the centre ground on issues like low taxes and immigration, (iii) new activist groups like the ConservativeHome blog and the Young Britons Foundation engaging activists in a time of triangulation and training them up, and (iv) the coming together of these groups’ activities at election time with the express aim of getting Conservative party MPs elected. This is not to suggest that any conspiracy took place – the growth was far more organic than that – but each grouping new its role and stuck ruthlessly to it.

Understanding what the Democrats did after 2004 and Conservatives did after 2001 provides clear lessons for the progressive left. Most important is identifying the political purpose of a new left-wing government and the progressive policies that deal with public concerns over immigration, welfare, and crime. Good ideas are not enough, however. The left also needs new organisations aimed at training community organisers and campaign groups with the express aim of raising the profile of left-wing issues like tax avoidance, equality, public investment and crony capitalism. Moreover, this regeneration will require a new collection of progressives to join those who are already contributing their time, energy, and, in some cases, financial support.

Doing this also means being realistic about the likely election outcome in 2015. Although Labour is still the progressive party best-placed to win an overall majority, with such uncertainty on both the electoral system and the number of constituencies, it is very hard to project what different poll leads will mean. The possibility of another hung parliament and a coalition led by a Labour Prime Minister has to be planned for. While MPs in Parliament will rightly slug it out over public service cuts, tuition fees, and immigration reform, the progressive movement must ensure that progressive activists from all parties of the left are included.

19 Responses to “Rebuilding the progressive left”

  1. Miljenko Williams

    RT @leftfootfwd: Rebuilding the progressive left: //bit.ly/ctRAW5 by @wdjstraw

  2. Shamik Das

    Rebuilding the progressive left: //bit.ly/ctRAW5 by @wdjstraw on @leftfootfwd

  3. Anthony Painter

    “@shamikdas: Rebuilding the progressive left: //bit.ly/ctRAW5 by @wdjstraw on @leftfootfwd”

  4. Charlie Beckett

    RT @anthonypainter: “@shamikdas: Rebuilding the progressive left: //bit.ly/ctRAW5 by @wdjstraw on @leftfootfwd”

  5. alexsmith1982

    RT @shamikdas: Rebuilding the progressive left: //bit.ly/ctRAW5 by @wdjstraw on @leftfootfwd

  6. andrew

    I will vote NO in the av referendum,as i don,t wan,t Clegg to start claiming any credit for a DIRTY LITTLE COMPROMISE.We need to attack the coalition not help it
    Andrew Edinburgh

  7. RENEWAL

    RT @leftfootfwd: Rebuilding the progressive left: //bit.ly/ctRAW5 by @wdjstraw

  8. Hugh

    I’m not sure that voting the same way in the AV referendum as 307 of the coalition’s 364 MPs counts as attacking it. You’re right that Clegg will gain credit if it goes through, though. If his personal fortunes are the most important consideration for you, should still vote with the 307 Conservatives.

  9. william

    Rebuilding the progressive left was New Labour.This started out as accepting fiscal reality and abandoning the concept that you tax the majority(more)to pay for the minority.This approach meant that the party obtained financial support from rich people with a social conscience.There then followed the disastrous policies of Gordon Brown,the refusal to reform the welfare state, in order to make a part of the electorate dependent on handouts for ever.Are you surprised that the Libdems turned their back on this approach,which had manifestly failed,and embraced a party that put self reliance as number one, and the state as a safety net for only those whose adverse circumstances were not of their own making.To have any chance of electoral success in the future, our party has got to put forward a programme firmly centred on middle england,whilst reminding all and sundry we will not let go the accidental poor.

  10. Chris

    @william

    You’re stuck in a time warp c1995 and seem to have been reading the Daily Mail since then.

  11. Will Straw

    @antoniabance I think that's fair. Guardian conflated a few different things under single heading. More detail here //bit.ly/bAZ4Kw

  12. Richard Watts

    “While MPs in Parliament will rightly slug it out over public service cuts, tuition fees, and immigration reform, the progressive movement must ensure that progressive activists from all parties of the left are included”

    Fair enough, but can we agree that the Lib Dems are not a ‘party of the left’ and that progressive activists don’t have a home in a centre-right neo-liberal party like the Lib Dems?

  13. william

    Chris,I read the Times and FT.Do you want to win the next election?

  14. Chris

    @william

    Yes, I want Labour to win the next general election but not by being tory-lite. I want Ed to drag the centre ground to where he is not go chasing after the mythical middle earth vote. The centre ground shifts, what was right in 1995 isn’t right now – //bit.ly/cr38Cj

  15. william

    Pace Peter Kellner,is Ed Milliband ‘in tune ‘and will the swing voters think they will be better off under him?Neither Thatcher nor Blair dragged the centre ground anywhere: both cleverly reflected what ‘the middle earth vote’ were thinking,anyway.It does not pay to be openly contemptuos of people.

  16. Chris

    @william

    Both Thatcher and Blair moved the centre ground to where they were, as it states in the article above the tories through their outriders at the TPA moved the centre ground on certain issues for the last election.

  17. Linden Parker

    Quote Richard Watts: “Fair enough, but can we agree that the Lib Dems are not a ‘party of the left’ and that progressive activists don’t have a home in a centre-right neo-liberal party like the Lib Dems?”

    By all means label the Lib Dem leadership “centre-right neo-liberal”, but the reality is that a huge proportion of wider party are ‘progressive’ and consider themselves left-wing. Indeed, Liberal Democrat party policies are most definitely not “centre-right neo-liberal”, but ‘progressive’.

    I think that just hoping that the Lib Dems will split, or that all their ‘progressive’ activists will simply jump ship over the next five years is unrealistic, especially when so many of the federal committee positions have recently been filled by social liberals who are most certainly more left than right.

  18. Henry

    Linden has a point. But the social Liberals need to take action to deal with the Orange Book clique that have hijacked the party – & fast. Otherwise, you’ll just become a sad adjunct of the Tory Party.

    Indeed, it may already be too late: half the LibDem May voters have deserted the party & appear to have largely gone over to Labour. Are they really going to come back while Clegg is in cahoots with the Tories? I don’t think so, whatever the internal arguments inside the party.

  19. Changes at Left Foot Forward | Left Foot Forward

    […] and Daniel Elton, a trained fundraiser who has been working with Left Foot Forward on the separate Latimer Project, will take over as Managing Director with responsibility for business development. Our regular […]

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