Progressive London

I enjoyed yesterday’s Progressive London event hugely.

Apparently. over 700 people registered for the conference which was billed under the title, “A Progressive Agenda to Stop the Right in 2010” and hosted by Ken Livingstone. The event was supported and sponsored by SERTUC, Unite the Union, GMB, CWU, ASLEF, GMB, and BECTU. The turn-out is almost double what the conference organisers expected.

Speaking of the conference’s success Ken Livingstone said:

“Progressive political forces in London have shown through the tremendous turn-out at this conference and the serious level of discussion and debate that they are determined to move forward as well as resist the possibility of a Tory government.

“We need to harness the enthusiasm and unity seen today at the conference and take this forward to do what we can to prevent the Tories coming to government with Thatcherism Mark II. Today’s tight opinion polls show that this is possible.

“The Progressive London conference aims to tap into the progressive majority in London. We need to build on this and continue to have an open engagement and dialogue in the run-up to the general election. Tory policy is for the minority. Their policies favour the privileged better off and punish those on average incomes and the least well off.”

The session I was speaking at was on “new media and winning the argument”, alongside Clifford Singer, Alex Smith and Helen Gardner and Sunny Hundal, whose report of the event is here. The chair was Kevin Mcguire of the daily Mirror. It was good to meet people in the flesh. I didn’t get a chance to chat with Clifford or Helen, both of whom spoke well; but Sunny discussed with me afterwards how the left bloggers need to be more mutually supportive; and I was very impressed with Alex. Laurie Penny spoke from the floor, raising the complex issues of how women bloggers get overlooked and patronised.

The purpose of the conference, as Ken Livingstone explains is to

“develop and implement a progressive alternative to the Tories. Progressive policies, to be effective, must support both those on middle incomes and the less advantaged. These together constitute a large majority of the electorate. That’s quite different from concentrating on attempting to win over the best-off.

“The key terrain on which the election must be fought is the need to protect those on middle incomes and the least advantaged against the Tories who would transfer resources from the average elector to the well-off.”

43 comments on “Progressive London

  1. little black sister on said:

    Didn’t get to your session, Andy, but the event as a whole was a nimpressive achievement with an excellent attendance.

    How often do you get the Labour left, Respect, CND, Stop the War, Palestine solidarity, representatives of the Bolivarian Revolution, major trade unionists, Tribune, New Statesman, Morning Star, anti-racists, anti-imperialists, feminists, the student movement and so on all in the same room? The speakers and other attendees represented millions of working class people between them.

    This is how one actually goes about building a serious progressive movement – by linking up mass parts of the left and labour movement on issues they can agree on.

  2. #1

    Well, I don’t know what LBS has been smoking but I wouldn’t mind some, as according to her continued posts we must be on the verge of revolution.

    ‘millions of working class people between them.’

    I rather think that millions of working class people were sat at home watching the football yesterday, or out shopping, perhaps even washing their cars (if they still have one), and not discussing how things were shaping up at a conference in London that purports to speak for them.

    Did anyone think to mention the war to messrs Milliband and Harman during proceedings? Or was it a re-run of Fawlty Towers?

  3. Ian Croft on said:

    For a start most of the attendees are simply well known individuals. The organisations that officially attended represent no-one outside of their own (tiny) organisations. In fact most of the organisations weren’t there at all, you just had people who happen to be members of those organisations at the conference.

    The most obvious example would be to look at the trade unionists. Almost certainly official support came from trade union execs or branches whose union members will never have been consulted about this conference. Even with that official support most of the trade unionists would have been there “in a personal capacity”. (in other words they just turned up as individuals)

    The idea that this represented anyone outside of the conference hall is pure fantasy.

  4. This was nothing more than a gathering of ‘I’m a grandee get me elected’. Ken Livingstone is nothing more than a cop-sucker, well past his sell by date which he refuses to recognise! The rest of the gathering are know it all’s that no working class people are listening too!

  5. No, the trade union representatives were not there “in a persocal capacity” they were speaking on behalf of their organisations, and money and resources are available to pursuide the unions’ political agendas.

    So commitment from UNITE, GMB, ASLEF, BECTU and CWU towards promotng a progressive political aganda is far from unimportant

  6. Ian Croft on said:

    Fine that puts it back to the sentance before that. You got backing from the unrepresentitive cliques running the union execs and the politically unrepresentitive reps running some of the branches. You certainly don’t have the support of their members.

  7. Sunny Hundal puts his finger on the problem with Progressive London when he says that it pretends to be a broad campaign to promote progressive politics in London but “ends up merely being Ken Livingstone’s re-election vehicle”.

    However, in asserting that the event “didn’t have enough London Libdems” Sunny gets hold of the wrong end of the stick entirely. On the contrary, it is precisely the prominence of Liberal Democrats at Progressive London’s annual events that undermines any real campaign on the ground for progressive politics in London.

    From the standpoint of re-electing Ken, of course, an alliance with the Lib Dems makes a lot of sense.

    In the 2008 mayoral election the Lib Dem candidate, Brian Paddick, fought a right-wing campaign in which he concentrated his fire on Ken rather than on Boris Johnson. Paddick had evidently deluded himself that by doing this he could leapfrog Ken into second place and then beat Boris on the basis of second preference votes.

    In fact, all that Paddick succeeded in doing was driving potential Lib Dem voters into the arms of the Tories. By persuading them that Ken was the main enemy, Paddick helped to secure a victory for Boris. And not only was Paddick’s own vote, at 9%, well down on what Lib Dem mayoral candidates had achieved in 2000 and 2004, but the strategy also had disastrous consequences for the his party in the London Assembly elections where they lost two of their five seats.

    So if Ken is a candidate in the 2012 London mayoral election, both he and the Lib Dems stand to gain if their election campaign adopts a more sympathetic approach to Ken. Hence the presence of leading Lib Dems on the platform of Progressive London both this year and last (when Vince Cable was one of the main speakers).

    But from the standpoint of progressive politics in London, an alliance with the Lib Dems is untenable.

    In the London borough where I live the Lib Dems are part of a ruling coalition with the Tories. And together they implement a right-wing agenda of reducing spending and cutting services in order to hold down the council tax. There is nothing at all progressive about the Lib Dems in our area.

    But the Lib Dems have support from a section of middle class former Labour voters who do mistakenly see them as progressive. And the Lib Dems play up to this. Their latest newsletter has a front page boasting about their party’s role in opposing the Iraq war (which they did for a period of two months before it began, whereupon they changed their line and supported it).

    You can see why this appeals to some middle class voters who would balk at voting Tory. They get their council tax held down, with the consequences falling mainly on the poorest people in the borough, but they can justify this by telling themselves that they’re voting for a progressive alternative to both Labour and the Tories.

    Progressive London’s alliance with the Lib Dems is not merely irrelevant to the pursuit of progressive politics in this situation – it’s actively damaging. Because when Labour and the Greens try to expose the fraudulent character of the local Lib Dems’ claim to be progressive, the Lib Dems can point to their role in Progressive London as proof that Ken Livingstone endorses that fraudulent claim.

    In other words, the campaign for actual progressive politics is subordinated to the exigencies of Ken’s re-election campaign. In the long run, I think this approach will probably damage Ken, because people will see it as cynical and sectarian. Certainly the Labour Party members from my CLP who attended last year’s event, only to see a bunch of local Lib Dems who they had been fighting politically swanning around the place as part of Ken’s “progressive alliance”, were extremely cross about it.

  8. little black sister on said:

    Hurrah, the ultra-left is here with their incoherent arguments and sterile sectarianism. Probably Andrew Gilligan’ll turn up too!

    #2, #5, #6: OK, so never invite a trade union speaker to your event because he/she doesn’t represent trade unionists. Never invite a CND or Stop the War speaker because they don’t represent the anti-war movement.

    In fact, never invite anybody to an event, or hold an event at all, because none of the leaders of the labour movement represents anyone and all the working class wants to do is sit at home and watch telly.

    Political analysis of the highest order!

  9. Ian Croft on said:

    Certainly better analysis than thinking “The speakers and other attendees represented millions of working class people between them”

    I didn’t say don’t invite them. Just don’t delude yourself they speaking on behalf of anyone outside the conference chamber because they ain’t.

  10. titch mitch on said:

    I was at progressive London, in the main hall, the packed work shops and listening to conversations in the stalls area-it was one of the best centre-left conferences i have been to-excellent platform and politics-broad range of organisations- and an excellent mood if sober in the times we are going into-a great chance to articulate the politics that the country and the left needs-and which can get mass appeal as well as tackle the massive challenges we face-serious broad mass forces represented including a fair representation from young people and the black and Muslim community-greens and a few lib dems-generally serious committed participants-lots of faces i did not recognise but was happy were being engaged on some massive debates-i missed the talk on ‘no progressive imperialism’ which i heard was excellent but hearing those on one society many cultures, stopping the BNP , Gaza 1 year on and the economics discussion in particular showed the conference was discussing many of the key national and global issues with an extremely progressive and educative context-well done Progressive London for getting it just right or rather left!

  11. I thought the event was really well put together and dealt with the critical issues faced by the centre-left. There was an excellent, well-attended session on tackling homophobic hate crime in light of significant rises in attacks in the capital during the past year, including a number of high profile murders. Speakers talked about the need for all parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community to work together on campaigns and events that challenge homophobia and hold our elected representatives and the police to account, especially in light of the legitimacy given to the BNP in the past year. Well done to the organisers.

  12. Looking back on the Progressive London conference yesterday, it was a successful in rallying the broader left in London, from the unions, anti-war movement, environmentalists and, from political parties, the Greens, Respect, the Bennite (or Ken-ite) wing of the Labour Party and sprinkling of Lib Dems (notably Lembit Opik).

    But also, and this is what the more leftist elements on this site and at the conference take issue with, made a serious effort to draw in Brownite sections of the Labour Party into a more left framework. The success of which can be debated but appeared to be a conscious recognition that someone needs to make an effort to peel elements of the Labour leadership off toward a traditional social democratic model. But certainly Harman delivered a faltering speech and was poorly received.

    Sunny Hundal gives far too negative a report in criticising the conference as ‘re-election vehicle’ and for voices being ‘stale’. This is a project Ken feels is necessary, and given the weakness of the left of the Labour Party, it’s good to see someone trying to mobilise what remains of it. In fact the issue of London government and the Mayoralty received little discussion on the day – with a general election imminent, people wanted to discuss national politics and how to stop the Tories. The idea that Ken wanted to re-stand was in fact only really raised in dicussion by Jon Cruddas chairing the final session, when he introduced Ken as ‘the last and next mayor’ – a significant statement given some rumours in the right-wing press that he may want to challenge for the Labour nomination.

    But also the idea that contributors were stale, or Ken’s old friends, simply doesn’t ring true. Andy’s session (which I regret I couldn’t get to) was perhaps the most exciting looking platform for a discussion on the possibilities of progressive social media campaigning i’ve seen at any event to date (and hope for a more detailed report).

    But for me the top speeches were those by Johann Hari and Mehdi Hasan, neither of whom are ‘old friends of Ken’ but who are young thinking journalists, in the Labour milieu, who made hard attacks on New Labour’s commitment to neo-liberalism, demanded an end to the triangulation that ‘our cuts are nicer than yours’ and championed a spending and investment route out of the recession. Hasan’s arrival at the New Statesman in particular has seriously boosted the left of the Labour Party, not only with his articles on the economy this year, but by complementing Pilger’s articles attacking US imperialism.

    The numbers of people attending yesterday, its youth and vibrancy, suggest there is a broad left message in opposition to both New Labour and Cameron’s Conservatives that people will organise around…

  13. little black sister on said:

    #12 You don’t answer my point. If leaders elected within mass organisations aren’t representing anyone but themselves, how is it possible for any left organising to take place at all? Ever? How did Kate Hudson for example become chair of CND except because x-many people voted for her to represent their anti-war politics?

    Your point is one of the most preposterous I’ve ever heard.

  14. Ian Croft on said:

    Look time to live in the real world of how mass organisations operate.

    A union leadership is elected by a tiny minority of its members usually on no more than 1 or 2 campaign leaflets about workplace issues.

    If Serwotka turns up at this he not speaking for PCS members since he never asked us if he could turn up or what policies he should support/oppose when he does turn up. Even if you could argue that he is representing those that voted for him (in an elecion where this conference was never discussed I might add!) then that is a small minority of the PCS.

    Did the NEC send him? If yes thats around 30 people he speaking for.
    Did the Left Unity faction send him? ok thats about 1200 he speaking for.
    Did every single union rep and activist send him? thats 10,000 he is now speaking for.
    Did he ask the membership and 10% of the membership vote for him to go? right now we up to 30,000 people.

    Of course that all depends on him turning up after telling the people he asking what he was going to say. He might have said something different on the day or never been mandated to say anything. In that case he really is speaking for himself.

  15. Just in case my argument at #10 appeared a bit localist, let’s look at the Lib Dems’ role at national level.

    If the general election in May results in a hung parliament, which is a definite possibility, then the Lib Dems will be faced with the choice of allying with Labour or the Tories. In that situation, Nick Clegg would almost certainly opt for a coalition with Cameron. He will argue that the Tories are the largest party in the Commons and that the deal reflects the will of the electorate. In reality, it will reflect the fact that Clegg’s politics are closer to the Tories than to Labour.

    Nowhere is this clearer than over the economy, where both the Tories and the Lib Dems have attacked Labour from the right, trying to outbid each other in their commitment to cutting public spending. You’ll recall that at the start of the last Lib Dem conference Clegg spoke about openly about “savage” cuts. And Vince Cable, who has been promoted by Progressive London as some sort of progressive thinker when it comes to economics (at the “London and the global economic crisis” event last July, rather than at the inaugural conference earlier in the year, as I mistakenly suggested above) will happily go along with this, his only difference with Clegg being that he would prefer that the cuts should fall primarily on public sector pay.

    So come next year’s Progressive London conference, we may face a situation where the Lib Dems are the junior partner in a Tory-led coalition government, which is carrying out draconian cuts in public spending, far in excess of what a Brown government would implement. But Ken will still need the Lib Dems onside for the 2012 London mayoral election. So presumably Progressive London will give the Lib Dems a platform once again.

    But that’s the kind of knot you tie yourself in when you start from the need to build alliances that will assist Ken’s future mayoral election campaign, rather than alliances that will promote genuine progressive politics.

  16. little black sister on said:

    #17 In that case how does any political movement organise? I would like to hear your alternative method.

  17. #17 is just being funny.

    Imagine a TU Gen Sec balloting the membership everytime he was asked to speak at a conference.

    Now, back in the real world…

  18. Ian – do you think that they should ask their members everytime they appear on television, radio or in the press? Maybe they should have rejected their invites. That would have really pleased the members of their respective organisations I’m sure!

  19. 18. How does minority change society?

    Win the mass in the middle to your general viewpoint, and ensure you win leadership of the movement against reaction. LibDem allies to defeat Boris, absolutely. LibDem policies to defeat Boris, never.

  20. Ian Croft on said:

    Guys and gals, nobody saying he shouldn’t speak or that you shouldn’t invite him but you can’t claim his views represent his members.

    Case in point. Bob Crow supports the TUSC but the RMT doesn’t. So when he speaking at a TUSC event you can’t say he speaking on behalf of the RMT membership.

    “In that case how does any political movement organise? I would like to hear your alternative method”

    It organises the same way you just don’t make silly false statements like “The speakers and other attendees represented millions of working class people between them.”

  21. To pursue the theme about alliances, what explains the presence of Johann Hari at the Progressive London conference?

    When it comes to multiculturalism and minority communities, Hari has nothing in common with the progressive agenda Ken has pursued. His views are similar to those of Maryam Namazie or Peter Tatchell. He has expressed his admiration for both of them and deploys the same kind of rhetoric against “cultural relativism”. Like Tatchell, Hari has worked to turn the gay community against minority faith communities and their representative organisations on the basis that the latter pose a threat to LGBT rights.

    Indeed, I can remember a few years ago Hari even wrote an article applauding a Dutch politician named Ehsan Jami, who was expelled from the PvdA (Labour Party) because of his support for Geert Wilders.

    In short, when it comes to promoting harmonious relations between London’s diverse communities Hari has played an entirely negative role. Yet that didn’t prevent him being invited to speak at the Progressive London conference.

    It is true that Hari holds leftist views on other issues. But then so does Nick Cohen, and I don’t suppose anybody proposed that he should be invited. The difference, of course, is that in 2008 Cohen denounced Ken and used his Observer column to call for a vote for Brian Paddick, whereas Hari used his Independent column to argue that “Londoners should vote for Ken Livingstone”.

    And that’s obviously why Hari was invited to the Progressive London conference. Here again we have an alliance that has been formed not in order to promote progressive politics in the wider sense but in the narrow interests of re-electing Ken.

  22. What a ridiculous debate!

    Do union leaders and mass movement leaders “represent their millions of members”? Yes, obviously. Are millions of their members actively involved in decision making all of the time? No, obviously not.

    It’s a false dichotomy, innit? Which reminds me of a snippet in a TV documentary about a strike in 1970s Australia. The local communist party branch holds a mass meeting, and in the course of the debate the chair says, “It’s a false dichotomy”. One of the workers shouts from the floor: “What the hell is a false dichotomy?” The chair replies: “It’s a false division”, to which the worker responds: “Why the hell didn’t you say that then?”

    The sensible question is about how to actively involve more members and others in decicision making and action. Although I was unable to attend Progressive London, it seemingly has a better chance of delivering that than Ian’s negativity – an approach which gets us where, exactly?

  23. OK, so ignoring Ian Croft as I think it’s best to do, what seems to be the main concern of a couple of people here (or maybe the same person as they’re all anonymous) is that the event served to promote Ken rather than progressive politics. Leaving aside that this is rather a ‘false division’ itself, it just doesn’t stand up.

    Suggesting that the only reason people like Johann Hari – who delivered a super and very well received speech – were invited when Nick Cohen wasn’t is because the former supported Ken’s re-election is a total joke. Nick Cohen has carved out a career for himself sucking up to the powerful, corrupt and murderous. He has sought every opportunity to attack the whole of the Muslim community and all those on the left who dare stand with them. Johann Hari, in contrast, holds a number of views on multiculturalism and race that I do not share. But so do a lot of people on the liberal left. That we should not engage in dialogue with such people is unthinkable.

    It’d be really easy to have held a really small, really undynamic conference where we all agreed with everybody there and everything anybody said. That is the preferred format of most of the far left. However, Ken seems to have a more serious approach of inviting people whom he doesn’t agree with on a range of issues but wanting to discuss the issues where there is agreement. Such as ending the Tory administration in City Hall and stopping Cameron. Such an idea is only controversial to the likes of the ultra-left and elements on the right such as Harry’s Place, of course, who fear it because it’s the correct thing to do.

  24. #27

    Actually the report on Liam’s site is quite interesting, though I am surprised to rad Liam’s reviewer say that they didn’t meeat anyone they knew on the “activist left”, given that I bumped into dozens of people i know who are both activists and leftists, and I don’t even live in London!

  25. In reality, Johann Hari’s views on Islam and Islamism aren’t any better than Nick Cohen’s. The two of them have played a similar role in encouraging anti-Muslim sentiment among readers of the liberal press. And on other issues Cohen does take a leftist stance. See for example his article on Network Rail in Sunday’s Observer.

    Anyone who knows anything about the subject knows that Ken established friendly relations with Hari in the run-up to the 2008 mayoral contest solely because Hari was an influential liberal journalist who had expressed support for Ken’s re-election. Ken even backed off from his entirely accurate criticisms of Tatchell in order to keep Hari on board.

    It’s a feature of sectarian groups that they subordinate the interests of the wider movement to those of their own organisation, make grandiose claims for their own initiatives, claiming that even modest successes represent mass influence, and indignantly reject any criticism of their methods.

    Progressive London looks to me like this sectarian approach writ slightly larger.

  26. #29 ‘Anyone who knows anything about the subject …’

    I’ve never heard anybody who really knew anything about any subject begin her sentence with this.

    ‘Progressive London looks to me like this sectarian approach writ slightly larger.’

    That is actually HILARIOUS. Really brightened up my day.

  27. little black sister on said:

    A “sectarian approach” that invites four different political parties, several trade unions (UNISON, FBU, Unite, GMB, etc), several magazines and newspapers, a whole range of London bloggers, and so on. In fact, a range of speakers and political forces so wide and various that the sectarian left has been howling in complaint.

    Your comments are just drivel.

  28. John E on said:

    Sounds very good, and there was also on Saturday the Right to Work Conference in Manchester, which 900 people attended, I would have thought you would also have a report on that Andy?

  29. Archie the red nose reindeer on said:

    900? Now you’re having a laugh. Lying to the class is not a good habit. Central Hall in Manchester barely fits 500 and only the plenary was close to filling the main hall.

    Nice to see lots of old faces, though!

  30. Anonymous on said:

    “Your comments are just drivel.”

    Presumably that would be as distinct from your own entirely sensible observation that “the speakers and other attendees represented millions of working class people between them”, would it?

    This is what I meant when I criticised the method of organisations making ludicrous claims that their own rather modest achievements demonstrate some sort of mass influence.

    That’s one indication of a sectarian mind-set. Another is responding to reasoned criticism with abuse.

    Incidentally, there’s a critical review of the conference by Dave Hill here.

  31. Archie’s red nose is also a growing one. Both plenaries massively overfilled the hall. The balcony was full, and there were people sitting and standing all the way round and on the stage, you just need to look at the photos.

    There were 850 advance bookings, and many on the door. Even allowing for a lot of no-shows, or people attending only the workshops, 900 is not an unreasonable estimate.

  32. Archie the red nose reindeer on said:

    Of course, the claims from the SWP about numbers, both advanced bookings and actual attendees, are not politically functional in the slightest. It would not have anything to do with the Progressive London conference at all, would it?

  33. Well, archie, as charming as you are, you claimed that the the plenary was only ‘close to filling’ the hall. Except this isn’t true, it massively overfilled the hall. I was there, the pictures prove it.

    Now, if you want to suggest that 900 is an overestimate, then fine. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if the number that attended over the day reached that, and there were 850 advance bookings. But I’m not allowing you to get away with claiming the hall wasn’t even full.

  34. Archie the red nose reindeer on said:

    Source? Or do you live by politically functional anecdote (‘our conference must be bigger than theirs’)?

    The fact is there for you to see. Only your eyes do not wish to see.

  35. Look archie, this is going to be my last comment on the matter. I saw with my own eyes that a hall that is apparently 500 capacity was overflowing, in a way which no doubt violated every health and safety law in the book. Every chair was full. I was sat on the balcony, and next to me were students sat two deep on the steps. There were about 30 people sat on the stage, people standing at the back, and this picture gives an impression of how many people were squeezed between the fron row of seats and the stage:

    My source for the 850 figure is the conference organisers, who I spoke to afterwards. In your view SWP stooges, no doubt. I might add that I am posting under my own name, a quick look at the blog I write for will indicate who I am. I am accountable to the union that paid for me to go to the conference. You are anonymous. And rude.

    I am glad the Progressive London Conference was big. Many of my friends and comrades were involved. I just don’t like it when anonymous people post blatant falsehoods on blogs.