Self-definition is the first task of Labour moderates

by Kevin Meagher

Of all the problems facing the sensible wing of Labour politics, perhaps the most elementary is how it refers to itself.

Whoever let the dial settle on ‘moderates?’ The term is a counsel of despair. It summons up a drab, middle-of-the-road minimalism, perennially splitting the difference. Not so much a political vision as an anti-vision. An abdication of belief.

As Antonio Gramsci pointed out, if you control the language you control the debate. So this is where the reinvention of sensible Labour politics must begin: self-definition.

‘Social democrat’ would perhaps be the technical description, but it’s a bit jaded and abstract.

‘Democratic socialist?’ I’ve always thought this a slightly jarring phrase, meant to distinguish us from the undemocratic variety? (Although that great social democrat, Tony Crosland, was said to prefer it).

‘Right-wing’ is problematic for obvious reasons. While ‘centrist’ just conjures-up Roy Jenkins’ smug countenance.

He famously described his politics as the ‘radical centre.’ The times we’re in demand firm, concerted action, just not the impossibilism offered by the hard left. So what about dropping the ‘centre’ bit and embracing radicalism?

Of course, moderates have not helped themselves since 2015.

There’s a maudlin feeling hanging over politics on the moderate/centrist/right of Labour politics, with its adherents reduced to pining for past glories. A sense that their position has been over-run and a general bewilderment about what they’re going to do about it.

Its seen them fall into the worst of all political traps: being predictable. Continuity-Blairites who are easy to dismiss. Redundant. Discredited. Demoralised.

Brexit and the illusory quest for a second referendum have become a temporary distraction, but eventually British politics will return to something resembling normal service. How will they re-engage with Corbyn-led Labour?

I’ve maintained from the beginning that Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate needs to be recognised and respected. There really is no other choice for a democratic organisation.

That doesn’t preclude speaking truth to power – or indeed challenging it – but this should be done sparingly. The decision of jittery MPs to launch a bungled leadership bid against Corbyn in 2016 was a profound mistake.

So first thing first: pick a new name to define centre-left Labour politics. Then contribute some ideas to the mix and engage with where the party is rather than where you would like it to be.

I’m not pretending to have the answers, (so feel free to make your suggestions in the comments thread). As for me, I’ve decided that I’m a ‘practical radical’.

I want to change the world – the left is not having a monopoly on that – but unless it’s done with realistic, workable policies and a welcoming, modern, optimistic and reassuring politics, it either won’t win power at all or won’t be able to sustain itself in office if it does.

This is where the practical bit comes in, with strong leadership, capable of building the widest possible alliance for change. Also by having realistic ambitions and hard-headed priorities. A clear plan for government. Great communications.

Practical. Realistic. Determined. Egalitarian. A response to the temper of the times, as Disraeli put it. The Labour party is not finished and the place of fellow, well, whatever you want to call yourselves, is not beyond hope.

Kevin Meagher is the associate editor of Uncut


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13 Responses to “Self-definition is the first task of Labour moderates”

  1. Henrik says:

    How about “Pragmatic” or “Realistic” Labour? Probably avoid “Continuity” or “Real” Labour, mind.

  2. Alf says:

    “Tory-lite Blair cultists” is probably the best description to use for moderates. That’s what I call them anyway.

  3. paul barker says:

    How about Reformist ? The big thing that Labour & The Tories have had in common is a lack of interest in Reform, preferring hot air.
    Then you could admit just how much Labour Reformists/Centrists/whatevs have in common with Liberal Democrats & Greens & how little with most of The PLP.
    You could stop whingeing in the corners of a Party where you arent wanted & join or create One where you would be more at home.

  4. Ken says:

    ALF- Election winners?

  5. Ultraviolet says:

    The first problem is not in the name, but that there are no policies, there is no vision. This article is another in a long line that talks about the need to have a vision without expounding what that vision should be. And “we don’t think Corbyn should be leader” is neither a vision nor a policy.

    The second problem is that the right of the party never made it clear whether they disagreed with the left’s preferred policy positions because they didn’t think the public would vote for them, or because they thought the policy was wrong.

    How about analysing the 2017 manifesto and explaining which policies you agree with; which you agree with in principle but think should be moderated for electoral reasons; and which you disagree with, and what you think they should be instead?

    If the right did that, then they just might have a coherent alternative offering that they could start to argue for.

  6. Anon says:

    How about just ‘LABOUR’ – representatives of the working UK people.

    If you want to “change the world”, count me out; I’m sick of the Fabian/Progressive/Globalist/Soros/NGO-driven crap.

    I just want a political party to represent me in Parliament.

  7. john says:

    You’ve made a category error at the start, Kevin, by repeatedly using ‘sensible’ as the way to describe yourself, and the politics you believe in. I’d say I’m pretty well to the left of you, but I still think of myself as ‘sensible’, and I’m sure that most of those on the left do. So do most Tories, I’d wager.

    One of the problems that ‘centrism’ has had is that its adherents genuinely do think that everyone else is going mad around them, and that their ‘centre’ is therefore the ‘sensible’ place to be. It’s delusional.

    ‘Practical Radical’ is too convoluted. If I were you I’d go for ‘Radical’, but then actually follow it up with some radical policy ideas – they don’t need to be ‘left’, just interesting. How about McDonnell’s floating of a 4-day week – is that something you can get behind? It doesn’t seem ‘left’ to me, it might be considered ‘practical’, and would certainly be ‘radical’.

  8. paul barker says:

    Sorry if I am repeating myself, I put up a comment which seems to have got lost in the electronic fog.
    The first task for Labour Moderates/Centrists/Whatevs is to admit that you lost & lost big. The “Commanding Heights” of Labour are now controlled by people who wont let go, even if they lose support in some distant future.
    Lab Mods are wasting their time & deep down they know they are, they just dont have the courage to leave.

  9. Anne says:

    I am not sure it is helpful to be naming any part of the Labour Party. We should be working together in what I believe Is called ‘a broad church’ I don’t mind terms such as left or right of the party. Bye the way, I also include Momentum in this as well – we are the Labour Party.
    I am becoming impressed by Rebecca Long Bailey – good response from her regarding funding being pulled from Moorside in Cumbria.
    Brexit is our most pressing concern – the more it goes on the greater mess we seem to be in.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    Whilst you’re arguing semantics why not drop the derogatory term “the Hard Left” and recognize Corbyn and his supporters as true Radical Socialists?

  11. Simon says:

    With all due respect and I have respect for Labour Centrists…You are worrying about how to define yourselves when we have Universal Credit hurting people..Homeless people dying at record levels…Poverty at record levels and Trains and Hospitals in a mess…All this eternal naval gazing maybe breeding resentment with people you want lnside your tent who see the mess this disastrous Govt are causing every day.

    It may be better to look outward..

    “Corbyn is rubbish” “Compassionate Capitalism”….Doesn’t help you or the Country..

    Couldn’t care less what you call yourself…Interested in what you have to offer..

    Get some policies..

  12. Join P Reid says:

    Ultra Violet and John- Brilliant
    Landless peasant- trouble with the middle class momentum liberals backing Corbyn and the Neo liberal EU capitalist club is there’s nothing socialist about no platformung andudentity politics

    Anon- the fabians have now been taken over by Corbynites

    I was thinking of the Blue Labour splits
    the Paul embery very pro corbyn wing who liked Some of the Spiked online people like Julie Bindel & Claire Fox

    The Rowena Davis wing who dislike – the Julie Burchill wing who want to hang Muslim peadophiles and out a very close to the mark article on the Guardian on why Trans aren’t real women and she nearly got arrested for it,

    And the Brendan O’Neill wing who held their nose and voted Tory for the 1st time last year, I’m clinging into blue Labour and brexit as labours last chance to keep the working class vote but I can’t see the Rowena wing having anything in common with the Burchill wing

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