Progressive London conference: live blog

January 24, 2009 12:12 pm


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Final session

Labour PPC for Streatham, Chuka Umunna, is chairing.

Jon Cruddas opens the session, talking about how we combat fascism whilst maintaining humanist and multicultural values. He calls for the re-appropriation of funds for Trident.

He advocates a ‘progressive populist agenda’ for the future, and says that the first thing that springs to mind following such a statement is Ken Livingstone. Green Party AM Jenny Jones tells us, rather predictably, that we all have to go green. Not that we disagree.

She says that the idea of sustainability vs the economy is false, and presumably rejects on that basis the redevelopment of Heathrow.

She challenges Boris to abandon false environmentalism, which is characterised by making single groups responsible for making the change, rather than the whole of society, sustainable solutions which cause problems later on (she cites biofuels), and by solutions advocated as the sole answer to problems. She quotes Al Gore, who said ‘there is no such thing as a silver bullet, there is just silver buckshot’.

Jones goes on to argue that greening society and government will be cheaper now, rather than later.

And, apparently, Boris as Mayor is the saddest thing ever. Especialy listening to him and being in the same building! On a serious note, she accuses him of rolling back on Ken’s green policies; she said that Ken’s former policies would have made London a world leader in environmental mitigation.

She praises Ken for being a non-sectarian proponent of the open tent, and characterises that as a step to a workable collectivism.

Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer MP has been put in charge of fighting the Heathrow expansion by Nick Clegg, and is next to speak. We’re sceptical to any Nick Clegg ‘appointment’, but our minds are open!

She says that the future is on the left, not the right. Does her boss agree with this?

She laughs at Cameron and Osborne’s alleged passion for social justice, pointing out that this has never been a reason that people join the Conservative Party, especially during the Thatcher era. She worries about another Old Etonian PM.

In echoes of Peter Mandelson’s recent call for ‘a new industrial activism’, she criticises the Britain’s over-reliance for the last twenty five years on financial services. Perhaps a weak pound can help to deal with this.

She wants government to deliberately create new industry, especially in the green-collar sector. London needs retro-fitting for energy efficiency (both Ken and Gordon Brown have made big steps towards this in the last two years, Jones calls for it to continue). She says it would be a bad idea to leave the economy to the private sector or the financial services industry in the City.

She also calls for a new approach to Family accross London, to support children through the early years of their development.

She criticises Ken for forgetting about outer London, and feels that people who pay the bulk of taxes feel left out.

These are fair points, but she’s also called for a lot of things to be paid for and an expansion of government investment and planning in industry.


He starts by thanking conference volunteers and sponsors. He goes with an interesting royal blue shirt and yellow tie, perhaps in a nod to the other main parties?

He decries tribalism, and says that the reason he is not a green is that there is no time to make it into a party of government. He says that he has often had more support for social democratic policies, citing tube privatisation in particular, than he has had from his own party; so tribalism would be silly, from his point of view.

He then rips into Cameron and Boris for abandoning their plays to the left.

He then goes on to attack Labour for embracing neoliberalism twoards the end of the neoliberal order.

He recounts a story whereby Metronet asked him to underwrite their debts to keep the banks happy, or they would collapse. He told them where to go, and says that they should have been nationalised.

He says that the government’s fear of the left often puts them on the unpopular side of the public debate, citing Trident. He says nuclear power is based on a ‘macho’ approach to politics.

With reference to Heathrow, he says there will never be an environmentally friendly plane, but also says when he was Mayor, BAA failed to demonstrate a coherent business case for the expansion of Heathrow.

He praises the contraction and convergence approach to green development. He praises the conservative French President for saying that no new motorways would be built for green reasons.

Next, Ken praises Obama for his first few days, especially in closing secret prisons, and sticking to a move towards a green economy.

He changes subject, criticising the notion of the ‘white working class’ as against the ‘working class’. He says that the government’s refusal to build houses to rent has angered the whole working class significantly, and says that we have a big shortfall.

He is even more critical of Boris on housing.

He calls the Daily Mail ‘a vile institution’, and criticises politicians’ obsession with it. He says we should read ‘flat earth news’. He says that if progressives come round to the idea of bending to it, they might as well ‘slash their wrists and give up’.

He criticises the international spread of consumerism as unsustainable, and a predictable pop at the super rich; he says that Robert Maxwell was miserable as sin. He says that Conrad Black felt so unhappy as a millionaire that he stole to become a billionaire; money is not the route to happiness, and this is what progressive politics is about.

Blogger’s fringe


Very topical choice of speakers here, including Adam Bienkov of the Tory Troll, Tom Barry of Boriswatch, and Martin from Mayorwatch.

Martin from Mayorwatch tells us that he thinks that Labour councillors and MPs are ignoring the internet far too much, as if it is somehow beneath them, or simply can’t be bothered, where Tories can. He attributes this to the attitude caused by being in government. It goes without saying that there are some very notable exceptions to this.

He thinks we should be asking what the alternative to an Evening Standard style ‘media state’ is, which naturally leads one to conclude that the net needs a lot more emphasis on politics, particularly among the established left (if you can have such a thing).

Tom Barry tells us how he goes about some of his journalistic endeavours purely by using net research; he can tell, for example, the positioning of the trawler which Boris has used to size up his proposed Thames estuary airport.

Tom is very charismatic and puts a lot of work into what he does.

He makes the point that in Evening Standard world, some source of accountability is required; Boris seems to have retreated into not actually doing much in an attempt to evade any peeping over the horizon. Barry characterises him as ‘the boring mayor’.

Mary Honeyball MEP makes the point that Labour bloggers need to be linked up far better. She also goes on to illustrate how driving more people to blogs like her own could show up just how fringe and nutty European Tories actually are. All fair points, in our view.

The Age of Change


Harriet Harman ends her speech to loud applause, declaring the BNP only need about 8% of the vote to break through into the European Parliament. ‘This would be shameful for Britain just as the US shows the way forward by electing an inclusive, progressive President. This is the time for black and white to unite to fight the BNP. It’s the work of the whole of Team Labour – from the trade unionists to students, from retired members to councillors, MPs and MEPs.’


Harriet Harman uses the platform as an opportunity to address the threats of the BNP, and the plan to end their ‘racial hatred, division and despair.’ She says the June 4 elections will be the time Labour draws a line in the sand against the advance of the BNP.

Harriet continues: ‘this country is built on the work not just of British people, but of generations of migrants – they are the key to the success of our future as well as the foundations for prosperity in our past. As the world becomes ever more global in its interconnections, the countries that will face the future with confidence are those who understand and work with the rest of the world. The BNP’s narrow nationalism and xenophobia would undermine our economic future as well as the peace of our communities.’

‘Labour will, with a vigorous door to door campaign, not allow the BNP to peddle their pernicious lies that people have been ‘abandoned by Labour’ It is Labour on the doorstep which will show this to be false and the run up to elections on June 4 will be seized as an important opportunity to do this.’


The main discussion is continuing in Congress Hall. Historian Eric Hobsbawn has declared that while the economic crisis means this is no longer capitalism as we know it, there’s ‘not a social democratic, progressive or Labour politician in the world who believes capitalism is unacceptable’ as our economic model.


Jon Cruddas is chairing the day’s major discussion: The Age of Change. Ken Livingstone opens the sessions with a keynote speech, saying ‘with justice and fairness through progressive policies, London can continue to be the best city in the world.’

The next speaker, Bonnie Greer, has remained sitting for her short speech, but she raises some pertinent and hopeful points: that this moment can be like the 1960s, a great social shift that there can be no going back from; that as black and white intermingle more durind the new century, the term race will disappear; that the term ‘mixed race’ will recede, too, as we are all mixed race if you go far enough back.

Emergency discussion on Gaza and the Middle East:


Tony Benn begins the sessions with an impassioned speech. He apologises for being ‘overcome with emotion’ as he says ‘at times like this, you’re not British or just a man, you’re not a Londoner, you’re not even a Socialist – you’re a human being and people are dying.’

John Haylett adds ‘the international community has got to use the awareness and publicitiy of this crisis and channel it into organisation and action. The international community must act: we’ve got to have the same sanctions we would impose on any other country; we’ve got to stop selling to Israel the arms that allow them to perpetrate this war; we’ve got to suspend the EU-Israel Trade Agreement; and we have to persecute the war criminals if we are to stand for justice for Palestinians.’

Anas Altikriti challenges the BBC’s position on the recent fighting, and calls their impartiality a ‘disgrace.’ He quotes civilians in Gaza interviewed on Al-Jazeera this week, who said ‘we didn’t vote for Hamas, but now, given the chance, we would.’ He adds that ‘love them or loathe them, Hamas is the legitimate representative of the people of Gaza and we have no say in the democratic process of other countries.’

Jeremy Corbyn asks why the BBC didn’t report the peaceful demonstration of 100,000 against Israel’s actions recently, but did focus on the small number of troublemakers at the end of an otherwise successful rally.

Criticism of the BBC is mirrored elsewhere this morning by Douglas Alexander, who described their reporting as a ‘disappointment’.

As the discussion is thrown out to the floor, it loses much of its focus and direction, but it remains an impassioned, if one-sided defence of the rights of the Palestinian people, and the most popular session so far.

What we should learn from the election of Barack Obama:


Sir Robert Worcester opens by assessing the demographics of the percentage swings in the states in play in 2004 and 2008.

Seth Reznick, from Blue State Digital, who ran the Obama website, talks about the importance of emails in connecting with voters, and how Labour might harness its people at the grassroots to improve its fundraising on the internet. He stresses the importance for opening a 2 way dialogue between voters and party, and of putting campaigning tools in the hands of the electorate throught the new media.

Dawn Butler talks about the need to bridge the under-represenation of women and minorities in parliament. She says this is a good opportunity for the Labour party, because we have a Labour president in the White House, who ran largely on Labour promises. She wonders how we can turn the improved volunteerism in the London mayoral elections into increased turnout next time round.

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