Parliament was supposed to be in recess this week, with MPs returning to their constituencies for local work. But Theresa May had other ideas, and recess was cancelled – supposedly to deal with that small matter of Brexit. Of course, no big legislative events are actually set to take place, so we’re left with an oddly quiet few days in the Commons.
Filling that void will be news of Labour MPs splitting off. Last week, there was talk in Westminster of a group of six, led by Chris Leslie, announcing a ‘Valentine’s Day’ break-up on Thursday. It didn’t happen, and it was assumed that they would wait until the next meaningful vote. But it now appears that a handful could be splitting off today.
At 10am, a group of Labour MPs (names unspecified) will make an announcement “relating to the future of British politics”. Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Luciana Berger and Mike Gapes are all rumoured to be members of that group. Will they be resigning the whip, forming a new party, unveiling a new “movement”? Tune in later this morning to find out.
Labour activists are divided as to whether to dismiss a breakaway as a “Blairite tribute band”, and celebrate their departure as it could introduce more left-wing MPs into the fold, or instead to urge those with similar politics to stay. John McDonnell warned yesterday that it “would be like the 1980s”, when a split “installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade”.
One group that knows where it stands is Labour Together. As you might guess from the name, they are all about promoting constructive conversations across the labour movement and across party factions, which means keeping the party together. It is timely, then, that they will be guest editing LabourList this week.
This week Labour Together is taking over LabourList. We are a network for activists from all traditions of the labour movement to explore new ideas and thinking on the future of the left. Each day we’ll be exploring some of the deep and difficult questions that our movement must answer. Today we are starting with power.
Labour has always been concerned with the inequalities of wealth and opportunity that hold people back. But we talk much less about the inequalities of power that underpin them. The reason many inequalities persist is because people lack the power to bring about change on their own terms. Labour needs to make sure our country works for everyone – and that means opening up power to everyone.
In an era where trust in politics is so badly damaged, democracy needs to be about much more than putting a cross on a ballot paper every few years. Real democracy means giving people more space to make decisions in the workplace, in the community, and over the public services they use. Involving people in decisions that directly affect them leads to better decision-making and can restore trust in our political system. We can open up the creativity that exists in our communities and in civil society. We can create a politics that moves away from paternalism to participation.
This would represent a shift away from the outdated top-down state of the past and the Tories’ marketised state towards the collaborative state – more open, networked, participative and hopeful. It would mean a radical devolution of power out of Whitehall to the nations, regions, towns, cities and communities that make up our country.
We are living through a time of immense change and this opens up new challenges in terms of how power is shifting in our society. While new technology opens up the the opportunity for innovation, it also opens up new frontiers in the fight for a more equal society, such as the control and ownership of data. It’s also about power in terms of our relationships with each other, from gender to class, we need to understand how these dynamics can be equalised. The future will be shaped by these big questions and Labour must find the right answers.
The Power Project, launched today, is trying to help us find these answers. It will be open and participative so any Labour member or supporter can take part. We’ve already spoken to four Labour members from different parts of our movement to tell us what they think about power in our society. There’s a questionnaire so you can provide your own views. As Jon Cruddas says in his opening article introducing our guest edit, the answers to the deep, difficult questions won’t be found at a political podium. We must all work together to explore how power can be opened up to everyone.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.