Progressive Britain: We need to rethink our centre-left politics, not reheat them

Nathan Yeowell
© Ian Vogler

For Labour to successfully change and rebuild its coalition of support in the country, we must change and build new coalitions of support inside the party, too. To this end, Progress and Policy Network came together last weekend to reboot and relaunch as Progressive Britain – a platform for political education, policymaking and imaginative thinking to rebuild Labour and the nation.

Our launch at the Progressive Britain conference could not have come at a more crucial time, for the nation or the party. This week’s damning verdict from the National Audit Office states that Covid has “laid bare existing fault lines within society, such as the risk of widening inequalities, and within public service delivery and government itself”. This reaffirms what Keir Starmer said three months ago: that “the virus crept into the cracks and crevices of… society and forced them open with tragic consequences”.

Everyone in the Labour Party, including those of us on the progressive centre-left, needs to accept some responsibility for the fact that this is where we are as a country. The 2010s were a low decade for the Labour Party, characterised by defeat, division and decay. While we were squabbling over which Miliband brother should be leader, the Conservatives were rapidly dismantling many of Labour’s achievements in government, simultaneously establishing the misleading ‘mess we inherited’ narrative.

We failed to undertake a systematic analysis of our period in government. Nor did we engage in a candid discussion about why we lost in 2010, settling instead for the glib – and self-harming – assertion that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were nothing but Margaret Thatcher’s children, opening the door to the return of 1980s-style protest politics in the process.

With hindsight, we prioritised political positioning and parlour games at Westminster – and we lost in 2015 as a result, delivering the party on a plate to Jeremy Corbyn and the debilitating Sturm & Drang that ensued. After the defeat of 2019, Labour’s journey back to government is now more difficult than it has been for almost a century.

Keir Starmer is correct in his analysis that the United Kingdom “is at a fork in the road”. As he says: “We can attempt to patch up our broken system and hope it works next time. Or we can choose a brighter future, built on security and prosperity for all, one that harnesses everyone’s talents.”

Is the Labour Party equipped to meet and overcome these challenges? The responses to the varied, but ultimately disappointing, results of the elections on May 6th have once again exposed the fault lines within the party, and our collective failure yet to have positioned Labour as an alternative government in eyes of the electorate. 

We can no longer avoid these incontrovertible political facts; divided parties do not win elections, and a Labour Party divorced from mainstream public opinion not only will not win elections, but also has no divine right to exist. As Keir Starmer said clearly at our launch event, “if we are to transform and modernise Britain, we need to transform and modernise Labour”.

Progressive Britain represents a new generation of rising politicians and thinkers in the party who will answer this call. We want to have a conversation with different political traditions and voices. We recognise that no one faction, party or country has a monopoly on new ideas. It has never been more necessary to forge connections with progressive parties across Europe and the US, as President Biden forges a new social contract for America, and social democrats across Europe identify new ways to revitalise their welfare states.

Progressive Britain must confront the parochialism of the UK centre-left. Brexit has happened. So, it is essential that we accept that we are working in a new political landscape and develop policies which address the seismic economic and social challenges that our new relationship with the EU will have upon the people and businesses of our country.

We need to rethink our centre-left politics, not reheat them, in light of the new challenges and new circumstances we face as a country. We must look forwards, not back, and apply our unwavering belief in equality of opportunity and social justice to a rapidly changing world.

Progressive Britain will charter a programme of national and local renewal to rebalance the deep-rooted structural inequalities and injustice, exacerbated by the last decade of Tory rule. We will develop policies that promote growth, provide security, reward aspiration and create opportunities for all.

We’ve launched Progressive Britain to provide the spark and challenge that is missing from the Labour Party: an opportunity to bring some intellectual heft back into progressive politics, hammer out who we are and what we want to do, and get back on the front foot after more than a decade of defeat. We are here to work with Keir to provide the policies and vision Labour needs to get back into government.

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