Keeping Labour grounded to the centre is proving a tough battle for the moderates. Labour First, a pressure group of the old right within the party, has penned a public letter urging the Progress think tank, a voice from the new right, to put aside ideological purity and do whatever it takes to beat Jeremy Corbyn.
Progress, which hosted Tony Blair last week, has naturally endorsed Liz Kendall for leader — but it has not instructed moderate voices to put Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper into second and third preferences to stop Corbyn. Labour First thinks this is a folly and urges Progress to take the necessary steps to beat Corbyn:
‘Within Labour First we have high profile supporters of each of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. As individuals we are working hard for our preferred candidates but collectively Labour First is very publicly calling on people to use their second and third preference votes for the other two mainstream candidates to stop Corbyn winning.
‘We know that Progress has decided to support Liz Kendall and respect that this is the view of your Strategy Board.
‘However, we are concerned that you have not recommended use of second and third preferences to stop Corbyn and that some individual members of your Strategy Board are suggesting not using their second or third votes.
‘We are therefore writing to ask you to consider helping us demonstrate the unity of moderate and mainstream forces in the Labour Party and the strategic priority of stopping a Corbyn victory by amending your position slightly so that as well as continuing to support Liz you join us in recommending people use their second and third preference votes for the other mainstream candidates.’
What makes this letter interesting is that Labour First has been here before. The group was founded in the party’s dark days of the 1980s to combat the influence of Derek Hatton and the Militant tendency. Beating Corbyn for Labour First is the latest round of a battle they have fought before and know how to win. Its membership consists mostly of councillors outside of the party’s metropolitan core, an area that appears to be particularly sympathy to Corbyn. Progress’s membership on the other hand is made up of the liberal intelligentsia.
Whether telling supporters how to vote has any impact at all, Labour First has correctly identified that Corbyn can not be trumped on first preferences alone. It’s not clear who the Anyone But Corbyn candidate is yet — or if they will be one — but the moderates within Labour have to realise tactical second and third preferences are key if they want to beat Corbyn.