According to John McDonnell, the reason three Labour frontbenchers resigned today is that there is a ‘group within the Labour party who have a right-wing conservative agenda. Within Progress itself, there are some who are quite hard right, and I think they’ve never accepted Jeremy’s leadership’. McDonnell told Channel 4 News that these ‘hard right’ MPs were still welcome in the Labour party because it is a ‘broad church’, but it was clear that he wants to paint Progress, largely a Blairite campaign group, as a menace.
Certainly Progress has a different approach to left-wing politics than McDonnell. And it’s not supportive of the current Labour leadership. But the Shadow Chancellor is citing the wrong Labour faction if he’s looking for a real threat to Jeremy Corbyn. The group he should worry about is Labour First, which represents the Old Right, not the Hard Right, and can name Tom Watson and Michael Dugher as some of its key figures.
Labour First has been trying to ensure that the Corbynites don’t effect a takeover of the Labour party machinery, and as well as saying it was ‘disgusted’ by yesterday’s sacking of Dugher, is also pushing its members to stand for election as CLP delegates for conference so that they can still exert some control over what conference debates and how it votes on policies. It also has a slate of candidates, four of whom it announced this week, for the nominations to the party’s National Executive Committee and National Constitutional Committee. In the briefing recommending Ellie Reeves, Johanna Baxter, Peter Wheeler and Luke Akehurst, the group said:
‘Our primary focus has to be working hard for Labour victories at every level in May, but there are also two key internal processes starting now where we have an opportunity to fight back against the Hard Left and reassert a strong moderate voice within the Labour Party’.
The message added that ‘the 33 member NEC is currently finely balanced between the Hard Left and mainstream members’. Labour First wants to ensure that mainstream or moderate Labourites don’t lose their party entirely. It may or may not fit John McDonnell’s description of the Hard Right, but it’s planning to put up a hard fight.