Thoughts from Progressive London

10:47 pm - January 30th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    

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Today’s Progressive London conference was packed out. And by that I mean packed out. Clearly that means there is a hunger amongst lefties to find ways to hit back at the right and find out what people are doing.

Our session on new media and politics was very enjoyable, and Clifford Singer, Andy Newman, Alex Smith and Helen Gardner all made excellent points, I thought.

But let’s look at the bigger picture here. The problem with Progressive London is that it is billed as a broader left response to Conservatives in London. And while it does bring together a wide tent (too wide in some cases), it ends up merely being Ken Livingstone’s re-election vehicle.

London does need an independent left-wing response to the Conservatives in London. And some of the sessions did go over the issues (transport issues, how to frame Boris) but others completely missed the mark or had little relevance to London politics (1 year after Gaza, The cost of war, Why the Tories are not Progressive). Plus, it didn’t have enough London Libdems.

And so the problem is: beyond Ken, does this have any chance of being a movement or an activist base? I suspect not. Which, for lefties in London, is a problem worth recognising. The event also invited a whole range of old, stale voices because they were Ken’s friends and would have been helped more by having more vibrant activist groups present – in particular London Citizens.

Amongst Labour MPs there is an element of desperation in the air, which was evident there. Harriet Harman did not get a good reception at all from the audience after she made her keynote speech, which is significant since she was addressing the soft-to-socialist left base. This is mostly because other than raise the spectre of ‘evil Tories‘ and hark back to legislation like the Minimum Wage, there was no vision that outlined what a future Labour government could bring in contrast to the Tories. Perhaps they would cut less front-line services.

And so the big story today, the narrowing of the gap between Labour and Conservatives, is not as interesting as the story that Labour is lagging because it’s own base is not likely to turn out.

According to the Mirror, Labour is on 32% / Cons on 40% with a 52% turnout. But Labour would be on 34% and Cons on 38% with a 78% turnout. The latter isn’t happening obviously but it points to the deep disappointment the Left feels with New Labour, and how it will impact their chances of re-election.

Nevertheless, Ken has to be applauded for bringing something together that gives many of us an opportunity to network, meet and listen to some interesting thoughts. The talent and ideas are out there, they just have to be sifted through.

Progressive London would work better as an independent project which looks less like a re-election vehicle and more like an ideas factor to take on the right. The problem, many have said, is that Ken is too loyal to people who have become a liability. Unfortunately that still holds true. The left needs new blood, fresh ideas and new direction. That won’t be come from some of the people (including from New Labour) who were there today.

Update: Both Andy Newman and Kevin Blowe have more thoughts

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

Interesting re the polls, there was an article on pb a while back suggesting that a higher turnout would help the Tories (which surprised me, I always thought Tory supporters were more likely to go out and vote hence low turnout would be good for them).

Spot on Sunny.

“The event also invited a whole range of old, stale voices because they were Ken’s friends and would have been helped more by having more vibrant activist groups present – in particular London Citizens.”


Particularly annoying were Ken’s hard-left chums who joined in his INSANE eulogising of China.

I actually thought a lot of the debates were pretty poor in quality. The Fabian conference was about a 1000 times better; interesting speakers, good chairs, vibrant discussions with genuine disagreement and interesting debate.

(Though, in fairness to Harriet Harman today, I thought that overall she delt with my curve-ball question on inequality pretty well, given that what I was basically saying is “you’ve had 13 years to sort out equality, don’t tell us you’re the party of equality when you’ve proved to be worse than the Tories” – certainly, she was better on her answer to me than in her dull, dull, party-line speech).

Spot on re the turnout. This was something that occurred to me reading Laurie’s last – yeah, the Tories haven’t closed the deal, yeah, Cameron isn’t really trusted, but… aside from those of us who tribally dislike the Tories or who (rightly) are worried about what they do, where’s the positive reason to support Labour?

We know turnout is much lower in working-class areas, and if it’s a constituency Labour can win comfortably on a 30% turnout, they won’t bother. As Cruddas keeps saying, New Labour’s brilliant success in targeting the swing voter means the base gets neglected. Endless “let them eat SureStart” columns from Polly Toynbee really don’t help.

There is some polling evidence that the class war strategy plays well with Labour voters and just might fire them up a bit. But the government don’t seem to be focused on energising the base. If there was different coming out of Ken’s hootenanny, it would be nice to hear it.

4. Mike Killingworth

Isn’t the basic problem that Labour has been in office for nearly 13 years and is therefore exhausted? The only tireless minister appears to be Mandelson, who is pursuing his own, more-Thatcherite-than-Thatcher agenda.

It’s all very well not wanting Ken to stand for Mayor for a fourth time, but only if you have some new bright-and-shiny candidate to suggest instead. (David Lammy may decide he’s achieved all he’s going to in the HoC, of course, but is he really that new, bright or shiny?)

I’m actually suprised at how similar Boris has been to Ken, a few examples of “gesture politics” aside. (But then I’m old enough to remember the 1973 GLC election, when the Tories were proposing to complete the “motorway box”. That one did make a difference.

And one last thought, tongue in cheek – perhaps, Sunny, you could get Kate or Laurie to write a piece on why women don’t want to be Mayor…


Tthe opportunity for a genuinely independent progressive coalition was in 2000, when Livingstone was elected as an Independent candidate in spite of the ferocious opposition of the Labour party. Such a coalition never happened because Livingstone felt he had no need for it – but almost as soon as he had been humiliated in 2008, ‘Progressive London’ suddenly appeared as a platform for Ken’s personal ambition. It has reappeared now because Livingstone sees a chance to have a greater influence within Labour after the forthcoming general election.

So don’t take this the wrong way, but the main reason you and most other bloggers were invited to the conference yesterday was because collectively you are a ‘tiny-bit’ obsessive about the day-to-day activities of Boris Johnson. I’m sure the workshop on ’new media and the election’ was interesting, but how does it feel to be courted as prospects for the unpaid research department and (cough) ‘Twitter mob coordinators’ of the Elect Ken in 2012 campaign?

There are already other attempts to bring together a progressive left-wing coalition, such as the Convention of the Left for example. All of them may also be flawed, but at least they are not based entirely around the career fortunes of one politician – a politician, for that matter, who managed to be beaten by an Etonian toff famous for acting like an idiot…

Kevin, but how does it feel to be courted as prospects for the unpaid research department and (cough) ‘Twitter mob coordinators’ of the Elect Ken in 2012 campaign?

I am on record as having said I oppose Ken Livingstone running again.

It’s not that I’m opposed to Ken – I quite like him – I just think the polls are against him. He doesn’t have the numbers to win against Boris.

I was there to meet people, network and try and fire up some some people who were interested in new media about what the left needs to do on the web. None of it was about helping defeat Boris directly…

Paul – I agree, though I think they pitch it differently. I think PL is more about hearing from progressive voices on an issue, whereas the Fabian conf is about the debate and disagreement about an issue. If I was holding a LC conference – I doubt I’d invite Tories to come and offer their perspectives.

SS – agreed.

7. Mike Killingworth


It’s not that I’m opposed to Ken – I quite like him – I just think the polls are against him. He doesn’t have the numbers to win against Boris.

I would ask you who does have those numbers were it not for the fact that the Mayoral election will be contested as a referendum on the first two years of the Cameron government’s systematic destruction of the 1945 settlement. If Boris wins in those circumstances we are all f***ed utterly, completely and forever.


I was at the conference yesterday and particularly enjoyed the session on new media and the election that Sunny spoke in, it made me aware of several left wing blogs including this one that I had never heard of. I think that my main problem with the conference was that it focused too much on London. I know it was hosted by Progressive London but a lot of the main issues were to do with beating the right in a general election and wide ranging issues affecting the rest of the country. My point is this, the voters that need to be convinced to come out and vote Labour aren’t just in London, but are across the whole country. During the Climate change debate I asked Ed Miliband what the government had planned to encourage people from other big cities to use public transport, and in particular on the subject of congestion charges but he didn’t give a straight answer. And I do agree with you over the issue of the Labour MPs looking tired, when Harriet Harman gave her speech audience members were disgruntled over a wide range of issues regarding Labour, and the Iraq/Afganistan war in particualar following Tony Blair’s performance in front of the Chilcot Enquiry the day before.

The event was good fun – and, at times, inadvertently funny – but for the fragments that can be grouped together under the indistinct banner of “left” it was mightily depressing. Half the talks covered how grim it’ll be under the Tories – with little hope of staving them off – and half outlined a vision for Labour – with no idea of how to get it implemented. In the end, it was a kind of insular radicalism; lefties taking shelter from the worsening storms.

More importantly in the news..

Back off Luty you thugs!

Thought the new media session was the best of the day, and totally agree with your response above. Very glad somebody in the audience made the point about comments on blogs – some blog spaces, especially BBC News ‘Have Your Say’ are effectively a platform for the far right. Also v. interesting point about women bloggers. Has given me the oomph to start writing online (Andy Newman’s throwaway comment about women not being able to hack the insults hasn’t put me off!).

“If I was holding a LC conference – I doubt I’d invite Tories to come and offer their perspectives.”

See, I would.

I’d pick them carefully, mind. But there are Tories/rightists that can reason and argue forcefully, and who are worth having around to keep our side sharp and prevent laurel-resting.

So Tim Worstall would get an invite (loath as I am to say it), and probably so would Tim J who comments on here, because he’s wrong about everything but constructive and intelligent in the way he puts it across.

I know Shatterface antagonises you no end, but he often makes good points and is worth responding to (usually).

A lad at my site called Dan, who’s a hard-core libertarian, would be worth inviting because he actually is very intelligent and worth engaging with. That Thomas Byrne who you let run a guest-post a few weeks ago is sensible enough. Sometimes Pagar is as well.

Sure, I’d make them a massive minority. But I reckon having some dissent on pannels is healthy.

When John Ross was spouting China apologism yesterday, not a single panel-member spoke out against him. I was pretty disappointed with that. Indeed, my estimation of Jon Cruddas fell considerably as a result (especially as he simply trots out the same anecdotes every time I hear him speak).

Paul Sagar, are you the one who heckled the speakers in the economy session? Because everyone else thought that was really rude. All John Ross seemed to be pointing out is that their investment levels in China are the reason they didn’t fall into recession when the rest of the world did. And that that is something the left here could learn from, because it proves we need more state investment, not less. He specifically said this had nothing to do with China’s ‘stasi’ and that the two are separate. If it wasn’t you who interrupted, I apologise, but the person who did just came across as ranty.

I thought the conference was very interesting. I probably didn’t agree with most of the speakers there, but that is quite refreshing for a lefty conference, where the instinct from a lot of people is to just invite people they agree with on 99% of stuff. I learnt a lot too – on housing and education for example. I agree with Sunny that Harriet Harman went down terribly but do not agree on it being a vehicle for Ken – it wasn’t exactly a secret that he is standing – Jon Cruddas introduced him as ‘the next mayor of London’ – and there was plenty of Labour bashing going on. It was far too polycentric a day for it to be just for this end and I think you do the day a disservice.

Sunny is too negative. The conference was packed. And not just with familiar faces. There were plenty of younger people there and more black and brown faces than you find at a usual Labour Party event. It demonstrates that the politics that Ken represents still has a huge appeal to Londoners.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Thoughts from Progressive London

  2. Lauren Ivory

    RT @libcon: Thoughts from Progressive London

  3. rssGreatLondon

    LONhap> Liberal Conspiracy » Thoughts from Progressive London…

  4. rssGreatLondon

    LONhap> Liberal Conspiracy » Thoughts from Progressive London…

  5. Leon Green

    RT @pickledpolitics Some thoughts from yesterday's Progressive London and a left response to London Tories:

  6. Mike Power

    Shorter Sunny. Progressive London Conf. packed. But mostly with the same old twats who are anything BUT 'progressive'.

  7. Samuel Tarry

    RT@pickledpolitics Some thoughts from yesterday's Progressive London and a left response to London Tories:


    […] argument”, alongside Clifford Singer, Alex Smith and Helen Gardner and Sunny Hundal, whose report of the event is here. The chair was Kevin Mcguire of the daily Mirror. It was good to meet people in the flesh. I […]

  9. claire french

    RT @libcon Thoughts from Progressive London

  10. alexsmith1982

    Andy Newman of Socialist Unity has a round up of #prolondon as does @PickledPolitics

  11. sunny hundal

    Some thoughts from yesterday's Progressive London and a left response to London Tories:

  12. Tom Griffin

    RT @pickledpolitics: Some thoughts from yesterday's Progressive London and a left response to London Tories:

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