Saturday, January 24, 2009

Progressive London: general thoughts

After seeing that Harriet Harman, Tessa Jowell and Lembit Opik were going to speak at Progressive London I did have second thoughts about going today but in the end I hauled my aching bones, still bruised from the week's activities, down to Congress House, and I'm very glad that I did.

I'd seen a couple of comments out and about that Progressive London is simply a vehicle to get Ken re-elected as London Mayor. I've got two thoughts about that. Firstly it was clearly much more than that - there is a real attempt to start the journey of setting out a progressive agenda for London and mobilise a broad spectrum of forces around real action, like the London Living Wage. Secondly, anyone on the left who wasn't gutted that Ken lost must be pretty far gone.

We're lucky in London in that we have a system where you can stand your own candidate, call for a second preference for the neo-liberal of your choice and no harm done. In fact, I'd say that the Green's Mayoral candidate probably mobilised more votes for Ken than if we'd stood down to give him a free run. It's not statistically verifiable either way unfortunately - but I know we ended up having to persuade people of the case for voting Livingstone 2.

In short if part of the plan is not kicking the Tories out at the next Mayoral elections whilst, simultaneously, promoting an independent leftist agenda then we're missing a trick. Of course only George Galloway explicitly posed the question in terms of a Livingstone re-election campaign because "I really love Ken Livingstone and have done all my political life", but in general people kept a wary distance from stepping on any toes or confronting organisational differences.

The Green New Deal was either implicitly or explicitly the order of the day and economic justice fused with combating climate change was seen as central to any kind of progressive politics. In the series of very interesting sessions people grappled with ideas around housing, energy, democracy, civil liberties, and more. Whilst the wariness around expressing party political points did make for a little bit of an artificial love in at times (barring the rather misjudged, counter-productive heckling at one point) it was also healthy in the sense that people could genuinely explore points of commonality without the desire to one up for their tribe.

We need more of that I think.

Rooms with such different approaches in them can have an exhilarating air to them. Seeing Eric Hobsbawm watch transfixed at Bonnie Greer's meandering, fascinating insights was just a joy to behold. There were a whole number of Greens on the platforms and, apart from the one I missed (Darren Johnson, sorry) I can say they all accounted for themselves very well.

Whether there can be an ongoing movement that comes out of this initiative, well, I suspect that will be difficult, but if it breeds a willingness for the left, centre left and progressive liberals to work together on common causes, well, that's probably a very refreshing way of going about the business of trying to make the world a better place.

detail to come in the morning...


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noel said...

I agree, the Green New Deal did take on a life of its own in the conference, not just a soundbite but with proper substance around rebuilding the economy through green jobs & skills.

But is it enough to bring together politicians from across the “progressive spectrum” to show our solidarity on issues like Heathrow or the living wage which portray that alternative narrative to the government? Is it enough to congratulate ourselves on getting such a massive turnout at the conference? People will be fairly interested in a range of issues but there’ll be one issues that really drives them - whether it’s Gaza or civil liberties - these wedge issues were all represented…but there was no mechanism for people to take these forward from the grassroots…

It slightly astonished me when Ken talked about all the networking to get this conference off the ground, but surely this should be the start of something not just the ultimate hangover cure from the elections?

At our “young london” workshop, the room was packed out - with people but mainly with ideas - mentoring scheme for young people to get into green jobs, youth mayor for London with a capacity building budget, making CRB checks portable, a virtual youth club and cooperative schools. To be honest, with an hour an half and with four exciting speakers that we were keen to listen to as well, as well as competing against other heavweight sessions at the same time, we were scared that either no-one would turn up or not many people would want to put forward, let alone work out together what campaigns we should take forward for young Londoners.

To be even more honest, the winning idea, making CRB checks portable to enable more people (young or old!) to take part in volunteering, isn’t something that we may have thought of on our NEC, but we committed to campaign on idea that won most votes and that’s what we’ll do. In fact, we’ll support people who want to take forward the other campaigns put forward.

Why? Because if you give people an inch, they’ll give you a mile…oh, and because we enabled people to give us their email addresses so we can get in touch with them in doing this. It’s pretty basic, but if you ain’t got their contact details, how are you going to build a progressive coalition?