Last weekend was the founding conference of a new Labour Party organisation called Open Labour. Tristan Grove, Young Fabian was in attendance and shares his thoughts.
Last weekend was the founding conference of a new Labour Party organisation called Open Labour. Its aim? Nothing less than building a ‘new consensus’ in Labour and on the left in general, based ‘around key shared values and principles’. They also want to act as a ‘rallying point for those who feel alienated by the intolerance and inflexibility which has emerged in too much of our party’.
An audacious aim indeed, but one they seem to be having some success with. Their founding conference was by almost all accounts a great success, where they managed to keep factional strife – for the most part – to a minimum. No small achievement in the present climate – particularly given the conference’s keynote speakers, Ed Miliband and Corbyn’s ex-attack dog Owen Jones.
Some of the most interesting ideas of the day, however, came not from these high-profile platform pacers, but from slightly less well-known figures, such as the former Chair of the Co-operative Party, Karin Christiansen. While Jones and Miliband set off on quite par for the course analyses of our ‘interesting times’ (‘a lack of vision on both sides of the Labour Party’, ‘we’ve failed to win over older people’ etc…) Christiansen offered practical and little-considered insights.
Discussing They Work for You and the other open source sites that hold government and business to account, for example, Christiansen noted that ‘democracy isn’t just voting – it’s a whole system that we need to protect.’ And she stressed that much of this system is buttressed by little-appreciated and under-funded websites like openDemocracy and They Work for You – websites with dangerously precarious funding structures. ‘We need them,’ she emphasised, ‘because they are defending the rules of the game’. In ‘interesting times’ like ours, it is practical insights like these that we need most of all.
Open Labour’s founding conference was, for the most part then, a great success. Drawing a large audience not just from the ‘soft left’, but from much of Labour’s ideological spectrum, it managed what few Labour organisations have recently: it created a largely civil and open forum for policy discussion. The group’s aims for the coming year are highly ambitious, however, and it remains to be seen whether they can achieve them. But their conference was a strong start.
The great tragedy, of course, is that the group needs to exist at all. It speaks volumes about the state of the Labour Party that it took the foundation of a new organisation to achieve open and civil policy discussion: something that used to be normal in what was once the UK’s other party of government.
Tristan Grove is a Young Fabians member.
The Fabians do not take a position and the views expressed are those of the author only.