Labour must not return to factional warfare

One of Labour's great achievements under Ed Miliband has been to encourage an open and transparent debate about our future while avoiding the kind of destructive infighting which characterised the party's behaviour the last time we lost office in 1979.

I'm really proud of the many great things the government in which Michael Meacher served for six years under Tony Blair did to rebuild our public services, fight poverty and make Britain a fairer, more equal country.

That is why I find it so disappointing that Michael has chosen to align himself with the small hard left minority of the party that seem intent on attacking Progress and reigniting the kind of divisive, factional warfare which, as Michael well knows, was so damaging to Labour in the early 1980s.

We really cannot return to the days where conversations within the Labour party become more important than our conversations with the electorate. I cannot, however, allow the criticisms of Progress to go unanswered. In his piece, Michael refers to "detailed recent investigations" into the organisation. I am afraid he is being rather coy here. The document to which Michael links was, in fact, an anonymous dossier posted to constituency party secretaries and councillors at their home addresses over recent weeks.

It is a great shame that time and money which could have been used attacking the Tories and helping Labour to develop an election-winning agenda was instead deployed producing and mailing a document which contains multiple inaccuracies and gross misrepresentations.

But equally disappointing is the fact that the author of that document chose to hide behind a cloak of anonymity and that Michael decided to repeat charges which Progress had already comprehensively answered.

One of the most refreshing things about Ed's leadership of the party has been his total intolerance of the kind of anonymous briefings which proved so damaging to Labour during our last years in government. We must not allow such tactics to resume.

Another hallmark of Ed's leadership which I hoped Michael would have joined the rest of the party in welcoming is the encouragement of pluralism and free and open debate within Labour's ranks. There are many points of view within the party with which I profoundly disagree. However, I have always believed that, as a party, we are strengthened by all those who are genuinely committed to the election of a future Labour government having their say. That's why I welcome Compass's place within the party and why we have held joint events with them and co-operated where we have common goals.

In my experience, playing the ball and not the man is always preferable in politics. I would, therefore, encourage Progress's critics to join us in a comradely debate about ideas, rather than trying to delegitimise those with whom they disagree. It is a shame, therefore, that there is not one mention in Michael's piece of The Purple Book, described by the Guardian as "the first concerted attempt to set out a new agenda for Labour", which Progress published last year.

I notice, too, that Michael appears determined to suggest that Progress is somehow antipathetic to the leadership of the party. This is a somewhat strange charge to make of an organisation of which Ed was, until the general election, a vice chair and which will welcome him as the keynote speaker at its annual conference for the second year running this May. More broadly, I'm really pleased that already this year we have had members of the shadow cabinet like Rachel Reeves, Douglas Alexander, Chuka Umunna, Liam Byrne, Jon Trickett, Ivan Lewis, Sadiq Khan, Stewart Wood, Liz Kendall and Peter Hain, speaking at the events Progress has been organising to debate the new centre-ground that Ed described at conference last September.

I am grateful that, despite the strenuous efforts of some to paint Progress as a "party within a party", Michael recognises the utter ridiculousness of comparisons with Militant. I hope, too, that on reflection he will see that it is Progress's opponents, with their intolerance of views with which they disagree, continual questioning of people's motives and apparent desire to collapse Labour's big tent, who are the real heirs to Militant.

As for Progress, we will not be distracted from our task, which is to work flat out to secure a Labour victory under Ed Miliband's leadership at the next general election. We will contribute ideas to Labour's policy debates - some will no doubt be accepted, while others will not. However, Progress is not simply a magazine. It is also a campaigning organisation. So we will continue to organise campaign sessions for Labour up and down the country. Labour is stronger for being a broad church, both organisationally and ideologically. Let's keep it that way.

Robert Philpot is director of Progress

Photo: Getty Images
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I'll vote against bombing Isis - but my conscience is far from clear

Chi Onwurah lays out why she'll be voting against British airstrikes in Syria.

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/Isis from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

My constituents have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share their thoughts. Most recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP.

I said it would be this.

I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of British citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideology that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its international development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a “clear conscience” ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, and we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

A version of this article was originally sent to Chi Onwurah's constituents, and can be read here