Wednesday, 28 September 2016

My Guardian letter on leaving Labour, need for a new party and the trashing of Labour's record

Your coverage of Tom Watson’s excellent speech (, 27 September) noted that he called on Labour to stop “trashing the record” of the Blair and Brown governments but failed to mention his leading role in the “coup” against Mr Blair in 2006, which hastened his resignation a year later, prompting him to describe Watson’s actions as “disloyal, discourteous and wrong” and a “totally unnecessary attempt to unseat the party leader, less than 15 months after our historic third term victory”.

The Labour party’s “brand” (as Mr Watson puts it) has been in decline ever since Blair stood down as prime minister in 2007. From that moment onwards, the Labour party has chosen to move towards the left despite evidence that this takes them away from the interests of a majority of voters. It is ironic that the hopes of Labour moderates are embodied by someone who helped end the premiership of the most successful Labour leader in the party’s history.

I wish Mr Watson well in speaking up for moderate policies in the Labour party. However, increasing numbers of moderates such as me have concluded that if the PLP will not take action to defend moderation within then it is best to work towards a new centre-left party outside parliament.

John Slinger (Labour party member from 1991 to September 2016)
Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism

Online at The Guardian here

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

My LabourUncut blog on leaving the Labour Party & the need for a new centreleft party

With Corbyn as the Labour frontman it’s time for a new centre left band

by John Slinger

At Labour’s ruling body last week, deputy leader Tom Watson described his reforms as “putting the band back together”. As someone who’s played in rock bands for as long as I’ve been a Labour member, I know that there comes a time when most bands split, usually over ‘artistic differences’ or arguments how to get a record deal. For me that time has come.

Having worked with Jeremy Corbyn in parliament in 2003, I know he’s a principled and decent man. But he’s the wrong frontman for a band that at its best is capable appealing to the masses, Oasis or Blur-style (I’m showing my age). Like all bands with ropey songs but genuinely held delusions of grandeur, Jeremy and his managers have found a niche market of devoted fans who cheer him to the rafters as a rock god. Everyone knows the euphoric feeling of seeing ‘your’ band, singing songs for you amidst a crowd of like-minded people. After the gig you return to the real world and discover that not everyone shares your musical tastes. I suspect that Labour members will experience this when they knock on the doors of ordinary voters in the coming weeks.

This isn’t about bands or even principally the future of the once great Labour Party, but about British democracy. It’s vital that any government faces a strong opposition, capable of holding them to account and which is a credible alternative for the time when the people choose to kick out the incumbents. The public doesn’t regard Corbyn and his underperforming front bench as anywhere near up to the task. They hear about the Corbyn-supporting Momentum organisation and they remember how Militant infiltrated Labour in the 80s.
I don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn: he won fair and square. Labour moderates weren’t as well organised and didn’t put up good enough candidates against him. Moderate MPs took some action by resigning from the shadow cabinet and passing a no confidence motion. But ‘their’ Labour Party is now well and truly in the hands of Jeremy and his groupies. No matter how many times we shout out for the old classic winning songs or some new hits, Jeremy has the microphone and no-one can wrestle it from his grip.

Many moderates now say “Stay In Labour” wanting to square a circle by remaining loyal to the party, accepting Jeremy’s increased mandate, yet fighting from within for moderate policies. Since leadership challenges have failed twice, they now demand shadow cabinet elections, presumably to surround Jeremy with moderates who disagree with him on policy direction. This is surely futile given that he wants to “democratise” policy-making by boosting the power of a membership which overwhelmingly backs him. The unpalatable dilemma is to show unity by agreeing with a leader you disagree with, or disagree with him and perpetuate a battle that you cannot win. All the while, the lack of a credible leader or policies brings electoral decimation ever nearer.

Moderate members like me aren’t prepared to allow Corbyn the luxury of leading Labour into the electoral abyss in the vain hope that this dose of real democracy will banish the hard left forever. Increasing numbers of us are concluding that unless Labour MPs take a lead within Parliament, a new centre-left party should be formed outside Parliament that reflects the pragmatism and decency of the British public by rejecting the old divides of left and right. Hopefully it would attract some Labour MPs and peers, but also those from other parties. More importantly it could be an exciting new home for the millions of voters in the centre of politics on whose support electoral victory depends. They haven’t gone anywhere, but they have nowhere to go.

A new party must be strong in the places that ‘hard left Labour’ and the Conservatives are weak: for example out-manoeuvring the Tories on public sector reform by being more compassionate and attracting support away from hard-left Labour by showing strength on law and order and defence. Crucially, it must have true proportional representation as a central policy aim to help end fissures within the major parties and heal voters’ sense of alienation by better reflecting their views.

John Prescott once said “the tectonic appear to be moving”, yet sensible Labour members and MPs seem paralysed by their loyalty to a fading brand, belief that they can wear Corbyn and co down and that there is a way back for moderation. Labour has no right to electoral support: under Corbyn it can only lose the respect of the public. It’s time to get ahead of the curve and give voters a credible alternative to the Tories. If Labour cannot fulfil this role then Britain needs a new band in the centre that listens to what a majority of the public care about, sings better songs, plays gigs that are attended by more than just the die-hard fans of the hard left and starts winning again.

John Slinger was a member of the Labour Party from 1991 until September 2016, was previously a member of the party’s National Parliamentary Panel, Vice-Chair of a Constituency Labour Party, a local election candidate and researcher to Labour MPs in the House of Commons between 2003-2006. He chairs Pragmatic Radicalism (

Online at LabourUncut here

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Simon Pegg's excellent words on the enduring allure of Star Trek in our isolationist world

Brilliant and strangely prescient from Simon Pegg while interviewed about the latest Star Trek movie, which he co-wrote.

Regarding the enduring appeal of the Star Trek universe he said:

"I think it offers a huge amount of hope. I think it's an incredibly optimistic story. It's not like Star Wars, which is a fairy tale, that's set in a different galaxy, far, far away, it's not us, it has nothing to do with our lives. 

"Star Trek is our future. Star Trek is the possibility that we might all learn to put everything aside and work together and move out into the galaxy in this incredibly hopeful, fun, exciting, humorous, bright place. 

"And it offers a universe which is infinitely diverse, infinite combinations. And I think often people will dismiss Star Trek fans as being like oh they're the sort of nerdy fringes of society type of people. Some of them are and some of them find it a place where they can feel acceptance and can feel a place where they would be accepted, where they wouldn't feel awkward. 

And I think that's what Star Trek offers. It offers total acceptance. And that's a really attractive proposition, at a time when isolationism seems to be fashionable, it's a future where we're just all together, we're all doing one thing. Yeah we're still fighting aliens, sure, but at least we're doing it as a team".

Monday, 25 July 2016

My Times letter on how the most important electorate for Labour is the British people

Sir, “Democracy” is a much-contested concept, particularly within the Labour Party, with many claiming that Jeremy Corbyn has a democratic mandate to carry on as leader. However, if he were to win, Theresa May is very likely to call an early general election and the people will give their democratic verdict on a once-great party: our likely annihilation in parliament.

To avert this, Labour members must confidently assert that the most important electorate is not the PLP, the shadow cabinet, Labour members, supporters or trade union members; it is the people of this country who need a party capable of governing for the whole nation from a modern, progressive, centre-left platform.

It will be a tragedy for Labour and a dangerous turn for democracy if the internal “democracy” of a party heralds a period of virtual one-party rule during such dangerous times.

John Slinger

(Labour Party member since 1992)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

My Progress blog: Labour’s muscular moderates must find their voice

Labour’s muscular moderates must find their voice

The Conservatives have risked our prosperity and place in the world by indulging their internecine war over Europe. In past decades, this would mean Labour challenging for power, yet our own neuroses now risk the creation of one-party Tory rule for a generation. The Tories ruthlessly selected a capable, credible leader while we are paralysed by a leader who does not command the support of most of his members of parliament. The Tories are parking their tanks on the pragmatic, radical middle ground of politics while we display to the public a party increasingly captured by those who value protest above power. Now more than ever, it is in Labour’s interests, but more importantly, the national interest, for moderates to win the argument about the future of centre-left politics.

Adopting ‘muscular moderation’ is essential, given the current trend where politicians on the extremes create a veneer of ‘authenticity’ by offering inauthentic, simplistic solutions to complex problems or gain admiration for ‘speaking the truth’ by distorting the truth, or at worst, appealing to base prejudices. Yet there is hope, for the vacuum being filled by those on the extremes was in large part created by the absence of muscular, moderate voices. Political nature may abhor a vacuum, but prefers one to be filled by a strong centre.

In 2007, 2010 and 2015, Labour turned away from an election-winning constituency of voters in the middle ground. I wrote last July that we would step ‘through the looking glass’ if we elected Jeremy Corbyn. We remain trapped in this Wonderland, as the NEC vote showed yesterday. Yet amid the surreality, people ranging from MPs to ordinary members are regaining the confidence to call out the distortions. Hard facts are beginning to shatter the illusions that bewitched so many. Labour frontbenchers were right to resign and express publicly a conclusion that many reached last summer: Jeremy Corbyn is not a leader capable of winning a general election. This should be asserted without malice. I worked with him in 2003 when I was coordinator of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of which he was vice-chair. Now as then, I respect him for his personal decency.

Our criticism must not be based on personality but on principle, something which the hard left do not monopolise. First, we must challenge the hypocrisy of Corbyn supporters who condemn his critics as ‘traitors’ despite his record of voting against the Labour whip 500 times and himself backing Tony Benn’s challenge against Neil Kinnock in 1988. We must utterly condemn violence and intimidation in our politics, whether it comes from the left or right, not least following the appalling murder of Jo Cox and the continuing intimidation of moderates within the Labour party. We must dismiss the distortion that ‘moderates’ are an aberration or ‘Tory-lite’. Collectively, moderates worked to ensure that Labour won three elections, putting our principles into action, showing that exercising political power beats protest politics.

We must assert that moderation is not weakness; rather it is a strength because it goes with the grain of life. It accepts that solutions to complex problems do not fit into neat boxes, that progress can only come through compromise, that opponents are not always wrong and that collaboration trumps conflict.

Only muscular moderates are capable of holding the Tories’ feet to the fire for the mess they created on the European Union while working constructively to protect the national interest, as shown by Chuka Umunna’s new Vote Leave Watch grassroots campaign, designed to hold Leave to account for its ‘overblown, misleading claims’. We must acknowledge that the British people might wish to express their democratic opinion about the final deal negotiated with Brussels, particularly if this exposes Brexit Britain as a false-promise land.

An improved policy programme must be developed urgently, not least in light of Theresa May’s leadership campaign speech that mimicked many of Ed Miliband’s best ideas on making our economy work for all and was firmly in the One Nation tradition. She is seeking to fill the vacuum on the centre-ground and we must not let her. We must rebuild relations with the business community, rediscover our reforming zeal based on what works rather than ideologies long abandoned by most voters, and above all we must champion aspiration by building a society with genuine equality of opportunity.

When the Brutus-like attacks subsided, May became prime minister, showing that in times of crisis parties serious about government turn to muscular moderation rather than ideology-infused rhetoric of protest. The post-referendum dawn is shining a light on our politics, exposing unpleasant contradictions in both major parties that we knew could not persist. In the final analysis, the country needs muscular moderation. It is not too late for Labour, but if we fail to pick up this mantle now, others will.


John Slinger is a Labour party member and chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. He is a former member of the national parliamentary panel. He tweets @JohnSlinger and blogs here.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

My Times regarding the EU referendum

My Times letter arguing that campaigning in the EU referendum should cease entirely in light of the appalling murder of Jo Cox. They edited it down substantially.

My original letter: 


Jo Cox was murdered in a brutal and cowardly way while carrying out the most noble of roles - representing the people. Irrespective of the motives of her killer perhaps the appropriate response from our wider society would be to end campaigning in the EU referendum entirely. 

It would help everyone, irrespective of their views on Europe, to reflect on Jo's words in her Maiden Speech: "we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us". This applies to the UK, the EU and the wider world. Jo's life, before and during her political career, epitomised this message. 

Our society and our politics do not stay safe or improve by accident but only through the efforts of us all - MPs, the media and citizens alike - to conduct debate with respect for one another.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Monday, 16 May 2016

My letter in The Observer: Sadiq Khan’s ‘big tent’ is way forward

In his article (“What Labour can learn from my victory”, News, last week), Sadiq Khan said that we “must be able to persuade people who previously voted Conservative that Labour can be trusted with the economy and security as well as improving public services and creating a fairer society”. He spoke of Labour needing to “be a big tent that appeals to everyone – not just its own activists”. It was refreshing that he referenced those who run their own business as well as nurses.

When I and other so-called “moderates” in the party have made such points we have been labelled “disloyal” and told to show “unity”. It is therefore an important step on the road back to credibility as a political force that a politician of such stature, who has just won a historic victory and who has the biggest electoral mandate in Europe, is pointing out what are the obvious truths of British politics. 

In the last parliament, Pragmatic Radicalism held events that brought together people from different parts of the party, and from outside it, to present short policy pitches in an inclusive, outward-looking format. Sadiq chaired one of our events, and Jeremy Corbyn pitched a policy that came second in another event.  We cannot win unless we reach out and listen to each other and to the country.

John Slinger

Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism