Progress – a Party Within a Party

By Jon Lansman, from Left Futures

This weekend, Progress – Labour’s Blairite faction – is again holding its annual political weekend in rural Lincolnshire, sponsored this year by the British Venture Capital Association. As usual it is addressed by several shadow cabinet members (Douglas Alexander, Liam Byrne, Ivan Lewis, Liz Kendall), but this year it meets widely accused of being a “party within a party”.

The Yorkshire regional TUC conference on 3 March, for example, passed unanimously a motion using this very term, a “party within a party”, calling on “all affiliated unions within the Region and individual union members of the Labour Party to take all practical steps to oppose the organisational and ideological aims of ‘Progress’ ”. The motion was moved by the GMB, and supported by Wendy Nichols of Unison, a member of Labour’s national executive.

The circulation of an anonymous dossier ‘A report into the constitution, structure, activities and funding of Progress’ to all Labour constituency party secretaries has certainly prompted widespread discussion within the party. “Progress has spent £2.9 million?! on what? doesn’t seem plausible to me – how much can a few pamphlets+seminars cost?” tweeted blogger Don Paskini, adding “just think, that could have been money spent on local organisers…”.

Whilst we would much rather it had not been anonymous, the dossier does raise some serious issues. Although the ‘rebuttal’ from Progress does clarify some minor points, it utterly fails to respond to the central objections. Since the departure of Tony Blair, the ‘Blairites’ have ceased to be the party establishment, loyalists to the leader; they have become a faction, albeit a faction with considerable support in the shadow cabinet. A faction that promotes its own programme, principles and policies and slates for internal party elections, and also trains and promotes suitable people for parliamentary selections.

A party that allows democratic debate – as I believe Labour is beginning to be again – cannot prevent the development of factions. They’ve always been part of Labour’s history, and have been arguably more a symptom than a cause of division within its ‘broad church’. And Labour, both in its own collective interest and in the interests of its members, has the right to regulate its factions. How it does so, however, is important if it wishes to safeguard its internal democracy and its values of tolerance and respect for others’ opinions.

The Left does not seek any proscription or expulsions on the right of the party now any more than than it did on the far left of the party in the 1980s. It agrees, on this occasion, with Luke Akehurst who tweeted “attack Progress if you must for its politics rather than attack its legitimacy,” if by ‘legitimacy’ he means the right to exist and campaign for its beliefs.

What Labour can and should expect – and formally required back in the 1980s when it established a register of non-affiliated groups – is that organisations operating within it do so openly and democratically, and ensure that their internal workings and finances are transparent. On that, Progress does not deliver.  Unlike, for example, Compass whose annual report, available to download from its website, provides details of its membership, structure, funding and donors.

Labour – like all other political parties – also has a right to know where and how wealthy individuals or companies are buying influence. It may be sufficient to require that the information is published, rather than for returns to be made to the party itself. But the party could also consider a cap on political donations from any one source, perhaps distinguishing between individual or company donations and trade union political fund contributions which pool the small contributions of union members.

Either way, it is surely unacceptable for a single rich individual, Lord David Sainsbury, to be the source of  £2.83m in donations to Progress between 2001 and 2011 (and no doubt more between the founding of Progress in 1995 and 2001) – 95% of all known funding (that is of donations over £7,500 regulated by the Electoral Commission created in 2001). Since it was founded in 1995, Progress has probably had a turnover of at least £6m, 75% of which probably came from Lord David Sainsbury. We should know, not have to estimate. And no organisation that valued its independence should feel comfortable without a far more diverse income stream.

We believe that the Labour Party NEC should consider the issues that have been raised about Progress, and whether it demonstrates a need for some light touch regulation of organisations operating within the party. They should also consider whether a cap, either absolute or proportional, on donations to such organisations (or to those over a certain size) from any single source is desirable.

If that happened, our political disagreements with Progress would not be over. However, internal debate might be able to take place on a more level playing field and we feel sure that Labour members could draw their own conclusions, for example, if they knew that recent Progress event sponsors have included:

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers of a meeting on Competition and the Choice agenda at Labour’s Annual Conference 2011 – the company that boasts that “We have acted on more privatisations than any other financial adviser, from steel and heavy manufacturing to utilities, public transport, health and education services.”
  • Bell Pottinger of the 2011 Progress political weekend – the company attacked by Wikipedia boss Jimmy Wales for ‘ethical blindness’ and which  secretly taped claiming that they can influence David Cameron and other senior cabinet ministers.
  • The British Venture Capital Association of the 2012 Progress political weekend – representing an industry of which according to the Work Foundation:

There remains a pressing need for additional regulation of the PE industry, focussing on: labour market impacts (ensuring the ‘democratic deficit’ is filled so that affected workers have information on future business plans and whether their jobs are secure); accountability (to ensure public scrutiny of a fast-growing sector and to aid effective regulation); taxation (to ensure appropriate levels of tax are being paid); and financial stability (a new code of conduct may be necessary to ensure conflicts of interest do not arise among managers being targeted for takeover by PE).”

19 comments on “Progress – a Party Within a Party

  1. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “Bell Pottinger of the 2011 Progress political weekend – the company attacked by Wikipedia boss Jimmy Wales for ‘ethical blindness’ and which secretly taped claiming that they can influence David Cameron and other senior cabinet ministers.”

    This sort of nonsense is endemic to wikipedia.

    Indeed Mr. Wales has engaged in it himself. http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2005/12/69880

    Allegedly for money. http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Jimmy_Wales_accused_of_editing_Wikipedia_for_donations

  2. I have no experience of Bell Pottinger at a national level, however at a local level BP have run as Tesco’s hatchet men, basically pushing through planning applications for prime site locations. Local Council Planning Committees are basically powerless when faced with the combination of carrot and stick techniques they use. The stick being a wall of legal actions that would burn thorough a Council’s legal budget in a week.

    When I had dealings with them they use to run three team for local councils, a Labour, Tory and Lib Dem one, each one dealing with their ‘own’ councils- the Labour one was staffed with a weird combination of a leading Labour Briefing comrade and Red Ted’s ex head of PR.

    At that time they also acted for BAA pushing the third runway, and of course one of their key clients is the Conservative Party.

    Hardly a bedrock Labour Party supporter.

    This was over 10 years ago, maybe they have turned over a new leaf, or maybe not.

  3. There has always been a huge ammount of hypocricy about all this.

    Anyone remember what happended to Frank Field (Labour MP) for advising electors in his neighbouring constituency to vote for the SDP candidate because he thought the official Labour candidate was too left wing?

  4. jock mctrousers on said:

    No, what DID happen to Frank Field? And what bearing does it have on the topic?

  5. Vanya on said:

    #5 Nothing.

    If that had been a left MP calling on a vote for a candidate other than the official Labour Party one, he would have been out of the Party on his backside.

    I also feel that historically there have been similar double standards about the question of organising within the party. That’s the relevance.

  6. jock mctrousers on said:

    #6 yes, I though that’s what you meant, but I wondered if I might have missed something. I agree.

  7. Prianikoff

    I think it is slightly a misreading of the situation to say Ed is responsible for trying to undermine Iain. This seems to come from Lucy Powell.

    The tragedy is that Ed Miliband is the most left wing person in his own office, and I suspect therefore not fully in control of it.

  8. john P Reid on said:

    8vanya, Peter hain and Ed balls told people to vote for the Libdems in seats where labour was third at teh alst eletion, similar some Labour memebers in A seat in scotlands where laobur were third in 1997 told people to vote lib dem, As many as 10 labour M.P.s in cluding Lord cox among otehrs told people to vote for the SDP candidate when Bernie grant first stood in tottenham in 1987, What do you reckons hould happend to Frank field over his backing A sdp candidate,amybe he could have been expleed for 4 years told peopel vote green, told poeple to vot eindependent at the follwoig electio and if he was returned to Labour ,he could told PEOPLE TO VOTE FOR A INDEPENDENT IN TOWER HAMLETS (but only for their second choice in very small letters underneath) LIKE KEN LIVIGNSTONE DID.

    so they have slate for internal elections (like the centre left have for ANN BLACK, or Livingstone or Kate osamor,
    both the links for progress are the same on for the Purple book.

    the yorkshire regional tuc had A motion (wow that’s a big thing) to see progress expelled, well that’s not going to happend Jon Lansman have you any influnece on your local party, are yo constituency sectretary or anything or does no one take you serious at your local party, do yuorelay feel you can expel progress, and get teh party of 1981, back and even if you did that it’d win an election, Surely Laobur wouldn’t be stupid eonough to make the mistake of getting rid of another 4 million votes like it did when the SDP left.

  9. john P Reid on said:

    I really don’t think the branch memebers really care who funds Progress, and I don’t thinkt hey care for Union influence even if union sare funding labour,last time the unions were fnding labour we were losing elections

  10. #11 Are you the same person who couldn’t see a problem with Muslims getting a bad press after 7/7?

    If so I have no interest in engaging with you in discussion on any issue.

    The presence of people with those kind of views in the Labour Party is one of the reasons I am unlikely to re-join in the near future, although I was very pleased at the demise of Phil Woolas’ political career.

  11. John P reid on said:

    I never said That i could see no problem with muslims getting a bad press, I said that the fact tha the press was accused of islamaphobia as Owen jones aid in one day he looked at papers and the stories that day showed muslims in a bad light and that Owen jones didn’t mention that the day he looked at the papers was july the 8 2005.

    Your not going to rejoin labour good luck backing the peoples popular front of Judiea ,i’m sure you’ll get a few dozen votes at the next election

  12. #11 ‘Last time the unions were fnding we were losing elections’
    I might have missed something here but when did the unions stop funding labour ?
    Is there an alternative universe out there but because I’m sure the unions were funding Labour in 1945,1964,1966,1974 x2 1997,2001,2005 or did Labour lose these elections in your alternative universe and just lastly are you really a member of a party you clearly know nothing about ?

  13. John P reid on said:

    13, thats not the point if Owen jones had picked july the 6ht it woudl be relevant and yes i reckon they got A better one, than on july the 8th

    and the october 1974 election laobur won with elss votes than they lost in 1979 ,1992, or 1951, 1955 and 1959. only 20% of union funds were laoburs budget for the 1997 electin

  14. #16 Thanks for the clarification John so what you really meant was
    ‘the last time unions were funding labour we were losing elections…. except in 1945,1964,1966,2001,2005 however though we won in 1974 (twice)on my planet that was actually registered as a defeat and in 1997 we also won though I think unions provided only 20% of the funding which is a figure I pulled out of the top of my head’

    Is it raining on planet Tharg ?

  15. John P reid on said:

    No the 20% labour fundign was soemthing blair went out of his way to mention maybe becasue he felt that if the Public felt that laobur was fuded by unions it would lose, personal insults are given out when you have to admit you’ve lost the argument, Last time i visited planet thaeg, Your hero Tony benn was saying labour lost the 1983 electionas it wasn’t left wing enough, My union PCS doens’t even fund labour

  16. John you say I have lost the argument ,really ?
    I’ll accept that if you answer the following
    Was Labour funded by the unions in 1945, 1964,1966,1974,1997,2001 and 2005 ?
    Did Labour win each of these elections ? and lets define that as become the government after these elections.
    When you say Blair claimed Labour received only 20% of its funding from the unions in 1997 when was this stated and what was it based on ?
    Shouldn’t be too hard should it
    And just for the record I have much admiration for Tony Benn but he’s not my hero,btw who’s yours ?