It’s time for Progress to be brought into the sunlight and examined for what it is

21st June, 2012 6:19 pm

I had the pleasure to attend the recent Labour Party National Policy forum – and it has to be said pleasure and the NPF make unusual bedfellows; particularly when you think back to when Pat McFadden et al were involved. It’s true though, the last weekend was marked by freshness and a new direction. An atmosphere buoyed by a confident clear vision from the Labour leader Ed Milliband and underlined by the brisk no-nonsense actions of Angela Eagle.

However, there was another feeling in the air – one of trying slightly too hard, a prickly defensiveness from a few well known representatives. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Luke Akehurst and company are a little defensive over their involvement with Progress.

Comrade Luke has already invoked Pastor Niemoller on Twitter in a laughable and quite frankly sad spectacle of someone seeking victim status. It has to be said comparing one’s corporate funded faction with the victims of the Nazi holocaust really is pulling the stops out.

So why is Progress causing such disquiet amongst the broad church of our Labour Party? Why have a number of individuals and trade unions made representations over the activities and agenda of Progress?

It may be worth looking at a few of the causes for concern and to be fair to Luke the concerns are about the organisation and not the individuals. To many it appears as a secretive organisation acting as a party within a party or a vehicle for external vested interests to seek to influence selections.

Progress is an organisation that is has taken donations from a range of business sources. They receive £250,000 a year from Lord Sainsbury. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has donated over £40,000. Other donors have included Network Rail and lobbyists Sovereign Strategy. Their events have been sponsored by Bell Pottinger and the trade body for Private Equity firms – the British Venture Capital Association.

Progress is an association of Labour Party members and is taking corporate donations without any oversight from the Party. Quite simply in the post Leveson era this is a scandal waiting to happen.

There are plenty of membership organisations inside the Labour Party, but none of them have the finances available to Progress to pursue its agenda. It’s an organisation inside the Labour Party that takes in excess of a quarter of a million pounds in donations every year. This organisation contests internal elections, yet has no responsibility to the NEC or role within the Party. It has no internal democratic structure – all decisions are taken by the ‘directors’.

It has no internal democratic structure. There is no constitution. No-one can challenge it.

Progress is an externally funded political grouping within the Labour Party that is not subject to any scrutiny. Progress gets millions from people who don’t give money to Labour – why?

It’s time that this organisation is subject to the same levels of scrutiny, accountability and openness as other member organisations, such as the Socialist societies and Trade Unions, and it’s brought into the sunlight and examined for what it is.

Simon Weller is the National Organiser of ASLEF

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  • Ben Cooper

    “Progress gets millions from people who don’t give money to Labour – why?”

    The only person who donates “millions” to Progress is Lord Sainsbury & as a Labour Peer I trust he pays his membership to the party – so who are these “people”?

    • John Dore

      What is being said in public is just a story, there is nothing substantial in it. This in reality is a conspiracy against the moderates and only the start of bigger thing. If we lose this fight we are stuffed with the “call you a Tory” axis of idiots.

  • Paul

    All groups associated with the Labour party seeking to influence policies or party elections should be open in governance and transparent in finance and activities – not just Progress. Couldn’t care less about the political views of any specific group, just how they organise within the party. Progress members are just as commited to tje Labour party as the rest of us – they are not Militant. Yes, need more openness but anyone talking of banning Progress make themselves and party look stupid.

  • Compass also takes in “over quarter of a million pounds in donations every year”. I also seem to remember that they gave Caroline Lucas, the then Green leader and prospective parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion, a platform at Labour’s 2009 conference in.. Brighton. I’d say that is also ripe for the scorn and suspicious directed at Progress. But sometimes tells me that won’t be the case.

    Ultimately Progress are an organisation of thousands of like-minded Labour party members. Come 2015 they, just like you Simon, will strive for a Labour victory. You cannot expel beliefs or ideals purely because you disagree with them. It strikes me as more than a little bit illiberal and counterproductive.

    • Surely this is no occasion to ramp up the emotional tenor of political discourse – you seem to want replace discussion with scornful outbursts.

      If you’re upset about Compass why not campaign to have both Progress and Compass required to operate democratically and transparently? This would be far better than using the perceived irregularity of one to justify the suspicious opacity of the other.

      •  “Surely this is no occasion to ramp up the emotional tenor of
        political discourse – you seem to want replace discussion with scornful
        outbursts”.

        Coming from you Dave, this is breathtaking.

        You and your ilk do nothing but attempt to rampant up the rhetoric and seek to tar anyone who doesn’t share your misty-eyed ‘socialism now’ diatribes – via your admiration of George Galloway – with the usual school yard shrill scream of ‘you’re a Tory’. The only people I can see who are attempting to replace discussion with scorn are the Unions, seemingly out of no where orchestrating a hit job on an organisation within the party.

        And, just so you are aware, best to take a look at the website http://whofundsyou.org/ Progress are rated amongst the most transparent. Though as I say, I doubt this will quell the usual combatants.

        • derek

          David Talbot, if you wish to diminish the trade unions why don’t you just join the tories.

          • I think there needs to be a new ‘Godwin’s Law’ that every time the Axis of Idiots on LabourList (and I’m sure you can guess who they are) say: ‘join the Tories’ – you lose the argument.

            I am a proud member of Unite the union, actually Derek. I just don’t think persecuting other Labour party members is healthy for internal morale or, indeed, our chances of beating the Tories come 2015.

          • Pete

            I second the motion for that law? I’m also a member of Unite and a member of Progress, and I’m getting rather tired of putting forward well constructed arguments in defence of Progress, only to be called a “Tory infiltrator” or be told to “go and join the Tories” in response. Quite frankly, I’ve yet to see a single coherent, intellectual argument from individuals like Derek and those championing the ‘outlawing’ of Progress as to why they are in the right on this issue.

          • derek

            Ditto pete!

          • derek

            David, your paragraph was utter nonsense, no one has made a reference to Hitler or the Nazi’s?

            Yeah the majority of labour party members are affiliated to a union but only a section(small organisation) want to reform the unions.

            David, new labour and their aggressive push to reform alienated them in many sections of society, people could no longer identify who or what the new labour party represented.By 2007 Scotland had abandoned new labour and for the first time in 50 years labour wasn’t the most popular voted for party in Scotland.

            Just in interest David, what do you want from your trade union? do you support the London bus drivers right to withdraw their labour tomorrow over the Olympic  bonus row?If your a proud member of unite do you want to fight for the rights of your employment and your fellow comrades and if you support the unions then why don’t you want the unions to stripe bare the interests of a group such as “Progress”.

          • Derek, my views on the unions can be viewed here:

            http://labourlist.org/2011/11/in-defence-of-trade-unions/

            Thing is, you are so blinded by your prejudice that anyone who doesn’t wholly overlap your politics is immediately – and remorselessly – labelled as a Tory. You are actively shutting down debate within the party, can you not see that?

          • derek

            To be fair David you didn’t answer the questions I posed? why?

            Why does a group like “Progress” want to influence the party? on finances and selection.Fragmenting the party into several little pressure groups isn’t constructive, if labour party members have an affiliation with the trade union movement then isn’t that enough?

            David, it’s a pressure group that wants to do a Blairism on the unions through the back door an unaccountable undemocratic organisations trying to push the agenda for some dubious Mandelson like people.

          • AlanGiles

            Quite frankly if I were a union leader and saw the contempt some right-wing Labourites held for me, with remarks like “axis of idiots” while at the same time beseeching everybody else not to be inflammatory, and preaching the “broad church” rhetoric, I would canvass my members on whether they wished to continue to give their hard-earned money to an organisation where so many members are hostile and abusive.

            If the right continue to demonize unions (who after all are ordinary people, just like Progress members), they could find they are preaching in a Portakabin mission hut, rather than a “broad church”

          • derek

            Every labour leader now think they have some duty to go to a TUC conference and slap down the unions.

            We have a party supported by the unions where every MP is a union member but non of them tried to bring forward a motion in parliament to repeal the anti trade unions laws within their 13 years of power.

            “Progress” has infiltrated the unions and just like there selection process they want to diminish the trade unions funding and power further.

            If left unchallenged over 7 million contracts wont be worth the rice paper there written on, unfair dismissal will eventually be wiped out and pay rises will be curtailed to the dust-bin.

            I think this situation has been coming for a long time, it’s went viral and we’ve  lock horns, a tale of two party’s? who will write the final chapter, lets hope it’s not new labour. 

          • AlanGiles

            One of the things that has always got my  goat Derek, is the way new MPs want to join everything – whether it be Labour Friends of Israel, The Parliamentary Jazz Committe (it exists believe it or not and has it’s own award ceremony) or Progress  – wahtever it is. It always seem to me a bit cynical. I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member!.

            Are they joing out of belief or expediency?

          • derek

            There really killing politics, there a bunch of careerist with not an ounce of  principles.The London based  Progress is  a shame a scheming adventure that wants to endorse a one nation conservative rule.Only in Britain would a fat dancer be allowed to dodge tax and be rewarded  an honour  for doing so.

          • But Alan, I’m not anti trade union. If you read my piece that would be patently obvious. And, quite frankly, you are just as divisive as the Progress junta you so obviously loath.

            To be honest, I’ve slightly had enough of being tarred as someone to the Right of Atilla the Hun – when all I have ever been is a pragmatic social democrat.

            And on that note, time for an extended sabbatical from LabourList.

          • derek

            But David, you were asked whether you supported the London bus drivers strike and you failed to answer, you just stuck and pasted an article? 

        • You’re way off the mark and well out of order with the fictions contained in your reply – you’re situating yourself amid the abusive trolls.

          No point in taking this attempted discussion any further.

  • Pete

    I’m getting rather sick and tired of these baseless accusations surrounding Progress’ funding. What on Earth is wrong with an organisation taking money from a former Labour minister and devoted centre-leftist? The funding Lord Sainsbury gives to Progress each year is absolutely insignificant compared to the money he has given the party in the past, and is nothing compared to the charitable contributions he makes. And Progress cannot function on his funds alone – around a third of its general funding, by my calculations, comes from its membership fees and magazine subscriptions.
    Of the 20 leading UK think tanks and policy groups, Progress is also one of the most transparent in terms of its financial conduct – it ranks above the Fabian Society, Demos, Reform, the Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies, amongst others. It received an A grade from WhoFundsYou – the Fabians only received a B, yet I do not see anyone calling for an investigating into their financial arrangements. They received funding from ASDA and ESBI this year – shall we also outlaw the Fabians for this grave sin?

    Most of the supposed funders of Progress – like Pfizer – have not contributed to the organisation in years, and many contributed one-off sums. The vast majority of those donors provided money to sponsor events, not contribute to the organisation’s upkeep. Progress has gone to great lengths to explain its financial arrangements, even though it is not required to make such detailed voluntarily explanations to its critics.

    Progress is a very good organisation consisting chiefly of hard-working, decent, dedicated Labour Party members and activists who happen to be moderates within the party. It is also the principal, and only large, organisation for the right-wing of the party to coalesce around – it is by no means a fringe, minority organisation. Its slate with Labour First attracted a third of the vote in the recent NEC elections, and in the NPF ballot, the party’s moderate right wing made a very strong showing (even in very staunch Labour regions like the north-west). Progress is supported by thousands of activists and speaks very strongly to a vast swathe of the party – it is unacceptable to outlaw an organisation simply because it suits the designs of a bigger swathe.

    • Brumanuensis

      It’s the words ‘in the past’, regarding Lord Sainsbury’s donations, that bother me. Why is a man who hasn’t donated to the Party for a number of years giving money to a Labour-linked organisation? It just sets off all sorts of alarm bells about his motives.

      The lack of internal democracy is a real problem too. And I’m still fuming at the fact that Progress co-hosted an event with The European Azerbaijan Society, which is just as bad as Ken Livingstone appearing on Press TV, in my book.

    • AlanGiles

      Who decided for example that Stephen Twigg should be the “Honouary President”.

      Was there a readers poll in their magazine?

      I am genuinely interested to know how the jobs and titles are doled out – especially in view of Mr Twiggs abysmal performance on Andrew Neil programme on June 10th, when the poor chap seemed very confused, saying yes and no to the same questions at the same time.

  • Progress being sponsored by the British Venture Capital Association.

    Need I say more?

    • Chilbaldi

      Yes, you do.

      Venture capital is a vital way of funding entrepeneurs.

      – do you think that business is inherently evil?
      – do you wish we all lived in an anti-business commune where everyone grew their own veg and lived in mud huts?

  • Mike Homfray

    Well said. It’s their funding and organisation which is suspicious. We can argue against their hackneyed, outdated, conservative ideology

    • John Dore

      …..and your ideology of the 70’s and 80s is still in vogue?

  • Daniel Speight

    At the very least Progress needs to answer or sort out the charges of lack of democracy in its own organization. A little bit of that sunlight there wouldn’t hurt at all. Perhaps if a little bit less had been decided behind closed doors or on a sofa, Labour may have done better at the last elections.

  • John Dore

    So Simon Weller (Aslef) makes the same points as GMB, as Unison. This is a co-ordinated campaign. Its clear cut for me, the unions want their party back.

    It does  not matter much where Progress get their funding from, they have “some” influence but thats all it is. The unions will turn on somebody else as soon as progress is gone. The article is hypocritical, Simon says broad church well kicking progress out kinda says “we” dont want that. This is the first step in cleansing the party and we must fight that tooth and nail.

  • Pingback: Len McCluskey: “I disagree with Progress” | Liberal Conspiracy()

  • Mr Chippy

    Simon, These are fine points by which you can undermine the credibility of their arguments (and this should be done) but prescribing them is a step too far in my humble opinion.

  • Luke Akehurst

    As Simon has misrepresented what I’ve said, I’m linking to it here: http://labourlist.org/2012/06/progress-and-the-gmb-should-be-looking-for-ways-to-work-together/

    I am disappointed he has chosen to personally sidewswipe at me when I wrote a post calling for unity.

    By naming me in his article it makes it look like he is unhappy not just about Progress and its specific politics or organisational features but about anyone who has worked with Progress, defended it or been endorsed by it in an internal election.  Or indeed anyone who thinks highly of Blair, Brown and the record of our 13 years in Government. That covers off most of the PLP, including the Leader and Shadow Cabinet, and vast tranches of office holders in the Party including many senior trade unionists. This is what the final section of my post, which he has taken exception to, warned of.

    I refuse to be drawn into a false narrative of conflict between the unions and party moderates, when there is a massive overlap between the two and a multitude of reasons for us to work together for Ed Miliband to become PM.

    Trade unions are not synonymous with the left of the party. They include people from across the spectrum of Labour opinion as is inevitable when they are representative bodies for workers, the vast majority of whom have no interest in making the Labour Party unelectably leftwing.

    • AlanGiles


      I am disappointed he has chosen to personally sidewswipe at me when I wrote a post calling for unity”

      Come, come, Mr Akehurst – you might have “called for unity”! but not until you had put the boot in with offensive remarks about left-wingers. That’s the trouble with so many on the right – they are fond of condemning others for things they do themselves.

      Might I respectfully suggest, if you want to have unity, that you stop automatically assume that everyone to your left is mad, bad and dangerous to know.

      If I may say so, if we want to keep the atmosphere friendly, could I suggest you adopt the style Jon Roberts and me have developed?. After a shaky start (mostly my fault) we both now realise that we will never convert each other to our point of view, we probably disagree over 90% of things – but – that said – Jon never calls me “a hard left”, “Respect member”., “SWP supporter” “communist”, “fruitloop”, “Marxist etc, because he can see that I hold my views sincerely, as I do him with his views.  We have a bit of friendly banter when we take opposite positions, but on the whole, I think it can be said to be good natured exchanges, without malice.

      The best way to stop unity is to start questioning peoples mental stability (“axis of idiots” is an expression used by one poster, on this thread and elsewhere). Start making those sort of insults and you shouldn’t be too surprised if you get replied to in the same manner.

      I disagree with nearly everything you say, but I don’t question your sincerity in saying what you do, or question your mental health – perhaps if less inflammatory langauge was used, it might be possible to agree to disagree rather more pleasantly.

    • Daniel Speight

      Luke you did call this down upon yourself somewhat. Comparing union attacks on Progress with Nazi persecution was tasteless, perhaps even more so than Livingstone’s concentration camp guard remarks where he had at least the excuse of not knowing the reporter was Jewish. Didn’t you attack Livingstone for this?

      As for the post calling for unity, that’s a very subjective claim when you managed to throw in an attack on the left.

  • AlanGiles

    Luke Akehurst wrote:

    “Simon has misrepresented what I’ve said, I’m linking to it here: http://labourlist.org/2012/06/…
    I am disappointed he has chosen to personally sidewswipe at me when I wrote a post calling for unity”

    This is an excerpt from that article. As you read it, can you really believe that by using such inflammatory langauge, Akehurst really was seeking – or expecting “unity”? 

    “The problem is that the ultra left showed in the 1980s they are never satisfied by just attacking the Labour right.First they will come for Progress.
    Then they will come for Labour First.
    Then they will come to take over your l CLP and deselect you as an MP or councillor.
    Then they will come for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.
    Then they will come for the union executives and general secretaries.
    But there will be no one left to fight them.”

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