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