Progress respond to anonymous “dossier”

In recent days an anonymous “dossier” emerged that asked a number of questions – and made a number of assertions – about the organisation Progress.

This afternoon Progress have released the following statement in response:

“In recent days, CLP secretaries around the country began receiving an anonymous document entitled A Report Into the Constitution, Structure, Activities and Funding of Progress.

The report contains gross misrepresentations. Therefore, despite the author of the document not being willing to make their charges publicly, we feel obliged to set the record straight.

First, Progress has never claimed that membership of the organisation bestows rights other than to receive the magazine and attend our events. Those joining Progress do so to support our aims and values. We are not an affiliated organisation like the Fabian Society, but a magazine which organises events, like the ‘New Statesman’.

Second, the document suggests that the character of Progress has ‘transformed itself from a political education trust into a factional body that self-identifies with “New” Labour and as such has its own ideology, policies, candidates and campaigns’. This to fundamentally misunderstand the character of Progress both at the time of its founding and now.

There has been no change in Progress’ purpose since its creation. The organisation was established to promote the modernisation of the Labour party and the election or re-election of Labour governments; something we continue to vigorously support.

There has, therefore, been no breach of our Memorandums and Articles of Association, which state our objectives to be: “To promote commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession and to promote any social, political or sporting activity and anything incidental or conducive to any of the above objects.”

Third, the document makes a series of charges regarding Progress’ funding. Under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act: ‘An organisation is a membership association if its membership consists wholly or mainly of members of a political party registered with the Electoral Commission.’ Progress is, therefore, classed as a membership association and required to report all donations over £7,500 to the Commission.

(a) The document suggests that Progress has received ‘donations’ from Network Rail, the British Retail Consortium, Pharmacia/Pfizer, and Sovereign Strategy.

The Commission defines donations in such a way as to include sponsorship (and, indeed, until recently there was no way of discriminating between the two when reporting a donation). Each of these ‘donations’ was, in fact, sponsorship of events held, and organised, by Progress, in the case of Network Rail and the British Retail Consortium for fringe events held, respectively, at Labour party conference 2005 and 2001. Pharmacia/Pfizer sponsored Progress’ Scotland conference in 2002 and 2003, and Progress Annual Conference in 2004 and 2005.

Although these were the only organisations from which we were required to declare sponsorship, Progress events at Labour party conference have been sponsored by a wide range of organisations including: the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the British Council for School Environments, Brook, DEA, Nationwide, the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism, the Police Federation, the Institute for Government, the Open University, City & Guilds, UnionLearn, the Local Government Association, Elephant Family, the IPPR and Unions21.

(b) The document suggests that Progress received donations ‘from its second largest donor, Lord Michael Montague, … at least two years after his death.’

Until it was wound up in 2003, the Progress Trust was Progress’ principal source of income. Lord Montague was the chair of that trust. When registering donations from the Trust with the Electoral Commission, Progress was required to list ‘the full name of the person who created the trust’. This being Lord Montague, we were required to name him as such even after his death. We were also required to list the person whose ‘property has been transferred to the trust’ (ie the donor to it). This was Lord Sainsbury, and we duly declared it to be (although the Electoral Commission chooses not to list this information).

Progress made clear to the Electoral Commission that Lord Montague had died in 1999 and informed him of the names of the trustees of the Progress Trust, who were fully authorised to make donations from the Trust to Progress. Thus Progress never received any donations from Lord Montague, before or after his death, and donations are simply listed in his name by the Electoral Commission as he was ‘the person who created the Trust’.

(c) The document suggests ‘Progress raises far more funds than any other members association … Inside the Labour party, Progress raises 122 times more funds than its nearest comparator, Islington Labour Group’

While everyone would recognise that Islington Labour Group is funded by hard-working local councillors, it does not, therefore, operate nationwide, run an annual conference, political weekend, or publish a monthly magazine for 4,500 Labour party members. As one of the few national Labour-supporting organisations to declare its donations, this is not a fair or just comparison.”

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