In defence of Progress

21st June, 2012 7:00 pm

I went to Bournemouth yesterday to speak at the Unison conference. The top concern of delegates is the pressure on public services and staff in all areas. Most didn’t know and didn’t care about Progress.

Last week I was in Brighton for part of the GMB congress. I heard Paul Kenny’s funny, forceful speech on Sunday. He lampooned out-of-touch, tax-dodging Tories and lauded GMB members facing down intimidation in Carillion and winning the first collective agreement with Asda/Wal-Mart anywhere in the world. I wasn’t there when the congress debated moves which “effectively, will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party”. And I don’t get it.

Of course, Progress is right-leaning, market-inclined and London-biased. But their commitment is to Labour. They’re Party members. And they’re an important source of fresh ideas and debate.

Of course, Progress is organising to promote candidates as well as events and debate. But this is just what trade unions also do, as part of the rich weave within Labour.

A formal move against Progress is unwarranted, as well as unworkable. You can’t expel ideas or bar beliefs from a political party.

It is also unwelcome. It draws attention away from exposing the Coalition’s policy failures.

This week the Today programme switched the discussion they’d booked with a trade union leader from public services to Progress.

I’ve never been a factional politician. I want what most Party members want, and what the country needs – vibrant internal debates and strong external campaigns. In the end, what matters most are the values, policies and activities that will put Labour back in government.

Where’s the centre-left’s political, intellectual and organisational confidence to take on the arguments? This is the progress Labour needs. Not a rule-change motion.

John Healey is Labour MP for Wentworth & Dearne in South Yorkshire, and former TUC Director of Campaigns

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