Labour Party,  The Left

GMB turns to absurdity over Progress ban

When I first heard on Twitter that the GMB was tabling a motion to Labour Party Conference to “outlaw” New Labour Think-tank Progress I thought it had to be a joke. The idea, like a reverse throwback to the 1980s where the left try to expel the centre of the party, is absurd. The ghosts of Militant Tendency past must be laughing their arses off as union barons throw their bulk around.

But, of course, it isn’t a joke. It is a political tantrum and  petty party politics. The GMB doesn’t like people who don’t agree with it and is unhappy, among other, things about the line that Progress took over public sector pay restraint.

In presenting this motion, that GMB general secretary Paul Kenny says will “effectively outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party”, the union has shown itself to be a political relic, out of touch dinosaurs, but more seriously it is wildly irresponsible and a wasteful distraction.

It makes Labour appear inward looking rather than the outward looking progressive party it is and it comes at a time when the party is ahead in the polls and David Cameron and Nick Clegg and rocking on the back foot. 

Progress has now responded to the GMB here’s what it has to say:

Over the past year, Progress has been doing its part to make that happen: through our magazine, website, and events in London and throughout the country, we have provided the opportunity for hundreds of party members to debate Labour’s future policy agenda and how to beat the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens, as well as providing them with practical skills and advice on how to do so.

As Ed Miliband said in his address to this year’s Progress annual conference: ‘You have always been at the heart of challenging old orthodoxies and championing change. You have given the Labour party space to think, you have challenged the party, and you have changed it.’

It is regrettable, therefore, that the GMB union conference this week passed a resolution attacking Progress. We are also deeply disappointed that its general secretary, Paul Kenny, has now announced his intention to bring forward a resolution to Labour party conference which would ‘effectively outlaw Progress as a part of the Labour party’.

It is absurd to suggest a comparison between the role of Progress and that of the Militant Tendency in the 1980s. Militant were loyal to an external political force and affiliated to the 4th International; were secret about their activity; recruited people to join the Labour party to pursue Militant’s aims; and were outside of Labour’s mainstream.

By contrast, Progress is an organisation of Labour party members for Labour party members; we are open, pluralist and proud of the last Labour government and what it achieved for working people; and our events have been addressed by Ed Miliband and his two predecessors.

Progress will not be distracted by attacks or threats. For Labour to come back from its second worst defeat in 2010 it needs to be broad, pluralistic and inclusive. To suggest that there are members of the Labour party who are somehow unwelcome and should be ‘outlawed’ is both counterintuitive and just wrong.

Over the coming months, we will continue to focus on the issues that have been at the forefront of our work over the past year: restoring Labour’s economic credibility; promoting universal child and elderly care; and devolving power to public service users and workers, and local government.

Most importantly, we will continue to focus on the election of a Labour government in 2015 under Ed Miliband.

Inaccuracies in the GMB resolution are listed below:

  • There is no relationship between the funding we receive from Lord Sainsbury and the funding that he gave to the Labour party. Our annual income from him was £250,000 until May 2010, when it was raised to £260,000. This was before he ceased giving money to the Labour party and our income from Lord Sainsbury has not been increased (as the resolution implies) as a result of that decision.
  • To suggest, as this resolution does, that our only financial relationship is with a pharmaceutical company is, to say the least, misleading. Like other centre-left organisations and thinktanks, we rely on sponsorship to support our events programme, particularly at Labour party conference.  While it is true that Progress received sponsorship from Pfizer/Pharmacia (it is one company, the former took over the latter) for a series of events (including a Scottish conference, Progress annual conference and a reception at Labour party conference) we have received no sponsorship from them since 2005. As our website states, in 2010-2011, we worked with the following sponsors: Community union; unionlearn; The Cooperative Group; Brighton and Hove Labour; City&Guilds; the Electoral Reform Society; The European Azerbaijan  Society; Hackney Labour Group; Institute for Government; IPA; Labour Friends of Israel; Bell Pottinger; Local Government Association Labour Group; PwC; Reading Labour; Sussex Cooperative party; The Open University; and Unions21.
  • There is no evidence whatsoever for the claim that ‘Prominent Progress members have briefed against Ed Miliband to the press.’
  • Progress publicly endorsed the Labour candidate in the London mayoral election; organised six campaign days in the capital throughout the first five months of the year;and ran a double-page spread – ‘The case for Ken’ – by Tessa Jowell, Livingstone’s then campaign manager in our April 2012 edition. To wilfully misconstrue a debate in the magazine last year about Labour’s chances of victory as opposition to its candidate is uncomradely.

If you’re not a member of Progress and want to show your solidarity, we have a new special membership rate which is £10 for the first year. Click here to join.