Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Issue isn't Progress

There has been a lot of talk in the Labour blogosphere of late about Progress (the internal Labour Party pressure group as opposed to the concept) - some of it interesting, some of it infuriating.  I can't help wondering: is this really what the left should be talking about at the moment?  That said, I'm going to put my views on record, before moving on and writing about something more important.

Things came to a head with all this just lately, with a resolution passed at the GMB conference and a rather surprising statement from General Secretary Paul Kenny.  The resolution itself, while very critical of the activities of Progress, resolved to do little more than "monitor" future activities.  The statement from the General Secretary was more bold, talking about a motion to Party Conference that would "effectively outlaw Progress as a part of the Labour Party".  Quite what this means is unclear, but it suggests something along the lines of making it a proscribed organisation.

Now I don't need to point out to any readers of Labour Left Forum that I fundamentally disagree with the Progress faction in the Labour Party on many, many issues.  I think their analysis of the current political situation is wholly wrong and their prescriptions for winning the next election are desperately ill-conceived.  But I don't think they should be a proscribed organisation.

On various occasions throughout our history, the right of the party have engaged in rounds of using the machine to silence opposition through proscriptions and expulsions.  Such party luminaries as Sir Stafford Cripps and Nye Bevan have been expelled at various times.  The machine has conspired against left candidates and elected representatives as well as ordinary activists.  I am proud to say that on the few occasions where there has been a left ascendency (and I hardly need remind anybody this is not one of those occasions), we have not done the same.  You wouldn't know that if you read the caricatures of Labour in the early 80s that the right paint.  But whatever people might think about issues like reselection of MPs, this was the use of bottom-up structures, trying to inject democracy into our movement rather than trampling over it.

These manouvres against Progress do not appear to have emerged from the left.  The dossier that was circulated earlier in the year was not written in the language of the left, and had a broader "anti-group" and "anti-slate" perspective that few on the left could sensibly share.  It would appear that this attack comes from much closer to their home: perhaps even a disgruntled former associate.

It is understandable that some on the left might see this as an opportunity to curtail the activities of a group that has undoubtedly played a strong part in maintaining New Labour's grip on our movement and pursues an ideological agenda that we strongly oppose.  Furthermore, there might be those who imagined that bad headlines for Progress might impact on the success of their slate in internal elections.  I am sympathetic to both positions, but consider them ill-advised.  Apart from anything else it is very likely to backfire. 

The main impact of the arguments about Progress is likely to have been a general move away from slate-voting. 

I am in favour of slates for internal elections. 

It is the only way we can move these OMOV ballots away from simple name-recognition towards voting on issues and ideas.  It is as useful for me to know who the Progress/Labour First candidates are (so I can make sure I don't vote for them) as it is to know who the CLGA candidates are. 

Furthermore, should there be any curtailing of group activities proposed through rule changes, you can bet your bottom dollar that new rules will be used against the left with far more vigilence than against the right.  They always are.

The Labour Party is a broad church or it is nothing.  We have always had a right wing.  I would be the first to argue that there is an element associated with Progress that does appear alien to our traditions, with no interest in the trade union movement, for example.  Some have told me frankly (if a little embarassedly) that they would leave the Labour Party should the left ever have ascendency again: they are not, by definition, "real Labour".  But there are others who are as Labour as you and I, as much as we may fundamentally disagree with them.  The Labour Party has never wholly been a socialist party.

I understand there are those who have concerns about organisational issues relating to Progress, regarding funding and transparency.  Those are reasonable issues to raise and consider.  But let us move onto the real arguments now.

Let's defeat Progress by pointing out that their analysis is wrong, and by winning the argument in our movement.  Let's leave the fixing and machine politics to them.

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