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Welcome to the Blairite Party-within-a-party

This weekend, in the sumptuous surroundings of a Jacobean-style Victorian country mansion in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside, New Labour enthusiasts gather for a weekend “political school“.  At £175 including overnight accommodation, two lunches, dinner, breakfast and refreshments, it’s a snip thanks to the generous sponsorship of Bell Pottinger, founded by Maggie’s favourite Ad man, and PR consutants to such eminent wealth creators as tax dodgers, Vodaphone, and stalwart defenders of media freedom, Sky. Those attending, not that they all know it, are at the heart of party within a party, a largely-covert organisation whose over-riding objective is to keep New Labour alive.

This is Progress.

If you’re a young, ambitious Progress-member with your eye on a seat who can write a convincing New Labour essay, the costs are a mere £75. You will rub shoulders with Shadow Cabinet members and benefit from expert tuition on “the art of writing and delivering a speech” and how to “navigate the selection process“.

These are the people who are going places. They may be temporarily out of Government; they may have suffered a temporary set-back in Labour’s choice of Leader. But with the best organisation in politics and Lord Sainsbury’s considerable largesse, they’ll be back in charge before too long and you can be part of it, provided, of course, that you have the Right politics.

This may be the first such occasion in this parliament that Progress has been training Blairite would-be MPs but, in the last, it held six parliamentary candidate workshops. As they say:

Preparing for Parliamentary selections can be daunting, difficult and time consuming, but with good preparation, the barriers which may prevent Labour members from representing the Labour Party at the next election are not insurmountable. Progress has therefore developed a workshop for those who are interested in getting selected. The workshop will go through planning your campaign, considering your message and organising your campaign team.

They provide expert advice, which is followed up, for their chosen favourites, with significant help in the selection process. Richard Angell, the selection specialist, is the former Chair of Young Labour and now Deputy Director of Progress who they say “helped with successful selection campaigns for a number of people including Stephen Twigg in Liverpool and most recently Emma Reynolds in Wolverhampton.” Paul Richards, former chair of Labour Students and of the Fabian Society, SpAd (Special Adviser) to Pat Hewitt and then Hazel Blears, “unashamed master of the dark arts“, author of Be Your Own Spin Doctor, will assist with the speech-writing. Matthew Doyle, Blair’s deputy director of communications at No 10 and Political Director since, will advise on handling the media.

When it comes to the actual selection process, the help of Progress will be invaluable: building the team who will canvass party members, introductions to key local contacts, arranging self-promotion opportunities, providing you with the full list of local party members’ addresses and phone numbers well in advance (courtesy of friendly party officials), and producing printed literature.

Progress operates at several levels of course, like the Militant Tendency in the 1980s: the politics (and the surroundings) may be very different, but the methods are surprisingly similar. They even have readers meetings! Perhaps the term “Mili” would have a different connotation were it not for brother Ed.

Some of the MPs  and other luminaries who appear as ‘Progress speakers’ or write for the magazine and website are wholly uninvolved in, even entirely innocent of, the true purpose and methods of Progress. They are used to give the impression that the organisation represent’s the party mainstream. We must assume, for example, that Lucy Powell, Ed Miliband’s acting Chief of Staff who still appears on the Progress speaker list, is one person exploited in this way.

It is only someone who is regarded as politically reliable, truly “one of us”, who is introduced to the covert layers of operation, and only as necessary, though many more are aware of the kid of activities that Progress is engaged in than are themselves involved — the way any secret organisation sustains and protects itself.

At a covert level, Progress promotes candidates for parliamentary selections and internal Labour elections. Unlike on the Left, the Progress slate for Labour’s National Executive is not publicly declared, although it is referenced by the semi-detatched, more traditional right-wing candidates like Luke Akehurst. It operates through networks of trusted confidants, who provide information to the centre, and promote the line or the candidates through layers of increasingly less well-trusted contacts.

Many of the most important and trusted cadres are embedded in the Labour official structure — regional officials, HQ staff, members of Regional Boards or the National Policy Forum. It is they who ran the party under Blair, and, to a very large extent, still run it now. It is they, for example, who who brief CLP delegates on which candidates and what motions to vote for, at official party meetings to which known left-wingers are not invited, and by trawling the conference hall, bars and cafeteria of party conference.

How does Progress afford to maintain this web of covert activity, you might ask. That’s where Lord Sainsbury comes in. When Militant was around, David was funding David Owen’s SDP. He may have great abilities, but that isn’t why he’s where he is today. He went to Eton and inherited the family grocery business – a more successful venture than the Thatcher’s. He became a peer after giving millions to Labour — not that there was any connection of course.  He had funded David Miliband’s campaign to the tune of over £200,000. He funds Progress to the tune of £250,000 a year (figures from the Electoral Commission), and has been its primary benefactor, at this level, it is reported, for 10 years.

The Labour Party is still very short of funds. Unfortunately, according to the Times (£), Lord Sainsbury has stopped giving any money to the party:

Labour’s biggest benefactor is refusing to give another penny until he receives assurances about the direction in which Ed Miliband is taking the party, The Times has learnt.  Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who has donated more than £12 million over the past five years, was alienated by Mr Miliband’s leadership campaign and subsequent comments apparently intended to draw a line under New Labour.  The former Science Minister with an estimated £1.3 billion fortune from the family’s supermarket business was a strong supporter of David Miliband and deeply upset by the result of the contest.”

The parasite within Labour continues to prosper.

See also the latest funding figures.

17 Comments

  1. Tom Headland says:

    Left Futures must be hard up for enemies to wage a Don Quixote-like attack on Progress.

    Covert? In what sense? Publicly published accounts (unlike some Left organisations and the reason why you know about its finances); public meetings; an address that is not a box number etc etc.

    Readers’ meetings – oh, how sinister that the organisation encourages readers to meet to discuss articles published in its magazine. Political education – on your terms by the sound of it. You will be calling CLP meetings cabals that are full of cadres next.

    You did! It’s “cadres” are embedded in parts of the LP. Ok, but do they hide their membership or affiliation or pretend to views that they do not subscribe to? How an organisation’s members holding party or trade union positions different from those doing the same who support Left Futures or the Fabian Society or ….

    How sad but how too typical that another Left organisation – you! – label a group that you don’t agree with, but which works openly, that openly proclaims its views as being “subversive”. Who needs the Tories or the Lib Dems when Left Future is attempts to do down fellow party members so well?

    You do not want comments, your commments policy states, that create a “hostile” environment. Ironic because I doubt that you will publish this comment – not because it is doing that but it seeks to argue that that is exactly what Left Futures is doing.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      What I argued was that Progress operates at different levels, some open, some covert. To understand the true nature and objectives of the organisation, you have to understand its covert organisation and objectives.

  2. Edward Carlsson Browne says:

    I’m confused why it’s sinister that Progress doesn’t openly publish an NEC slate.

    Surely that just makes it slightly less likely that its supporters will know who to vote for?

  3. Tom Headland says:

    Jon Lansman’s reply to my comment on what he has to say about Progress is the classic conspiracy theorist’s response – I cannot know about the inner workings because I don’t understand how a covert organisation works. And, of course, that means that only Jon Lansman can know this as he is the possessor of this esoteric knowledge. “You may not think they are there, young man, but I can see them” says the old lady about the threatening wraiths in the corner of her drawing room. Doctors call it paranoia.

  4. Rob Carr says:

    You fail to mention that the sumptuous victorian country mansion is wholly owned by that hard-right organisation the National Union of Teachers. For an intelligent well-informed commentator, Jon comes across as a conspiracy nut in this piece.

  5. Matty says:

    Perhaps the article might come across as a little paranoid, but how come Lord Sainsbury has stopped funding Labour but continues to fund Progress? More on the Lord is at http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/content/view/full/101810

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Having accused Progress of engaging in covert activities, and being a “party within a party”, it is not surpising that they label me a “conspiracy-theorist” in order to discredit what I have said. However, I did not allege a “conspiracy” – no individual act in which Progress is engaged is contrary to the rules of the Party or the law of the land (although the actions of party staff who assist them might be).

      I described covert activities and secret agendas, something hardly new to the Labour Right. The St Ermin’s Group of right-wing trade union fixers ably led by John Spellar, then the Political Officer of the EETPU, is perhaps the best example. It was this group that succeeded both in rolling back the democratisation of the party achieved in the early 1980s and dumping the left’s policy agenda by using just such methods, as is well documented by two of the participants in that process, Dianne Hayter and John Golding, in books that present accurate, if somewhat selective and biased, accounts of the period.

      The combination of covert activities and secret agendas with significant resources from a wealthy backer whose support for Labour has been withdrawn, a distinct programme, and a significant organisational apparatus is what makes this a a “party within a party”.

  6. Dan McCurry says:

    The left was previously held back by those who saw Blair as an enemy. Moderate lefties like me were just put of by their hardline stance. The truth is he won us three elections and made this a more tolenrant country.
    The split from Compass provides the opportunity for the moderate left to advance.
    It might seem bleak for the left in terms of organisation at the moment, but the 3 leaders of the Labour Party are Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Ken Livingstone, all on the left.
    Progress is fantasticaly organised and ruthless in pursuing their goal of making the Labour Party indistinguishable from the Tories.
    We now need to get organised to provide backing for those leaders and they need to give us the backing to do that job.
    Let’s get organised.

  7. Syzygy says:

    Fantastic expose of this undemocratic promotion of a party within the party… Militant had nothing on these people. The only bit that you missed was that Pfizers also moved their funding from the LP to Progress when David Miliband failed to become leader.

    Now why would a pharmaceutical company that also funds the mysterious right wing Stockholm Network also want to fund Progress?

  8. Phil C. says:

    ooh, very good article!
    May I ask a genuine question? Where, geographically, do Progress focus their efforts & resources?

    Integrity and logic strongly suggest this has to be within the southern counties of England.
    The Progress line is that Labour have to win seats in the South; Labour have to appeal to swing voters and readers of the Mail, Express, Sun & Telegraph; and Labour do not have to set policy to appeal to voters in the heartlands of the North, Scotland & Wales (the assumption being that traditional voters will turn out to vote Labour, regardless of merit).
    Progress ought, therefore, to be keen to place their brightest candidates in winnable constituencies in the southern counties which are currently held by the Conservatives (or Lib Dems).
    It could also be argued logically that the reduction in number of MPs should cause Progress to want the likes of David Miliband to switch to fighting a southern seat at the next Election (to give Labour the best possible chance of winning those ‘necessary’ southern seats)… IF Progress are bona fide.
    Yet the above OP mentions seats in Liverpool (Liverpool?!) and Wolverhampton. These examples are surely the kind of seat that a left-winger could not only win, but serve well as a constituency MP.
    Where in the country are Progress focusing their strongest efforts?

  9. I think this shows that Labour no longer represent the interests of the working class and are just as much a party of big business and spin as the Tories. We need to build a new mass workers’ party from afresh – the prospect of reclaiming Labour for the left seems non-existent.

    Bob Crow in the Observer: “Labour is all over the shop because it wants to represent both big business and workers. You can’t. It’s got to make up its mind. Or the trade union movement has to cut ties with Labour and form a new party of labour. Yes, we might be approaching that time.”

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I don’t agree Andrew. What it shows is that there is a sizeable, determined, well-funded group of people who want Labour to completely abandon its commitment to working class representation.They completely dominated the party during the New Labour years by abandoning any pretence of internal democracy.

      They have now suffered a serious setback in the defeat of their candidate for the leadership, and are determined to regain control. We’ve got to stop them. Why should we hand over the party the trade unions created only to have to create another? I’m actually rather pleased that Bob Crow is rather more tentative about a new party than he has been in the past. I’d like to see the RMT back in the Labour Party, and Bob Crow join too. We could use their support!

  10. Chris says:

    “The truth is he won us three elections”

    Labour won three elections while he was leader, but that’s not the same as saying he won those elections. The Labour Party is a mass organisation and its success cannot be credited solely to one man.

    As for Progress, while I dislike their politics I’m sure most of them are decent enough folks. However, I think they’re more like liberals than socialists or social democrats. I’m not entirely sure they’re in the right party.

  11. mark wright says:

    totally agree andrew these labour left’s need to wake up and smell the coffee the left is dead inside labour. ther eis no mass workers organisation inside the party no inside structural democracy for the left to “reclaim the party” even if it did it’d have to start a new party as tony blair declared new labour were a new party and to reclaim it would mean turning away from that. I think the trade unions should pull out of funding labour and form a new mass workers party as andrew says the time is coming and we need to act now. all 3 parties say largely the same there is no alternative. The left in labour has no plan to win back labour to the left or to get the party to take a stronger stance on cuts. Labour as bob crow says is dead for working class people.

  12. Alex Braithwaite (@labour52rose) says:

    I am with Jon, let the Blairites either join the Conservatives or create their own party taking their followers with them. That way we can strengthen the Labour party based on our core values. We will have to work harder to get people on board but there are enough people in Britain who need their concerns placed above that of big business, to make that happen. On a final note, a glove puppet could have won the election in 97 and every consecutive election after that was won on reduced numbers – 5 million in total.

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