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Call for Labour inquiry into the organisation & activities of party-within-a-party Progress

A 20-page dossier which seems to have been widely circulated, including to all Labour constituency party secretaries, is calling on Labour’s national executive to “determine the organisational nature of Progress, and whether or not this form of organisation is acceptable inside the Labour Party.” The extremely high level of funding of Progress, combined with periodic waves of attacks by many of its leading members and its increasing resemblance to a party-within-a-party have caused widespread and growing concern amongst party members and affiliates. This dossier is bound to increase the pressure on Labour’s executive to take some action. The anonymous report dated February 2012 is called simply A Report into the constitution, structure, activities and funding of Progress. It documents several aspects of the structure and organisation of Progress:

  • It was first established as a company limited by guarantee in 1994, and its first named Director was Derek Draper, then employed as a Researcher by Peter Mandelson.
  • Although Progress does appear to have a membership structure (although it publishes no details of its membership or affiliates) and holds an annual conference, it is in fact controlled by the members and directors of this company.
  • It has never released its register of guarantor members, nor its memorandum and articles of association, nor details of its corporate structure.
  • As a ‘members association’, it is required to submit a report of all donations over £7,500 to the Electoral Commission, but it has no obligation to report its annual accounts and total income or expenditure.
  • The report notes that “its status as a membership organisation is curious” because, although the Electoral Commission might recognise the wider membership, in company law and Progress practice, membership is defined very narrowly.
  • Progress announced in January that former Blairite Advisor and Minister, Lord Adonis (also a former Lib Dem councillor and PPC) was replacing Stephen Twigg as Progress Chair. It never explained who made this decision. The only known member of the Advisory Board is former Minister and anti-Brownite plotter Alan Milburn – coincidentally also a member of the advisory board to Pepsi-Co and Bridgepoint Capital, a provider of venture capital to a number of private healthcare providers. He has come a long way since being the Trotskyist employee of Newcastle’s Radical bookshop, Days of Hope (aka Haze of Dope).

The dossier goes on to document the transition Progress has made in its political activities: in its first ten years, it was totally loyal to Labour’s then leader, Tony Blair, and engaged in political education in support of Blairite policies.  Under Gordon Brown’s period of leadership, the report says:

Progress underwent a transition from loyalty to the leader to providing a platform for supporters of ‘New Labour‘ against the new leader.

It began pursuing both a policy agenda, including on PR and constitutional reform, and a party organisation agenda. Significantly, it also started “openly supporting candidates in parliamentary selections“. Since the 2010 general election, it has, says the dossier, “conducted itself as a factional organisation inside the Labour Party“. This has included:

  • Endorsing David Miliband for the party leadership and Oona King for London May, and running a slate of candidates for internal elections to the executive and national policy forum.
  • Engaged in the training of parliamentary candidates.
  • Pursuing changes in party structure including to party conference and the relationship with the trade unions, and for primaries in parliamentary selections.
  • Arguing for the continuity of New Labour, including in editorials such as “New Labour is Right for Labour” and the Purple Book.

Although the report accepts that such organisations operate “at the fringes of our party“, it suggests that Progress is different because (i) it lacks any democratic mandate for the change of its role, and (ii) others do not have access to the very large level of funding that Progress has. The dossier’s section on Progress funding — a total of £2,917,613.16 to date in donations over £7,500 — covers similar ground to previous reports on Left Futures and it is now widely understood that two-thirds of this has come from Limehouse declaration signatory, Lord David Sainsbury, who, even when he did fund the Labour Party, only funded specific projects not day-to-day operations according to the dossier. However, interesting information is revealed about some of the other larger donors:

  • Donations from the second largest donor, Lord Michael Montague, totalling £875,500, were made at least two years after his death and through a trust whose objectives and trustees are unknown. It is therefore unclear who actually decided to provide this funding.
  • Pharmacia and Pfizer, were merging at the time of the donation of £52,287, and were also at that time engaging in criminal activity which led to the largest criminal fine in US history ($1.3bn).
  • Progress has raised more money than the Green Party, Scottish Labour or Plaid Cymru.  It has raised significantly more than any members’ association in the Tory or Lib Dem parties and 122 times more than the next highest in Labour!

In conclusion the reports says:

The financial reporting requirements upon Progress as a company are limited and, as such, it is impossible to assess its funding streams. Nonetheless, there is an organisation with the funding and staffing of a minor political party operating inside the Labour Party…. What is the reason for any organisation operating within the Labour Party conduscting its own external fundraising operations out of view of the Party. The logical response must be that it is in the interests of the Labour Party to ensure that all members’ associations operating within the Labour Party meet the highest standards of probity. The Party needs to recognise the existence of members associations within it, and place constitutional requirements upon them in matters of fundraising and governance. Further, given the current financial circumstances of the party, what is the justification for an internal organisation raising such significant funds for itself?

Finally, the report makes a number of  recommendations in addition to the holding of an inquiry to “determine the organisational nature of Progress, and whether or not this form of organisation is acceptable inside the Labour Party.” These include requiring Progress to:

  1. provide Labour’s national executive with its founding documents, and full details of its structure, activities and fundraising;
  2. explain the “apparent synchronisation of its activities with dissenting parliamentarians in 2008 & 2009“;
  3. provide the democratic mandate for its factional activities in promoting candidates, candidates and policies.

It further recommends that Labour’s national executive amend party rules to “place constitutional requirements upon Members’ associations in matters of fundraising, governance and discipline” and limit the extent of fundraising by such organisations, with excess sums to be donated to the central party.

The report can be downloaded from here (Zip file, 3.5MB).

22 Comments

  1. Guido Fawkes says:

    “It has never released its register of guarantor members, nor its memorandum and articles of association, nor details of its corporate structure.”

    You could download that from the Companies House website.

  2. Syzygy says:

    What a welcome development! Those who put the time and enormous effort into researching and writing this report deserve huge appreciation.

    The concerns about Progress, its sources of funding, and its status within the LP are not new but the potential for distorting the democratic process seems to have been ramped up under the leadership of Ed Miliband. These concerns have been expressed variously without specifically naming Progress. For example:

    http://think-left.org/2012/01/17/is-the-prince-of-darkness-mandelson-behind-ed-balls-policy-gift-to-the-tories/

    Tony Blair is reported as saying that the divide in politics was between those that believed in the ‘markets’ and those who saw a role for the ‘benign state’. These are two irreconcilable ideologies, and is the root of concern with Progress as a ‘party within a party’. Progress/New Labour advocate ‘market solutions’, whereas the Labour-supporting electorate and democratic socialist activists overwhelmingly want ‘democratic ownership’, regulation of the ‘markets, and a state that promotes and protects its citizens.

    http://think-left.org/2012/02/16/the-nhs-and-tina-mrs-thatchers-ideological-anti-democratic-political-legacy/

    Clearly, the funding of Progress reflects a commonality of purpose between the interests of the organisation and its big business supporting donors.

  3. Sweet Irony says:

    Ahhhh the sweet irony of leftists complaining about a ‘party within a party’. The entire reason progress is so succesful in attracting donations is because its policies are attractive both electorally and to those with money. In contrast with red eds dire policies and performance.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Sweet irony: Attractive mainly to two rich men. One of whom had been dead for two years.

  4. [...] Left Futures features a 20-page report into Progress, the Party-within-a-Party, as it calls it. It calls on [...]

  5. Solomon Hughes says:

    Excellent stuff – but don’t you need someone to put their name to the report ? – Cheers
    Solomon

  6. [...] Jon Lansman at Left Futures ran a post this morning with some excerpts. I’d heard about it over the weekend but hadn’t actually seen one (I’m not important enough *sniff*). [...]

  7. [...] a great exposé of the role of Progress, with a long list of questions about its funding here. If this was a left wing organisation action would have been taken about this a long time [...]

  8. This article forgot to include the time and location of the show trial.

  9. Sue Brock says:

    Great article. This situation needs sorting out and quickly as soon we will have an election to win. I doubt anything “progress” has to offer will hep us some how!

  10. blingmun says:

    @Syzygy

    Progress/New Labour was a reaction to the fact that socialism bankrupted every country that ever tried it. Electorates had noticed that Labour always ran out of other people’s money so New Labour was mainly a re-branding exercise. In that respect it’s no different to socialists (didn’t want the association with Karl Marx), democratic socialists (didn’t want the association with the USSR) etc. Basically each generation of lefty academics and politicians reacts put a different set of names to what they do after the previous lot were discredited.

    I don’t see why people here seem so vexatious about New Labour. They reverted to type when Gordon Brown abandoned Tory spending plans in 2001 and started spunking money up the wall. New hospitals, school buildings, aircraft carriers, Trident, foreign wars, loadsa public sector jobs and payrises to boot. All this massive government expenditure is about the only thing you lefties seem to agree on. You got it.

    Unfortunately, just as those who had “seen the future and it works” were wrong, Gordon Brown was spectacularly wrong about abolishing boom and bust.

    Rebranding exercise anyone?

  11. Comrade Andy says:

    I don’t see your point? So is compass a ‘party within a party’? Is it only the looney left who are allowed representation in group form?

    All I’m seeing in this article is raw, sour-grapes.

  12. anna lacasia says:

    do we have an copy of the dossier in pdf or word anywhere on the net?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      anna lacasia: the report can be downloaded from here (Zip file, 3.5MB).

  13. John says:

    I’ve created a PDF of this which is significantly smaller than the zip. If anybody wants it tweet me @johng1959 with your email address.

  14. Syzygy says:

    @Blingmun

    Perhaps you are a Tory and/or perhaps you are a simple troll.

  15. andy newman says:

    Although I hsdn’t seen this report when i drafted it, I am pleased that the motion my GMB branch has submitted for this years Congress is fully in line with it.

    Should be a good debate.

  16. Nick Wright says:

    In their response Progress report that they accepted money from Unions 21.
    This outfit derives its resources from the liquidation of the Communist Party’s assets built up over many decades by British workers (with a little help from their Soviet comrades)
    Therefore Progress can have no principled objection to another political tendency with impeccable socialist credentials and a much longer relationship with the organised labour movement to join them in the fraternal contest to shape the direction of Labour’s policies and influence the selection of candidates.
    It is time for the Communist Party to be reaffiliated to the Labour Party. How different the post-war history of Labour would have been if the AEU had won rather than narrowly lose their reaffiliation motion to the Labour conference of 1948.

  17. John Paul reid says:

    syzigmy ,You don’t have to be a tory to realise every other Labour government bankrupted the country ,so to win election Labour had to swing to the right and have Policies like those of Progress to win elections, A troll is someone who puts up personal insults, unless you don’t agree that evry other Labour gov’t bankrupted the Country and that blingum suggested it as A personal insult as by suggesting such was supposed to be offensive, I can’t see how he/she Is A troll

  18. Richard Oliver says:

    John Paul Reid and Syzigmy have failed to notice that the Scandinavian countries seemed to have found that something they would call socialism seems to have worked pretty well. (Ideological blinkers getting in the way?)

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