The campaign against Progress operating as a party within a party stepped up a gear today as the GMB Congress passed without dissent a motion highly critical of Progress which it compared with the Militant tendency, and calling for “the national political officer should monitor the factional activity of Progress, and report to the CEC with recommendations.” More importantly, Paul Kenny, in moving a special political statement by the union executive, supported a move to “outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party“. It is not yet know precisely what is meant by that but it would appear that it goes significantly further than the motion. All he said was:
I know that at this very moment a resolution is written and will be delivered to the Labour Party shortly. It is a rule amendment which will go before this year’s Conference for next year which, effectively, will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party, and long overdue it is. “
Perhaps this goes further than Left Futures would support. In recent months, we have been the most outspoken voice to speak out against Progress and have been vilified by them as a result. We weren’t the first — Tom Watson MP argued a year earlier at Labour Uncut:
As a privately funded organisation within the Labour party, Progress warrants more scrutiny. It doesn’t quite possess a central command structure, but its leadership is never backwards in staking out positions on most areas of policy and party reform.
It is welcome that the GMB and Paul Kenny(whom Luke Akehurst describes as “one of most pragmatic and moderate of current TU GSs“) share the concern about Progress activities. We have made clear that “the Left does not seek any proscription or expulsions on the right of the party.” We do seek openness and transparency. That could be achieved by requiring all organisations campaigning within the Labour Party to have an open membership, and to publish an annual report with full details of its income, expenditure, membership, structure, activities, staff and donors. We do also believe that it is not acceptable for any organisation to be almost entirely funded by one individual or corporation. We’d favour a ceiling of, say, 20% – treating related parties as one. We would hope that this would meet the GMB’s objectives.
We’d also question the wisdom of approaching this issue with a rule change that would not be voted upon until September 2013. It would surely be better for Labour’s executive to be asked to act sooner to prevent a long dispute about this. However, we know that Paul Kenny reflected the anger expressed by many speakers in the debate when he spoke of how:
during those 13 years of Labour government our voices were lost, frankly, in the sea of wine-bar chatter, career-chasing carpetbaggers, focus-group gurus and New Labour devotees who saw the future as a project – a project – with the Liberal Democrats, minus, of course, the trade union links. We were battling over foundation hospitals, privatisation, education, tax breaks for private equity and PFI.”
He went on to add:
we felt ignored and passed over. Even our own members drifted away from supporting Labour, along with five million others, who stopped voting Labour between 1997 and 2010. I repeat: Five million voters! ” (…) Harsh criticism of what New Labour failed to do is absolutely unavoidable. Anger at some of the things they did do is understandable and inevitable.
I don’t believe the public will vote for a Tory-lite approach from a Labour government – they want social advances for working people.
Responding to other motions on the agenda, he also attacked some of the changes New Labour had made within the party – in choosing parliamentary candidates, for example (“the sidelining of trade unions from the selection processes for MPs favoured lawyers over labourers, consultants over carers and bankers over builders“), and the undermining of democratic policy-making (“The shift to policymaking inside the Labour Party away from a conference based decision-making system … trade unions and constituency Labour Parties… were seen as troublesome, embarrassing and almost ignored in favour of pre-determined and pre-judged policy consultations and policy commissions”).