Progress has today announced that it is making a number of “changes” which it claims make it more open and transparent and introduces some elements of democracy into its structure. The announcement was timed to coincide with the meeting of the organisation committee of Labour’s national executive which will receive notification of the rule change governing internal “factions” referred to by Paul Kenny at the GMB Congress which has been proposed by rail union, ASLEF.
Although we welcome the changes Progress has made, they do not go nearly far enough and, most importantly, do nothing to address the concerns that it is largely funded by one rich man who has stopped gving money to the Labour Party. That money is used in part to fund the training and promotion of its supporters in parliamentary and local government selection processes — which Progress admits for the first time today — as well as internal party elections.
The critical part of the proposed rule change submitted by ASLEF would require that:
Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the party, but whom engage in internal activity, shall be required to:
(i) Notify the national party of all legally reportable donations received.
(ii) Transfer 50% of all donations received beyond the first £25,000 per annum to the national Labour Party.
It would also require the executive to ensure that all such groups met “acceptable standards of democracy, governance and transparency” (although this is something the executive could already do).
Most Labour Party members, we suspect, would sympathise with this proposal. But they may well prefer not to wait until September 2013 for conference to debate it (as current rules delay debate for a year on all rule changes except those proposed by the executive itself). Most party members would sooner see the current dispute settled sooner, and that requires action by the national executive.
In addition to the question of whether there should be a ceiling on donations by a single individual (or a form of match funding to the party as suggested by ASLEF), disclosing accounts already registered at Companies House is inadequate. As you can see from Progress accounts 2009/10, there are no figures included at all for income and expenditure – they are not required in small company accounts. That is not acceptable — what is need is the full detailed disclosure seen, for example, in the Compass accounts, which also serve as a model for the type of open disclsure appropriate for an organisation with a turnover of over £250,000.
There are other issues we could raise: Progress has, for example, still not disclosed the names of the members of its company – who ultimately control its activities (subject to the views of it dominant funder) and elect its directors. The test of whether the party is satisfied with the changes Progress has made ultimately lies with the membership.
When the legitimacy of Progress’s “party-within-a-party” operation was first questioned, they dismissed the allegations as a fringe concern of the “hard left”. It is now clear from the debates at their conferences, that they are widely shared in the party’s largest affiliates. However, no-one wants a damaging extended internal row, any more than anyone wants a purge of Progress or its members from the party. Only the executive can ensure that action is taken to put this matter to rest.