Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Progress has been a force for good and the party needs it

Two weeks ago it was announced that Progress, the centre-left pressure group within the Labour party, would cease to be funded by its patron for over a decade, Lord Sainsbury.

Progress has always been the part of the party most in tune with the British public, rather than Labour members or supporters, and has been unafraid to challenge Labour to engage with new voters, rather than preach to the converted.

It has therefore, as one might imagine, had a somewhat tough time since the party’s return to opposition and its gradual move to the left since that point. During the Miliband era, it continued to push quietly but firmly towards the centre, providing a useful ballast to the creeping “hullo clouds, hullo sky” impossiblism of the party’s then leadership.

However, even during that era, it was under attack: Miliband’s appeasement of the increasingly militant Unite union required the organisation in 2012 to take measures to defend itself against those, like Unite’s leader Len McCluskey, who accused it of “manipulations” and who would happily see it severed from the party body politic.

Eventually, even Miliband stood up to Len McCluskey after the Falkirk selection debacle; but by mis-specifying the solution, he lost. Unite saw its chance, in Miliband’s adoption of a US-style primary to select its leader, to push the party in its direction. The result was the election of an outside candidate which the PLP did not want and a resulting influx of new, Corbyn-supporting members who have by now displaced many of the old-timers.

The resulting onset of the Corbyn years saw, rightly, an even more robust defence of centrist politics from Progress, presumably on the grounds that, faced with a hard-left leadership, attack was the best form of defence.

At the same time, the critical voices from the leader’s supporters in attacking the organisation have grown ever louder and shriller. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that there has been a more-or-less constant hate campaign against the group on social media from the Corbynite left, in particular promoting the charge that it was an “entryist” organisation, or a “secret party within a party”.

First rule of Soviet propagandism: always accuse the other side of your own failings, so as to neutralise their legitimate criticism of you.

The irony of the charges against Progress is twofold.

First, entryism is about being a member – overtly or otherwise – of another organisation outside a party, which is the case with a number of Corbynites who are members (or very, very recently were members) of far-left groups, such as the SWP. To make things more tricky to trace, many of these groups do not even keep formal membership lists or present candidates for Parliament. Despite this, a number of such entryists have been suspended or expelled.

In contrast, Progress members are all inside: they have to be Labour members and are therefore precluded from being members of other, competing political organisations. And the charge that they are secret Tories is entirely risible, as a short conversation with virtually any Progressite will quickly confirm. These are people who have never felt comfortable with the Tories and even less so in their current form, with the right in the ascendant.

Second, Progress has always been open about its objectives. It holds a well-attended annual conference every June and even has a strategy board which publishes its meeting minutes. Its main goal is support of the Labour Party, while legitimately trying to influence its political direction towards that of the country at large. It does not agitate for deselections of people it disagrees with, or party rule changes to facilitate this.

Compare and contrast with Momentum: an organisation containing a large number of non-party members; which holds a party conference in competition with Labour’s own during the same week, so as to draw away the crowds; and which channels funds from undocumented sources to undocumented political uses.

If there is an organisation which is truly a party within a party, it is surely Momentum or, at least, those of its members who have succeeded in joining Labour without being ejected for breaking party rules. Its main goal is support of Jeremy Corbyn, not Labour, and it is now clearly behind recent pushes for deselection of MPs unfriendly to the Corbyn project.

One imagines that Sainsbury’s decision to withdraw from Progress was certainly nothing to do with the organisation’s performance: for a modestly-funded and -staffed organisation, it has been remarkably successful in maintaining the centrist flame alive within Labour. His public statement is that he has retired from all political funding to focus on charitable work. All the same, one can imagine a crashing disappointment with the party itself under Corbyn, perhaps even a feeling that it was already a lost case.

Furthermore, let us not forget that Sainsbury is of course a prominent Jew in a party which has tragically become an uncomfortable place for members of that community. A party which has equivocated on anti-Semitism and whose leadership seems happy to watch Jews walk away from the party; all the while, comforting themselves of the unassailability of their anti-racist credentials by mendaciously classifying such leavers as “Zionists”. Not Jews, you understand. Zionists.

No, Sainsbury can hardly be blamed for feeling his chances of influencing political discourse are limited with regard to a party which is to be led by Corbyn for the foreseeable future.

There we might respectfully disagree with him, though. The party is not dead yet and it needs people who will fight for its soul. Progress is part of that fight and needs your support.

To paraphrase Pastor Martin Niemöller: “First they came for Progress, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Progressite.”

Your party is in trouble. We are all Progressites now.

This post first published at Labour Uncut. You can donate to Progress here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...