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

by Rob Marchant

Ten days 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 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.

You can donate to Progress here.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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28 Responses to “Progress has been a force for good and the party needs it”

  1. steve says:

    Nail on the head, Rob!

    But surely with its tiny membership and, as was shown by Liz Kendall’s 4.46% result in the 2015 leadership election, sparse support for Progressite politics from the membership of the LP, your enthusiasm for the glimmering Progress flame is doomed.

    You may defend Progress with the whole of your magnificently consideralbe intellect; you may fight, fight and fight again to save the party you love; you may do this with the whole of your heart. But, sadly, no satifaction and no significant political consequence can be derived from a glorious defeat.

    Pragmatism, and I’m sure you’ll agree, must rule. We must bite the bullet and realise the true representatives of today’s Britain, of the people struggling on benefits, of the nurses, of the fire-fighters, of the barely managing professiionals, of the small business owners, is the Tory Party.

    Let us unite beneath a new flag. It may be shaded by a different colour, it may be tainted by ‘wets’ like Heath and Major. But we can console ourseleves. Let us enhance our appreciation and strengthen our resolve with one indomitable thought: the Tory party is the only party of government truly aligned with the values of Blair.

    Bite the bullet, Rob. Do the right thing. Admit the truth. Face reality and join the Tories.

  2. James says:

    Progress are very good at turning up to campaign and are in interesting talking shop for people to present ideas. Beyond that I really don’t see their relevance in the current time.

    They are very ideologically set in their ways and have an underlying disregard for people within labour who don’t express their views. Anyone who isn’t on the centre of the party is pretty much a misguided fool or worse. I realise that many of this can be said of Momentum but that doesn’t make it acceptable. This approach means that they often have little to offer from a policy perspective because they don’t intergrate new ideas and continue promoting Blairite policies which lack popularity amongst the labour membership and the general population. Furthermore, they target their policies at those who they believe are necessary to win an election; seats like Nuneaton and largely offer no policies to the young. The reason centrist policies have failed in a lot of countries (Obv excluding the dramatic rise of Macron), is that often it failed to provide a dramatic answer to problems in time of economic uncertainty. Once progress can find dramatic solutions to the big problems in our country rather than just shuffling the deck on the Titanic, then they will have a relevance again.

  3. And not forgetting that Progress and the MPs associated with it possibly cost Labour the last election. They may even have cost the party the one before too, being shrills for austerity. Still if in doubt they can always pull the anti-Semitism smear out of the hat. It’s their dead cat strategy.

  4. John.p Reid says:

    Not sure, about the fact,nt having the£3 vote thing, would have stopped Jeremy winning, he got 49% of labour members, in the first round I know members who voted Liz, first Jeremy second, he’d have won the second round ifnpt the third,if it was only labour partymembersvoting

    Yes we did pretty well at the election, although post referendum,we were always gonna get Ukip votes back,
    Although it can be argued till the cows come home, had we a different leader last month)(who accepted Brexit) would we have won, same as how well we do in the council elections next month

    Progress may have ideas, as does the co-op the Fabians ans momentum, but the pro business C2 ,or middle class liberalvote they use to get, is no different to the middle class liberals that Jeremy gets, so at the same time, progress isn’t the answer to winning back votes, this, momentum is indemocratic,and progress won us some elections 20 years ago,guff
    Isn’t any more relevant than momentum

  5. Anon says:

    Well said John P Reid – there is a connection between Momentum and Progress; it’s about imposing agendas, and not about representing.

    UK politics is broken (if it were ever there in the first place) We need renewal, with more direct democracy, and more direct accountability.

    Wonks in backrooms undemocratically sealing my future stinks.

  6. James says:

    Momentum are clearly more relevant than Progress because they have enormous links to the leadership, a huge online presence and the ability to mobilise campaigners for elections.

    I was under the impression that this was a Labour orientated website. Those who want to promote the Tory Party under the absurd argument that they are the party for those on benefit and working in the public sector are clearly either deluded or Tory propagandists who should not be welcome on a Labour supporting site. On my campaign trails I spoke to many people on benefits or in public services and they were all firmly voting Labour because they aren’t stupid. A Tory party which consistently acts in the interests of its big financiers and cuts public sector pay, benefits, especially for the disabled, and invests so little in the future of our country is clearly not the party for all however many times May’s campaigning team say otherwise.

    I am not the biggest fan of Progress but to suggest that there is little difference between them and the Tories underestimates the huge ideological differences between the two. Progress may be on the edge of Labour but they are most certainly a part of Labour.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Danny, the anti semetism, smear, if there weren’t those on the far left who weren’t anti semetic, the. It wouldn’t have to be brought up,and those criticism, weren’t just by progress, Sadiq khan for one called for livungatones suspension,who I dint think is part of progress

    Although you’re right to say that ‘the ine before’2015′ wasn’t a progress manifeato, and they weren’t ed Miliband fans, because ed Miliband wasnt new labour

    By the way, Kendall got 6% of labour member votes in 2015’ just 4.5 of the vote when the £3 were added

  8. Tony says:

    “You can donate to Progress here.”

    No thank you.

  9. paul barker says:

    Its not simply that Centrists in the “Labour Party” are wasting their time, they are helping the Marxists (& fake Marxists) who now run it. They provide useful cover (Look – we are a Broad church) & they work to promote The Lefts ideas & ultimately, their Candidates.
    The Labour that was founded in 1900 no longer exists, Labour Centrists have only 2 real choices in the long-term, join The Libdems or stop doing politics altogether.

  10. Anne says:

    I agree with your headline sentiment but most people will not realise who or what Progress is and are fed up with talking about politics – just getting on with life.
    A number of factors come to mind.
    Sorry Steve but totally disagree with your points. I think that part of the reason for Labour’s advance in the polls is that the Tories are just so poor. TM’s continuation with the1% cap on pay will be deeply unpopular with public sector employees. Also the Tories deal with the dup is also unpopular. There just is no talent within the Tory party – they are better looking to the next generation of politicians.
    However, there are many Tories who just could not bring themselves to vote for JC. If the Labour Party is to ‘progress’ then they have to find common ground with the moderates.
    Many people vote for an MP who they like and do a good job. We can’t just pick a candidate because they belong to momentum – we have to choose the best candidate. Liz Kendal may not be in the momentum mode but she is a good Labour MP and very popular.
    There has been talk of a brake away party – more in the centre ground (Marcon has achieved this in France). However, there is no appetite for this, but If the Labour Party is to ‘progress’ then there has to be more united. So, I hope Progress does survive.

  11. simon ray says:

    I’d be a lot more sympathetic to Rob’s post if he was more even-handed and didn’t take gratuitous swipes at Momentum, who did a fantastic job campaigning at the recent election in my area (where we won a seat that we’d never held before). They sent activists to numerous other marginal constituencies – including several with Progress-aligned MPs. Momentum is not like Militant (who I opposed). A few of them are nutters, but that’s true of any political organisation with 25,000+ members. In my experience most of them are decent democratic socialists and the event they organised at the time of last year’s conference (The World Transformed) featured numerous broad-based non-sectarian discussions of just the sort we need to keep moving forward. The rest of the Party should welcome and embrace Momentum while keeping their own beliefs and engaging them in positive debate.
    And I think Rob’s ‘first they came for Progress’ rhetoric is melodramatic and polarises things in an unhelpful way. And it’s inaccurate; has Rob forgotten that ‘they’ came for Militant a long time ago (and were right to do so in my opinion), and – although there have been a fair few expulsions in the past two years – to my knowledge ‘they’ haven’t come for anyone in Progress yet. The vast majority of those expelled or denied entry recently have been on the left of the party, not the right.
    I don’t think Corbyn, who is actually pretty inclusive in spite of the number of MPs who have worked against him, would want or allow any mass expulsions or large-scale deselections of MPs. Unfortunately there are quite a few MPs who are out of line with the politics of the majority their constituency members, but the only ones who might possibly be challenged with deselection are the tiny minority who try to actively and publicly undermine the Party. I hope that doesn’t happen but it is surely understandable if a small number of MPs choose to behave in that way. If we are to win the next election the Party needs to present a united front and not engage in the kind of negative internal warfare that a lot of our MPs did in 2016. Yes, a broad range of opinions honestly and positively expressed within Party forums is a good and necessary thing, but public and active undermining of the leadership and its policies is unnecessary and wrong at this time. MPs and others who engage in that should expect to be given a hard time by their local parties. But a blanket attack on Progress and mass expulsions of Progress supporters is neither right nor desirable nor at all likely.

  12. Tafia says:

    @JamesThe reason centrist policies have failed in a lot of countries (Obv excluding the dramatic rise of Macron)

    If you think Macron is a centrist then you are from another world. Macron is an outspoken and avowed neo-liberalist economically and intends to reduce France’s public sector by 800,000 employees in the next 12 months, start privatising swathes of currently public sector roles and introduce anti-union legislation curbing the ability to strike etc. He also wants to bring in strict immigration controls both from the outside world and more crucially, within the EU and also supports strict austerity.

  13. Tafia says:

    @Anne I think that part of the reason for Labour’s advance in the polls is that the Tories are just so poor.

    The Tories poor? Just to remind you, they got a massive vote – surpased only by John Major in 1992, and got one of the highest percentages of the last 50 years – surpassed only by Thatcher in 82 and Blair in 97. In short, votes wise it was one of the best tories performances ever.

    Incidentally, there were massive swings away from Labour in traditional working class seats in parts of the north of England and the English Midlands, even in safe Labour seats.

  14. Tafia says:

    @James – As I was saying in my comment above about Macron being neo-liberaist etc, by coincidence this appeared on the Guardian website this evening:-

    French PM warns of more cuts to tackle country’s debt ‘volcano’

  15. steve says:

    James: “Progress may be on the edge of Labour but they are most certainly a part of Labour.”

    But Progress supported private sector involvement in the NHS (i.e. privatisation), Progress supported intervention in Iraq and in Libya, Progress supported Mandelson’s drive to privatise the Royal Mail, Progress supported austerity, Progress supported Trident renewal.

    These policies have all been suppported by both Blairites and the Tory party. Today they are opposed by the leader of the Labour Party: Jeremy Corbyn.

    Clearly, if you want to support Blairite/Progress policies, as Rob very sensibly does, you won’t be voting Corbyn.

  16. buttley says:

    implied, inverse anti-Semitism by default.

    a novel twist on a perennial uncut trope.

  17. John P Reid says:

    Steve trident renewal isn’t labour policy,some Tories support scrapping it,

  18. James says:

    ‘Clearly, if you want to support Blairite/Progress policies, as Rob very sensibly does, you won’t be voting Corbyn.’

    Given a choice between a cost-cutting Tory government and a Labour Party who still have a large amount of Blairite MPs, it seems a clear vote for Labour would be in order. Any Labour government would be limited by its MPs.

    I think that although Progress have supported these largely awful policy choices, they do still support greater investment in public services. I think it could be a good move for Progress to lose their millionaire funding as it will force them to become more accountable to their membership and give their views greater authority.

  19. Anne says:

    Beware, we have a Tory Troll blogger.

  20. Tafia says:

    Actually Anne, I’m a member of Plaid Cymru.

    Whereas you pretend to be a member of Labour, but are viewed by the people that now run Labour as the enemy – more so than even the tories.

  21. Tafia says:

    Anne, stop making a fool of yourself and learn what a ‘troll’ is. In addition, I’m not the blogger – the blogger is the person that wrote the artice. You and I are commenters.

    Do at least try to give the illusion you know what you are on about.

  22. NickT says:

    Until Corbyn’s anti-Semitic, terrorist-endorsing rabble are removed from the party, it will be impossible for a person of good conscience to vote for Labour. I’ve been part of the Left politically all my life, but Corbyn and his vicious, degenerate cronies make it impossible to do anything but vote for whichever party has the best chance of smashing the Stalinist wannabes of Momentum.

  23. steve says:

    NickT: ” it will be impossible for a person of good conscience to vote for Labour.”

    Absolutely right.

    You, sir, are a person of sound judgement and great integrity.

    But what of the nearly 12.9 million who did vote for Corbyn – could they be wrong? There is a straight-forward answer: Yes.

    They have disgraced themselves and are, as you correctly suggest, vicious degenerates. And concerningly, their numbers appear to be growing. First the Scottish electorate refused to back the heroic Jim Murphy. Then, in the Labour Party leadership election, these vicious degenerates deliberately humiliated Woman of our Times, Liz Kendall. And, most recently, 40% of the electorate backed Corbyn in the General Election!

    And now, to add insult to injury, Corbyn is shamelessly setting the political agenda!

    Truly I am outraged.

    I am sure Rob must be working morning, noon and night on an in-depth article that explains the rising-tide of vicious, political degeneracy now to sweeping the land.

    I look forward to reading it. Let it inspire us, let it unitie us. Let us, under either a Progress or Tory flag (does it really matter which one when the future of our nation is at stake?) turn the rising tide of degeneracy into a very rapid ebb.

  24. Vern says:

    Steve, Nick T I am with you all the way. Too many have been hoodwinked in to thinking that Corbyn was serious about his “fairer type of politics”. He is anti just about everything and that appears to fuel a hateful attitude. Hateful to anyone who doesnt share his 70’s utopia.
    You can see what the party line is too – disagree with the Tories regardless and find a away to make them look nasty. Take Abbotts response to Grenfell, suggesting that any immigrants should be allowed to stay forever because of what has happened. I am sympathetic but her language suggested that they were going to be evicted, that this was in some way the Tories nastiness. This was to simply keep up the momentum with the young and angry voter. I looked at the context of a maiden speech from one of the new MP’s – nothing to do with her constituents, she was just going to be “the opposition” and hold the Tories to task. I’m sure the majority of her constituents want her to do this to sone extent but her day job has to be serving constituents surely?
    After a while though the negative Anti-Tory vote weakens and JC will end up looking and sounding like Nicola Sturgeon-a busted flush!
    Personally, i think Corbyn has peaked and it’s all one way now but we are going to hear ever more nasty and bitter politics of hate and division for a while longer as he, McDonell and Abbott cling on to their little empire. Sadly the party will ultimately suffer as a result of this. Rant over – back to work.

  25. Josh says:

    “Then, in the Labour Party leadership election, these vicious degenerates deliberately humiliated Woman of our Times, Liz Kendall.”

    @Steve. Heh, that youtube clip really didn’t help her bid for the contest well.

    Honestly though, why don’t they break away and form their own party, perhaps it’s too much bother, much easier to grab an existing party and modified.

  26. steve says:


    Is there anyone in politics who, at one time or another, hasn’t mis-stepped?

    In fairness it has to be said that Liz’s mis-step was only a minor incompetence.

    Compare that to an electorate that in an ever-growing number, appear to be supporting Corbyn.

    Before the general eletion there were indications that Tony Blair was to return to national politics. By Jove, how I wish that this were so.

    But how would Tony, or Liz, fare today with an electorate so misgued they even refused Theresa May the landslide that even senior members of the PLP were hoping would destroy Corbyn.

    What on earth is wrong with people? How can an electorate get it so wrong?

    I’m hoping that Rob, deploying his usual clear-sighted erudition, produces a much needed analysis at the earliest possible moment. And perhaps Rob can use his contacts to get the piece published in the Times or the Mail. Then, with Rob’s guidance, it may be possible to raise the Nation above the dreadful tide of political degeneracy that threatens to submerge us.

  27. simon ray says:

    @ Vern, have you looked in the mirror? You seem pretty good at ‘the bitter politics of hate and division’ yourself. I’d have hoped there could be less abusive, more substantial discussions, but you don’t get beyond angry name-calling. I hope you’re not a member of the Party, because we need something better

  28. Vern says:

    @ Simon Ray – no name calling, no division or hate from me just an opinion of how I have seen politics being played out over the past couple of years. It might be coincidence that this was the same time as JC became leader and Momentum went live but there was and still is some really nasty behaviour within the party. It will, if left unchecked eventually damage the party and this can be in no one’s interest.

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