By now, you should know who Progress are. For those of us in the Labour Party unfortunate enough to have been engaged in ideological warfare with the Blairite pressure group, the battle lines are clear. However, for the uninitiated, it’s by no means so obvious. Jon Lansman did an excellent job on the Left Futures blog in summarising their “project” back in 2011. Not long after that, in February 2012, Progress were dealt a seemingly knockout blow when a 20 page dossier was circulated amongst Constituency Labour Parties, calling for an enquiry into their activities, funding and attacks on Ed Miliband’s leadership. Since then, they have been denounced by union leaders and been the subject of much scorn amongst ordinary union members. However, they weren’t to be deflected either by the report or by the increased scrutiny of their activities and merrily carried on as if nothing had happened.
The people involved in Progress are not stupid, however. They are fully aware of the unpopularity of much of their core programme and their ideological framework. They’re equally aware of how few Labour members actually want to continue or resurrect the New Labour project, so they blur the lines between their Blairite values and Labour loyalism. They do this with the sophistry of language. Nobody can miss the fact that their name, Progress, is a misnomer, but listen to the way they describe themselves:
“Progress is the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”
Impressive stuff, but what could it possibly mean?
Well, let’s see. Would an organisation set up (in 1996) by Paul Richards, Liam Byrne and Derek Draper really be interested in developing a radical and progressive politics, unless you skew the meaning of those words beyond recognition?
In the introduction to their ‘Purple Papers’, tantalizingly subtitled ‘Real Change for Britain, Real Choices for Labour’, we have this:
“We seek to discuss, develop and advance the means to create a more free, equal and democratic Britain, which plays an active role in Europe and the wider the world. Diverse and inclusive, we work to improve the level and quality of debate both within the Labour party, and between the party and the wider progressive community.”
If you were a teacher, you would simply have to get your big red pen out and scrawl all over it: “define this”, “don’t waffle” and “and….”
I thought it would be an interesting and possibly comical exercise to read between the lines of the excited Progress twitterati as they gathered for their Annual Conference last Saturday, the 11th of May, at Congress House in London. For full comedic effect, imagine that this is an episode of ‘The Thick of It’. You never know, I thought, they may even let their guard down and let us in to the (purple) heart of darkness, if only for a second or two:
Early doors, and new Progress MP Steve Reed, fresh from winning the Croydon by election, seems pretty excited about cutting, sorry, I mean reforming public services:
@SteveReedMP Looking forward to @progressonline conference today – will be speaking about reforming public services by empowering users #pac13
Progress die-hards always use very positive sounding phrases like “empowering users” when we all know that they mean outsource, privatise, sell off and take away people’s universal rights to free health care, welfare etc.
The amount of times a “Labour Majority” is mentioned is truly astonishing. Why bother? Surely it’s pretty vacuous to go on about a “Campaign for a Labour Majority”? What’s the alternative position? A “Campaign for a Labour Minority”? However, you see, Progress are like those awful managers who think that we’ll all be impressed by their jargonising. Of course, it’s also important for Progress to project the image that they are the hardest working, most loyal part of the party (unlike those lefties). What would we do without them? I think the hashtag from Stephen Twigg may have been gilding the lily a little though:
@StephenTwigg Heading to #pac13 to hear @Ed_Miliband & speak in closing plenary to promote Campaign for a Labour Majority http://prog.rs/53j #LabMaj
No populist, rightwing-sounding policy must ever be off the agenda – especially “the anti social behaviour agenda” (TM Hazel Blears). Conjure up images of lager swilling yoofs as much as you possibly can. Apologies from Gloria De Piero’s spelling by the way. I blame the parents:
@GloriaDePieroMP Off to #pac13 to listen to Ed Miliband. Afterwards ill be talking about why the anti social behaviour agenda is crucial to Labour’s success
And Richard Angell, who has done much to build up the organisation from a collection of Blairite MPs and councillors to, well, a collection of Blairite MPs and counillors, loves this one from Ed – straight out of the Progress Bible.:
@RichardAngell No issue can be a ‘no go’ area for Labour. If the voters are talking about it, Labour is talking about it’ says @Ed_Miliband #pac13
No no go areas is a mantra for the average Progressite and it of course has the added benefit that it can be used as a catch all for any anti-immigrant, anti-welfare rhetoric:
Of course, Tory switchers are manna from heaven for the true believers. We must reassure them, the story goes. We must not challenge middle England. Repeat ad naseum (check out the hashtag, making another appearance):
@FelicitySlater Peter Kellner: We need to convince those Tory to UKIP switchers tht they have nothing to fear from an Ed Miliband premiership #pac13 #labmaj
Even John Denham gets in on the act. Prog pluralism, he says:
@JohnDenhamMP Real progressive change depends on active support of millions of people not all of whom vote for the same party Prog pluralism. #pac13
However, is that the mask finally slipping? Yes, we want a #LabMaj, but let’s face it, we need the Lib Dems and the Tory switchers to scare the left in the party a lot more.
And just in case you thought this was about politics and an agenda to push the party back to a discredited Blairism, it isn’t. It’s a technical thing about credibility (Read: cut hard and cut fast):
@owenalunjohn Bang on from @andrew_harrop. It’s not about how left or right we go, it’s about how credible we are #pac13
Sorry, I meant “realistic spending”:
@JoshNewlove Impressed by @PCollinsTimes as always. Vital words on realistic spending met with indicative policies based on resources available. #pac13
Indicative policies, by the way, are ones that don’t really exist in the run up to the election, or at party conference, but are made up on the hoof by Special Advisers linked to Progress once in Government. Thank the Sun Tanned One for that!
This one is a real treat for all of our Newcastle based readers:
@Joe_Dromey Just heard from @nick_forbes, leader of Newcastle at #Pac13. Sounds like great things going on there. He’s one to watch
Yep, great things are happening in Newcastle. Great things, like closing libraries, youth services & swimming pools. ‘One to watch’ in the next safe selection in the North East, I would presume. With a record like that, what could possibly go wrong for speed boat enthusiast Forbes?
Ed Miliband is politely tolerated and whatever Blairite treasure can be dredged from the whole One Nation thing is pounced upon, but the real excitement is reserved for the entrance of the Dark Lord, Peter Mandelson. Stephen Bush even tells us (the whole darn Twitter universe) how we feel about the man:
@stephenkb I love Mandy – who doesn’t?
Mandy’s opening remarks occasions one of my favourite tweets from the whole of the Progress conference. What makes it even more beautiful is that it was tweeted by the official ProgressOnline account and that it was retweeted by 5, presumably sentient, adults. Genius:
@ProgressOnline Peter Mandelson: we shd simply aim to win outright in 2015 #pac13
Delving into the murky world of Progress should come with a health warning. If this is what they’re saying on their iPhone’s to millions, imagine what they are saying in Pret a Manger! It’s not all bad, though. Just by searching the #pac13 hashtag, you do come across some healthy cynicism about the management double-speak of Progress. This one is my favourite, only let down by the fact that the offending statement is not attributed to anyone:
@SohoPolitico “@ChrisMasonBBC: Where else but at a political conference could you hear the phrase ‘proofing our narrative’?? #pac13” <In hell, maybe?
And on that bombshell…