Richard Angell on all the ups and downs from the last 12 months
The Progress team started the new year as we meant to carry on: knocking doors. The byelection in the Labour stronghold of Copeland had been called after member of parliament Jamie Reed had taken up a job in the nuclear industry – seeing it as slightly less toxic that Labour politics.
The Labour leadership deployed communications chief James Schneider to try and get a Momentum candidate selected, but to no avail. Labour’s eventual candidate Gillian Troughton tried her hardest – and was supported by all wings of Labour to put her local record across – but the perennial anti-nuclear power position of the leadership meant the seat was lost for the first time since 1935.
Progress political weekend
The flagship event of the Progress calendar was a crowd pleaser. Following the launch of her memoir A Woman’s Work, former deputy leader Harriet Harman gave her tour de force plea for the Labour party to have a woman leader in her life time. Peter Mandelson recounted tales of actually making people’s lives better, the hard process of bringing the Labour party back from the wilderness in the 1980s and what were next for Labour. But it was the ‘newbies’ that stole the show: Pete Kyle and Jess Philips left the attendees wowed.
The snap election
To everyone’s surprise Theresa May called a snap election to punish Labour and bank her double-digit poll lead. Unite’s Len McCluskey was keen to remind the country that losing 30 seats would be a successful outcome, Owen Jones desperately raised money for Labour-held seats and everyone got ready for a hiding. Progress, always keen to do our bit for the party we love, visited 30 Labour-held seats and did everything possible to defy the odds. The party pulled together as one.
In the middle of the campaign Labour had a terrible night in the local elections and lost the mayoral elections in the West Midlands and Tees Valley to the Tories. However, in a unique set of circumstances – May refusing to turn up for debates, publishing a vote-repellent manifesto, then changing it and denying she had done so, alongside a remarkable campaign by Jeremy Corbyn – the election that was meant to be about how big May’s majority was left her stripped of authority.
Labour gained three million votes and 30 seats. It was a good night to be a Labour member.
Lord Sainsbury withdraws from party politics
In the days the followed the general election, we made it known that the former science minister David Sainsbury was ending his support for party political causes, Progress included, at the end of 2017. He is Labour’s biggest donor, having given £20.5m over the years, and bankrolled the ‘Remain’ campaign in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Progress is proud of this association – his support has enabled two decades of political education, campaigns and talent development on the centre-left of British politics.We turned to our members and supporters to see if there was an alternative.
Progress annual conference
Embracing pluralism, Progress invited the Labour family together to discuss the election that has passed and strategies for what is next. Frontbenchers, backbenchers, party commentators and members assembled in Trades Union Congress headquarters to debate the way forward. Alison McGovern announced the founding of the Labour Campaign for the Single Market in her keynote address.
Regrettably, both Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott declined to rule out the deselection of their colleagues when asked. Paul Mason stole the show when he told the assembled audience ‘if it’s really important to you to have a pro-Remain party that’s in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it!’ It is almost like they want constant internal battle as a way of keeping Corbyn’s position as a political ‘outsider’.
Antisemitism rule changes at Labour conference
The only real victory for moderates at Labour party conference was getting the rule change on antisemitism finally based, in hope it will turn the tide within Labour. It went through by a significant majority and there are some in Momentum who deserve credit for this situation.
Sadly conference – both the fringe and the main conference floor – was host to new instances of antisemitism. The conference chair refused the advice of Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti on speakers and found none of the antisemitic tropes used offensive enough to tell speakers to keep within the rule or sit down.
Post-conference Progress moves from being core funded by one generous individual to a broad movement of Labour party supporters committed to a centre-left progressive future for both the party and the country.
There has been an increase in membership and over half of existing members increased their contribution – some quite substantially. Together they have put the organisation on a sustainable footing.
Progress is hugely thankful to the thousands of people who have come forward and would like to thank Sainsbury for 21 years of extremely generous support.
If you have not yet joined or upgraded what you give, please do so now: prog.rs/join
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell