The recent GMB conference and specifically Paul Kenny’s remark that Progress would ‘soon be outlawed’ has thrown the factional dissonance in the Labour Party into sharp relief. I am sure it is true that there are legitimate concerns about the funding and transparency of Progress but I think the specific focus on one group is obscuring a wider issue. It is sadly clear that many on the left see these concerns as a proxy for their contempt for the actual political positions that this group espouses and that their campaign is politically motivated. Let’s be quite clear, I am opposed to many of the political positions that this grouping espouses, however, I am equally opposed to the institution of political witchhunts within the Labour Party. Democracy is, ultimately, for those whom you disagree with, not for your ideological kith and kin and many on the left seem to have forgotten this. Frankly, I think comrades who argue for ideological purges have lost their way and lost touch with the spirit and the letter of left-wing politics.
I would say there is a case to answer against some left-wing groupings when it comes to transparency and openness and you left being reminded about the old adage involving glass houses and stones. The fact that this is a universal problem calls for universal solutions. It is up to our National Executive Committee to address this issue but not in the way some hope it will. We need a clear set of guidelines and common standards which groupings of all ideological shades within the Labour Party are expected to abide by and these need to reflect adherence to some basic principles. Obviously, transparency and openness need to be enforced but freedom of expression needs to be guaranteed to every single Labour member.
Groupings within the Party should ultimately be controlled by and accountable to their supporter/member base and the Labour membership should be able to see who is funding them. If these rules are ignored then yes there should be disciplinary sanctions available to the NEC to enforce their guidelines. If a consistent, codified standard existed then everybody would be able to see why action was being taken and judge for themselves if political favour was being shown and claims of unfair persecution on grounds of political belief would be either be clearly seen to be legitimate or seen to be nonsense. Left or right we all lose when Labour’s internal democracy is whittled away in favour of buracratisation. It is not good enough for Mr Kenny to allude too a mysterious rule change that none of the members (to the best of my knowledge) have seen or had chance to consider, debate or discuss.
Of course, some on the left will claim to agree at this point and shake their heads when purges are mentioned. For example, Left Futures says that it seeks;
openness and transparency. That could be achieved by requiring all organisations campaigning within the Labour Party to have an open membership, and to publish an annual report with full details of its income, expenditure, membership, structure, activities, staff and donors.
This is all well and good and supportable. However, I would say that calling this a ‘campaign against Progress’ is counterproductive and suggests that those on the Progress side who are seeing this as a pogrom have legitimate fears. Rather than targeting one group this needs to bea broader campaign for the things that the author so eloquently espouses in the above quote.
If these rules are ignored then yes there should be disciplinary sanctions available to the NEC to enforce their guidelines. In this area the new Members Director might have a role to play. I have argued previously that this should be a post that the members directly elect a person too and I continue to believe that; an elected ‘MD’ could then be the last avenue of appeal if groups feel they have been unfairly judged and sanctioned by the NEC. Solutions to the problems posed by the way Progress exist that are way short of simply expelling them. Indeed, to expel the group would be utterly wrong on democratic grounds. I would hope that Progress would willingly support and campaign for the NEC to draw up these guidelines in its own interests but also in the interests of the Party unity they claim to want. Equally, I would hope those on the left calling for the expulsion of Progress would desist immediately and instead of seeking narrow factional advantage would consider the democratic route to be the best one. It sadly says alot about how many on the left have lost confidence in their politics that the only way they can conceive of winning a majority for their ideas is to call for purges. We have strong politics and relevant ideas ones that are in my opinion better than many of those that Progress espouses, let’s not cheapen and disrespect them by supporting a witchhunt of people who, despite their ideas remain our comrades and colleagues.