This month sees the launch of three new positions at Progress, as we appoint our first ever Chair and Vice Chairs. We are delighted that David Lammy is becoming Chair of Progress, while Tony Robinson and Ruth Turner are taking on the roles of Vice Chairs.
Our new appointments reflect not simply the continuing growth of the organisation, but also our commitment to promoting debate and dialogue within the Labour Party.
When Progress was established in 1996 it reflected a determination on the part of a group of far-sighted Labour activists that the breach between party and government which helped to sink the Labour government of James Callaghan should not be repeated if Tony Blair reached Downing Street. Thankfully, the kind of internecine warfare which did such damage to Callaghan’s adminstration, the Labour Party and the country as a whole – it culminated in the creation of the SDP which, in turn, helped to keep the Tories in power for eighteen years – has not been repeated since 1997.
That does not mean, of course, that the relationship between party and government is currently an entirely happy one. Over recent months, we have argued forcibly that key elements of the Labour movement – party members and the trade unions – have some justification for feeling a degree of discontent. And we have made clear that this is not simply an issue of the substance of government policy but, perhaps principally, one of the process of party management and policy making.
Progress remains firmly committed to the belief that a successful second term will only be built on a partnership between party and government. Failure on either side risks failure for both. This partnership will, however, only succeed through dialogue. Many party members may feel considerably happier about the government’s performance were they kept better informed about it. The government also needs to learn to persuade, not coerce, party members of the correctness of the course upon which it has embarked. More importantly, many party members would be more inclined to accept government policies with which they disagreed if they felt that they had been reached through fair, open and honest debate.
At the same time, the government itself might benefit, and certainly be less inclined to make mistakes, were it more aware of the views of party members (and, by extension, the communities and workplaces from which they hail). Indeed, as we argued last issue, some of the government’s more recent mistakes – the menial rise in the state pension two years ago, asylum vouchers, student tuition fees and the failure to tackle seriously Railtrack’s abysmal performance – may have been avoided had the party been listened to more seriously.
David Lammy has made clear on becoming our Chair that, alongside Tony Robinson and Ruth Turner, he will encourage all shades of opinion, and all traditions within the Labour movement, to use Progress as a platform for debate within the party, raising the level and quality of the discourse which occurs and thus, we hope, contributing to the success of Labour’s historic second term.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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