Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

2012 in review

2012 has been a busy year for Progress as we continue to contribute to the debate around Labour’s – and the country’s – future. Here we round up the best of what we have been doing online and in the magazine, with ideas and pieces put forward by some of the most talented writers, thinkers and politicians working in progressive politics today.

Progress magazine

This year, besides looking, as always, at a wide range of issues, Progress magazine has led debates on the changing nature of  social class in politics today, the ‘care crunch’, and the UK and European far-right, as well as looking towards this year’s May elections and reviewing their results. In April we reflected on the 20th anniversary of ‘the worst loss of all’ – Labour’s 1992 general election defeat.

In the ‘class issue’, Peter Kellner revealed that exclusive YouGov polling for Progress showed that working-class attitudes are not what some in the Labour party imagine them to be.

Mark Davis and Jane Heggie, who successfully defeated the BNP in Stoke, shared their step-by-step guide to uprooting the far-right, while Margaret Hodge shared her experience of the 2010 ‘battle for Barking’ against Nick Griffin.

 In June Joan Ryan warned that targeting former Liberal Democrat voters was a recipe for failure for the Labour party while in October Lewis Baston published a pamphlet, Marginal Difference, which argued that many of ‘Labour’s lost voters’ resided in marginal seats and, to win these back, a nuanced approach to winning Liberal Democrat and Conservative voters was needed. In terms of the result of the London mayoral race, Wes Streeting argued that, to understand Ken Livingstone’s loss, we need to look back to his selection.

We have also run a series of interviews with leading figures in the party. On the eve of conference, deputy leader Harriet Harman argued Labour should stop wooing the Liberal Democrats and avoid appearing like it has a ‘Plan B’ to go into coalition with them. Alistair Darling recounted his early experience of chairing the Better Together campaign, and reflected that Labour should be more confident in defending its time in office: ‘There was a time in 2010 where there were too many people running around saying it was all terrible and we’d done nothing useful.’ In February a straight-talking Peter Hain accused the political class of cowardice on party funding and suggested Tony Blair could have won in 2010. Progress interviewed former para Dan Jarvis MP in March and shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle on her vision for Britain’s transport future in September, calling for the government to keep the East Coast mainline in public hands.

Progress’ contributing editors, Graeme Cooke, Anthony Painter, Hopi Sen and Peter Watt argued their cases for Labour strategy and understanding the new national and international context the party is operating in. In February, Graeme Cooke painted a picture of an increasingly fragmented and complex political landscape, arguing that simplicity should be the hallmark of Labour’s response. In March Peter Watt argued that Labour must make it clear that a Labour government will simply not tolerate second best from public services or public servants, while Hopi Sen warned of the Tories’ forthcoming savage attack on Labour. Anthony Painter similarly warned of the Conservatives’ carnivous instincts, while he also predicted a victory for Barack Obama and reviewed the president’s win and the prospects of a future Democratic majority.

Renowned language and politics expert George Lakoff wrote for Progress in September, asking why conservatives are proving so successful in making the case for austerity.

The following month, an abridged version of James Purnell‘s chapter in new book, Philip Gould: An Unfinished Life, was published in Progress, in which, via a tour of early 20th century Labour party history, he argued that New Labour and blue Labour have much to learn from each other.

The magazine’s editorials framed much of the year’s debate, from its backing of directly elected mayors for cities, though eventually rejected in most instances, to praise in March for Labour’s opposition to the health and social care bill but observation that progress on welfare reform was not so far advanced. James Purnell again contributed here, arguing that we should look to examples abroad of active welfare states to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.

Ahead of the government’s first Queen’s speech in two years in April, the editorial proposed its own alternative Queen’s speech, whose measures ranged from a ‘putting children first’ bill to switch resources to early years services, to a ‘universal social care’ bill to transform elderly care into a universal public service. This prompted writers and activists from across the Labour party to pull together their own alternative Queen’s speeches, with ideas ranging from abolishing tax havens for good to salary caps for businesses that fail to pay their employees a living wage.


Each week regular columnists Jacqui Smith, David Talbot, Stephen Bush, Luke Akehurst, Angela Eagle and Paul Richards keep us up to date with the latest news and progressive comment. Also writing on a regular basis are Kitty Ussher on the economy, Alex White in the Young Progressives column, Frank Field MP and Neil Churchill on public service reform, Nick Thomas-Symonds on Labour history, Mark Rusling on local government, Joel Braunold on US politics, Jenny Simms on trade unions, and David Chaplin on international affairs.

Education and childcare

Paul Richards opened the year with praise for reformist ministers Stephen Twigg (a former chair of Progress), Jim Murphy and Liam Byrne for interventions made by them in the first week of 2012 charting a course forward for their respective policy areas. Twigg’s approach was backed by Josh MacAlister in his call to focus on teaching, not structures, and his speeches this year can be read in one place here. Nick Thomas-Symonds proffered a historical perspective on Labour and education reform, returning to James Callaghan’s ‘Ruskin tradition’ speech of 1976. The year also saw much discussion of the need to place families and childcare at the heart of Labour’s future agenda.

Health and social care

In a similar vein to MacAlister, Neil Churchill wrote for Progress on a number of occasions, challenging the party to focus on quality in healthcare, not on ‘privatisation’. In November Progress vice-chair Liz Kendall‘s speech NHS reform: a top priority for Labour attracted attention for its clear-headed approach to the need to reform the NHS for the 21st century. Much was also contributed to the site in 2012 about the pressing need to reform adult social care. The collection is available here and features pieces by Labour figures as well as industry bodies such as Age UK, National Voices and Shared Lives.

Fiscal responsibility

Debate about ‘in the black’, fiscally responsible, Labour continued from 2011 into the new year, with Hopi Sen‘s response to a critique of the case for being fiscally conservative, and Mark Rusling‘s effort to point out that ‘black Labour’ already existed – in Labour-run town halls up and down the country. Kitty Ussher argued the case for Labour to reassert a credible fiscal rule and then, within that, talk the language of hope and future for individuals and families. She also, only partly tongue-in-cheek, pointed out that the five original ‘tests’ of Britain’s euro membership were now all likely to have been met. Meanwhile, in the Labour party conference edition of the magazine Margaret Hodge argued that the party must begin to portray itself as defenders of the taxpayer’s pound .

Football, culture and justice

Following the late David Cairns MP’s ‘conservatory principle’, Mark Rusling proposed the ‘England shirt principle’: a Labour leader should be happy with someone wearing an England football shirt and voting Labour. On a related note, we saw a host of articles about football, with contributions from MP Steve Rotheram and Supporters Direct calling for greater fan ownership of clubs, embedding mutualism ever deeper into the beautiful game. Jonathan Todd and Steve Ward asked how politicians can take steps to make us one nation in our sporting and cultural live, reconnecting with issues high in voters’ minds. Also, sadly, connected to the sport, Progress vice-chair Alison McGovern MP wrote an emotional piece, The truth about Hillsborough, following the release of the Hillsborough files in October.

The Purple Papers

This year we released The Purple Papers: Real Change for Britain, Real Choices for Labour, aiming to begin a debate among party members at the grassroots about the decisions Labour will have to take as it begins to think ahead to its manifesto in 2015. The papers examine four big themes – restoring economic growth; getting Britain working again; rebuilding public services; and tackling the ‘care crunch’ – and presents some of the options and choices the party will face, and were written by Graeme Cooke, Patrick Diamond and Steve Van Riel. These prompted discussion and debate online, alongside a Westminster and regional events tour series which is continuing into the new year.

The Purple Papers follow on from 2011’s Purple Book published by Progress. This year Adam Harrison assessed the book’s impact one year on, from debates and discussions over ‘predistribution’ and ‘One Nation Labour’ to reform of the state and market and universal childcare.

 Coalition A-Z

From A for an aircraft carrier with no aircraft to carry, to Z for zoo, we marked two years of coalition government with an A-Z of the calamity-strewn alliance. Click here to read the collection, which includes entries from Andrew Adonis, Kate Green and David Miliband (and find out how exactly the zoo fits in …)

Labour campaigning and party reform

Our Third Place First conference, held in Reading in June,  and addressed by Harriet Harman with her speech One nation Labour, brought together activists to share knowledge and experience in campaigning for Labour in difficult areas, and winning seats from third place, including those where we slipped into third position at the 2010 general election. Steve Race shared his top tips for winning on a budget, Alex White called for us to rethink ‘paper candidates’ as ‘pioneer candidates’, breaking new ground for the party, Jude Robinson reported from on the ground in Cornwall, and Harry Gregson recounted how Labour in Oxfordshire organised effectively to target and win tricky areas for the party.

In the same spirit, this year we launched the Fightback Fundraiser in partnership with Southern Front, to encourage local parties to raise funds for marginal seats elsewhere in the country.

The case for primaries in Labour selections was made again this year when former chair of the Ken for London campaign Tessa Jowell called for Labour’s next London mayoral candidate to be selected through a primary.

Progress strategy board

In August, elections to the new Progress strategy board were called. A lively campaign ensued as candidates vied for election to the members’, parliamentarians’, and councillors’ sections. You can find out who won here. The board’s term runs for two years – the next set of elections will be in 2014.

Labour history

In February, our Labour history columnist Nick Thomas-Symonds provoked a debate: who was Labour’s best leader? A biographer of his life, he opted for Clement Attlee. Regular Monday columnist David Talbot was keen to fly the flag for Hugh Gaitskell, and stated his case accordingly, while others weighed in for James Callaghan, Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair. Wednesday columnist Luke Akehurst sought a numbers-based approach to the question.

The debate did not stop there, however. For the magazine, Luke Akehurst wrote a more extensive piece on why Gaitskell remains a natural hero for Labour moderates. Shortly beforehand, three Oxford University students over three days in August outlined why they describe themselves as ‘Neo-Gaitskellites’. You can read their pieces here.

Also looking into the past for lessons about the present was magazine contributing editor and well-known Labour blogger Hopi Sen who argued that Labour should heed lessons from the interwar period on attempting reform in hard times.

Events and anniversaries

Progress political weekend 2012

Following this year’s Progress political weekend Labour Teachers chair John Blake reflected on the historical ‘Progress tradition’ within the Labour party. Speaking at the event, shadow cabinet member Ivan Lewis warned that ‘Never again are we going to put up with a culture of poisonous, destructive briefing in our party which tries to kill ideas’. The theme of the weekend was the ‘new centre-ground’, and Brian Duggan distilled what this meant into three simple statements: security matters, remaining ‘future focused’, and having a national vision. Fellow weekend attendee Rowan Ree, meanwhile, argued New Labour represented a third settlement, in which markets were not rejected or worshipped, but made to work for the benefit of all.

The 1992 general election

Besides Paul Richardsassessment in Progress magazine of the impact of Labour’s 1992 defeat on the party, we also commissioned MPs elected for the first time that year to share their recollections of local victory to a backdrop of national defeat. Angela Eagle won Wallasey from the Conservatives – only to be told she was just keeping the seat warm for the Tories’ return (and still is), while Mike Gapes reflected on how he was able to win Ilford South while seats elsewhere remained blue.

Armed Forces Day

On Armed Forces Day, Nick Smith, now a parliamentarian member of the Progress strategy board, pointed up the importance of marking the day, while Jordan Newell recounted how Labour in Colchester was making a difference to assist armed forces families.

Local Government Association conference

Leader of Blackpool council Simon Blackburn argued forcefully councillors have a crucial role to play in not assuming public services are better than they are. Meanwhile, Southwark leader Peter John argued for a new town hall-Whitehall settlement.

This year we also heard from soon-to-be mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson on why it was moving to a mayoral model, Leicester’s deputy mayor Rory Palmer on that city’s child poverty commission, Camden leader Sarah Hayward on the borough’s equalities taskforce and Oldham leader Jim McMahon on his ambition to transform a town.

World AIDS Day

On World AIDS Day, Steve Akehurst described the advances that still need to be made in HIV prevention and treatment in the UK.

Margaret Bondfield 

On the anniversary of the first appointment of a woman to the British cabinet, Kathryn Perera marked Labour MP Margaret Bondfield’s achievement.

The Diamond jubilee

Opinion was divided over Labour’s policy towards the monarchy. Newly elected London assembly member Fiona Twycross wrote The jublilee was harmless fun and other myths, becoming one of the most-read website articles of the year and prompting Jay Asher‘s response, Why we should rejoice.

Usdaw spotlight day

This year the shopworkers’ union Usdaw’s campaign spotlight day on 21 March was on parents and carers, and a whole range of figures wrote in support of the day, sharing ideas about how the lot of parents and carers can be improved even in difficult times. General secretary John Hannett wrote, as did Welsh assembly member Janice Gregory, Yvonne Fovargue MP, Hazel Blears MP, and Kate Groucutt of the Daycare Trust.

Workers’ Memorial Day

On Workers’ Memorial Day in April Labour Transport Group member and local councillor Chris Clark remade the case for ‘health and safety’, while Community the union general secretary Michael Leahy reflected on the importance of the day.

We hope you have enjoyed reading Progress this year and that you will continue to follow us and join in the debate in 2013. If you are not currently a member of Progress, please consider signing up here You can follow us on Twitter,  Like us on Facebook, and sign up for our daily email by on the right-hand side of this page.

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