With the Labour leadership election now a forgone conclusion, Progress, the Blairite faction of the Labour Party, have pledged to continue the fight against Corbyn and his supporters. “This is our party and we are going nowhere”, they write — as if the 500,000 party members should have no say in this matter.
Little wonder then that they describe Momentum as “bullies” and a “cabal.”
But if Progress does not work on behalf of the party membership, the question arises: in whose interests do they work? In this respect, it is revealing to consider some of their main financial benefactors.
The largest single donor to Progress is the billionaire supermarket mogul Lord Sainsbury who, since 2004, has been effectively bankrolling the group to the sum of £260,000 per year.
Whilst Sainsbury has also contributed over £20million to the Labour Party over the last two decades, it has to be remembered that his support for Labour is conditional upon the party being under the control of the right wing. Evidence for this can be seen back in 1981, when, much to the chagrin of Labour right wingers, Michael Foot was the leader of the Labour Party.
In response to this left wing leadership, Lord Sainsbury used his financial resources to bankroll the Social Democratic Party (SDP) – a right wing split from Labour. The key objective of the SDP was to keep a socialist Labour Party from power by splitting the left vote. They succeeded in this task, and Lord Sainsbury, who donated £750,000 to the SDP between 1981 and 1987, played no small part in its success.
Whilst it is hardly surprising that Lord Sainsbury does not contribute to the finances of Momentum, it is important to note that if the right wing was to make such a break again, Sainsbury’s support for the Labour Party would no doubt dry up.
Other individual Progress donors reveal a similar commitment to the interests of capitalism. One example is Lord Patrick Carter, a Labour peer who has been working in an advisory capacity for the Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and who founded and ran private health care provider Westminster Health. Another is Jon Mendelsohn, a Labour peer and lobbyist whose career has been littered with controversy (Mendelsohn was twice caught out in “cash for questions” scandals).
There are also a number of lobbying groups who donate generously to Progress, such as The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, which describes itself as “the industry body and public policy advocate for the private equity and venture capital industry in the UK”. Another perhaps even more troubling donor is Sovereign Strategy: a strategic advisory firm committed to helping major corporations “understand the impact new laws will have on their business” and enabling them “contribute… to the shaping of new regulation.”
Progress’s coffers have also been gratefully filled by Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world which is currently buying out swathes of the NHS. Not coincidentally, Owen Smith, Corbyn’s current leadership challenger, used to work for Pfizer, which throws into doubt Progress’s claim that Smith was a “soft left”, not a “Progress candidate.”
More important than any of this, however, is the lack of any real support for Progress from the working class, i.e. through individual donations from workers or the trade union movement. By itself, this is a clear indication of their clear anti-worker agenda.
“Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are”, as the saying goes. Progress is a friend of the rich, not the poor; it is a friend of capital, not labour; and it is certainly not a friend of Labour’s new members.
Progress is not an organisation that can be reconciled with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and its MPs must be subjected to mandatory reselection, a democratic process for constituents to hold their elected representatives to account, as soon as possible. This will be an important step in transforming Labour into a party for the 99%.