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Revealed: the GMB backtracks on Progress

Revealed: the GMB backtracks on Progress

🕔30.Jun 2012
Curated from Labour Uncut, written by Editor

by Atul Hatwal

As Labour’s internal battle between the moderates and the left rumbles on, evidence reaches Uncut that some selective re-writing of recent history is under way.

The GMB kicked-off the latest witchunt against Progress at their conference. Paul Kenny, seen as the most pragmatic and savvy of the current generation of leaders, turned up the heat in his speech. The key passage couldn’t have been any clearer,

“On Progress let me say this. I know that at this very moment a resolution is written and will be delivered to the Labour party shortly. It is a rule amendment which will go before this year’s Conference for next year which, effectively, will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour party, and long overdue it is.”

But now, the GMB is backtracking. Talk of “outlawing” Progress and changing the Labour party’s rules has been quietly dropped and is in the process of being airbrushed out of accounts of their conference.

Last week, the union’s national political officer, Gary Doolan, sent a private e-mail to the network of GMB councillors with some very careful wording. The relevant paragraph comes at the end:

“In addition, there has been much debate about GMB’s Motion 154 to Congress, which has been described as “banning Progress from the Labour Party”. Just to clarify the situation I have included the actual Motion 154 for your perusal.”

The operative phrase here is “there has been much debate”.

No view on who started and led this debate. Certainly no sense that it was the general secretary of the union that raised the prospect of proscribing Progress and actively welcomed it. Instead, this is a discussion that has emerged without origin. What us? No way guv. Couldn’t be us.

Then Doolan attempts some sleight of hand. “Just to clarify”, he refers to the original motion from their conference. This calls for Progress to be monitored rather than expelled. Directing councillors to the motion rather than the words of the general secretary, which drove the news stories, is deliberately misleading.

The reason for this clumsy artifice? Pressure on the GMB from Labour’s leadership to calm the rhetoric and defuse the situation.

Any time Ed Miliband has to spend publically addressing Labour’s internal divisions, rather than attacking the Tories, paints the party as riven by the old conflicts of the 1980s. Unfortunately for the leader, he keeps getting asked about it.

The good news is that the GMB are still listening to the Labour leadership. Otherwise there would have been no change in position. The bad news is what they consider to be a de-escalation.

It’s a sign of where the modern union movement is politically that a call to single out a specific organisation, which has broken no rule or ordinance other than to hail from a different wing of the Labour party, is seen as an acceptable, moderate line to take.

What happens next will be key. The leadership now want this row to go away. It served a purpose in silencing Blairite MPs but if it rolls on into Labour party conference, this debate will soon morph into a media narrative about another Labour lurch to the left.

The question is, after so much sabre rattling, will all of the unions simply drop the witchhunt and do as the leadership say?

The answer will reveal much about the true balance of power within Labour between party and union bosses.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut

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