Exclusive: 'New Labour' consigned to the dustbin of history as Progress drops the label

Political Editor

The last bastion of New Labour has fallen. Progress, a group of modernisers inside the Labour Party who tried to keep Tony Blair’s flame alive, has decided to drop its “New Labour” label.

The 2,000-strong pressure group is to be relaunched as the party’s mainstream grassroots body in a symbolic break with its past as the cheerleader for the Blair project.

“We have to move on,” said John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, who was elected chairman of Progress this week on a ticket to abandon its “New Labour” branding. He defeated Phil Wilson, Mr Blair’s successor as MP for Sedgefield and one of the “famous five” in the constituency who helped him win the nomination as Labour candidate and launch his political career.

Mr Woodcock told The Independent: “Moving on to call ourselves mainstream Labour shows the success of how New Labour changed the party. What Progress champions now represents the centre of gravity for our movement.”

It seems that Progress judged that clinging to the “New Labour” brand was damaging its growth prospects. Two years ago, the GMB and Unison unions called unsuccessfully for the group to be expelled by Labour on the grounds that it was a “party within a party”, like the Militant Tendency because it puts up candidates in Labour’s internal elections.

“We have been wrongly portrayed as a faction, not a proper part of the Labour family,” said Mr Woodcock. “It gives people a stick with which to beat us.”

The MP denied that Progress was distancing itself from Mr Blair, whose recent call for the West to fight radical Islam in the Middle East raised eyebrows even among some of his natural allies in the party. Others claim his standing has been damaged by his uncompromising defence of the 2003 Iraq War.

Mr Woodcock, a Blairite who worked as a political spin doctor to Gordon Brown in Downing Street, said: “New Labour is now part of Labour’s history. Its instincts are alive and well in the party. So much of what Ed Miliband embodies is what New Labour was always about. The world keeps moving. Progress has got to be seen to be about the future. We are being held back because we can be described as backward-looking.”

He added: “The whole point is to move on from a label which has passed into history. The instincts and values which drove us to win in 1997, saw us command the political landscape and win three elections are alive and well in Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. 

“Progress wants to be part of the future, not anchored in an illustrious part of Labour’s history. We have been wrongly labelled a faction by people who want us to be marginalised.”

The repositioning appears to be good news for Mr Miliband, and will be seen as a sign of the party uniting behind him with a year to go to the general election. He stood as the “not Blair” candidate when he defeated his brother David for the Labour leadership in 2010, and then distanced the party from New Labour by rebranding it “One Nation Labour.”

The main funder of Progress has been Lord (David) Sainsbury of the supermarket family. The former Science Minister has donated £650,000 since 2011 but has not given money to the Labour Party since Mr Miliband became leader. He donated more than £10 million to Labour in the previous 10 years. Lord Sainsbury has described Mr Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg as “pretty average” and not in the “top bracket” like Mr Blair or Margaret Thatcher. He insists he no longer funds Labour because he is involved in the cross-party Institute for Government think tank.

New Labour: The Birth

1989: Pollster Philip Gould floats the idea among Labour modernisers

1992: Concept gains ground after Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats” win US Presidential election

1994: Gould sends memo to Tony Blair headed: “New Labour; Right as Well as Left”.

1994: Alastair Campbell, Blair’s press secretary, embraces idea of making “New Labour” the party’s new identity

1994: “New Labour, New Britain” makes its public debut as slogan for Labour conference at which Blair announces plans to abolish the party’s Clause IV commitment to old-style public ownership. Left-wing critics claim party has been re-named without agreement

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'