A breath of fresh air

Christopher Owens, Newham

I’m Christopher, and I’m a retired C of E Parish Priest.

I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for about 30 years, and I’ve become increasingly frustrated at the widening gap between the leadership and the membership of the Party: leaders seem to have less and less interest in what members think. I guess it started as long ago as Gaitskill’s rejection of unilateralist resolutions passed at Conference. Things improved briefly under John Smith, but they got hugely worse under Blair. What made things more uncomfortable was that the various groups, cliques and sects which claimed membership support were unable to talk to one another or to the leadership: dialogue and listening seemed non-existent.

Five or six years ago I read about Compass in the press and it looked like a breath of fresh air. I joined and went to an annual conference: I was astonished and delighted at the range of people there and at the excellent quality of the listening – and the fresh thought that sprang from that combination.

A few months later I attended a Compass Activists’ Academy – a week at a TU conference centre. The principal speaker was the woman who headed Barak Obama’s first election campaign in Europe – one of those young spirited American women who make you feel you can achieve anything! So I came home all fired-up, got a list of Compass supporters in the borough and collected a small Planning Group, to see if we could get some local activity going. Since then we’ve had three or four debates a year, usually with two main speakers to approach the subject from different points of view. For example, at the event on Housing, we invited the CEO of a Housing Association, the Chair of a Self-managed Council Estate, and the Housing spokesperson on the GLA. We’ve also discussed Education and Skills, Democracy & the Labour Party, the Economy, Equality, Trident, Royal Mail, Britain & Europe.

I taught for three years before Ordination, and have maintained my interest in education, being a School Governor in the Parishes in which I’ve worked and in retirement. I’ve been greatly encouraged by Compass’ drawing together of wise heads and progressive organisations to give serious thinking about what could be done to make our education system fit for a Good Society: I look forward to similar work being done on the NHS, transport, company law (ownership & responsibility, long-termism, industrial relations etc), defence, Europe and many more!

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