Reflections of the year 2011-2012


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Our Political Positioning and Priorities Statement (below) sets out our strategic political position as well as a list of key priorities and activities proposed for the year ahead. Compass members can propose amendments to the PPPS which can then be voted on both online and at the Compass AGM on 2nd February 2013. For more information our democratic processes and the AGM click here.

We’ve published this as a stand alone piece on the website to allow reflection and debate and to allow interested parties to gain a better understanding of how Compass sees the current political landscape and its place in it.

Political analysis and context

The abiding contextual challenge for Compass, and all who share our desire for a good society, is both the frustration of party politics and the inspiration of extra-parliamentary change makers. The medium to long-term goal of Compass must be to help transform progressive parties and build a wider civil society alliance that is capable of changing the political beliefs and culture of our country. Indeed, Compass continues to recognise that only when a broad alliance across progressive parties is linked to an even broader alliance outside of parliament will we see the kind of transformational change in the lives of people and the planet we desire.

Formal representative democracy is going through a crisis. It is not a crisis solely of the UK or progressives but it particularly affects those that want to see fundamental change. It has at least three layers. First there is separation of power from politics and politics from power. Anglo Saxon capitalism has led the way over other variants and gone up to the level of global flows of finance and investment but democracy has failed to follow. Second, this form of capitalism has mined deep into our emotions and psyche as the consumerisation of life and society has taken an overwhelming grip on popular culture. And third the very rigid and hierarchical nature of political parties is increasingly out of step with the modern mood in which people have multiple identities and want a voice and a say in how things are done.

That doesn’t mean that party politics is redundant, far from it. Formal party politics must build up to the global or at least European level and must reach down to empower nations, cities and communities. They must also help counter the rise of selfish individualism and help foster a greater sense of common wellbeing. Finally they must let go within their own structures and allow greater freedom, liberty and democracy – not least in a way that represents the diverse nature of the country they claim to represent. There are many facets to this internal inequality but gender imbalances remain very strong.

Labour is reviving itself after a heavy defeat, much to Ed Miliband’s credit. He has cemented his leadership having taken several brave decisions on big issues such as the nature of capitalism, Leveson and, it looks like, social security. But even if things go as well as possible for Miliband, entering Downing Street with a fragile majority his leadership will likely face civil servants with their own agenda, the Treasury demanding economic orthodoxy, the Governor of the Bank of England pressing for cuts with the backing of the bond market, a hostile media (especially if they win on Leveson), protests over transport fuel costs or other issues, a reviving Tory party under Michael Gove or Boris Johnson and then internal party opposition. To survive and lead a long term, pragmatic, transformative agenda Labour will need to amass a formidable coalition of forces and ideas inside and outside of their ranks.

The Liberal Democrats face an existential crisis, having been captured by a right-wing faction. They are polling below UKIP in some UK polls and came 8th in a recent by-election – the worst performance ever by a mainstream party. They hope something will turn up and that it can’t get any worse but they could be obliterated at the next election, from which the Tories will gain most. The radical social liberal wing in the party has yet to find its full voice and good members continue to bleed away, some to Labour but most drop out of party politics altogether. It’s essential that, in whatever form and place, the politics of radical social liberalism is kept alive and flourishes in an era where it is sorely needed.

The Green Party has changed its leader and it’s too soon to say how much Natalie Bennett can add to the success of Caroline Lucas. While their policies and analysis remain very strong there is little or no sign yet of an electoral breakthrough for the Greens. In addition there is a collective failure across the environmental sector to get sustainability back on the agenda, despite the obvious crisis we are now starting to endure.

Devolution to the Scottish Parliament, and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, with their proportional voting systems, is providing space for the development of a more modern, European style of politics.

In Scotland the independence debate is providing opportunities to open up and renew left of centre politics, with progressives on both sides of the argument. The Welsh Labour Government continue to carve out clear red water for Wales without threatening a transformative agenda, while the Party of Wales can hopefully renew itself under the promising leadership of Leanne Wood. Exploring what devolution can offer, as well as a strengthened role for local authorities, will be central to fixing the failing, top down model of British politics: we need to devolve and involve!

But symptoms of this crisis of representative democracy can be seen in by-elections producing increasingly unpredictable results like Respect in Bradford West. Meanwhile, UKIP will continue to make headway, independents will win more often on councils- as they did for the police commissioner elections and turnout will continue to plummet. The National Health Action Party is standing candidates in part because they no longer see Labour as the natural party of the NHS. Could the same happen in education around academies or free schools if the main parties continue to disappoint?

But outside of these almost Victorian structures, politics for millions continues to flourish both intellectually and organisationally. Just think of the way tax justice has become a mainstream issue, now picked up by MPs such as Margaret Hodge, because the likes of UK Uncut and the Tax Justice Network made all the early running. Meanwhile 38 degrees, Transition Towns, Citizens UK, the ripples from Occupy, some trade unions and NGOs, UK Feminista, campaigning journalists and even organisations like Mumsnet will continue to take the lead alongside authors, academics and the more adventurous think tanks that know new answers are needed for the rising problems we face. But all of these organisations (and more) need a parliamentary system that goes with the grain of progressive thought and action – it is unimaginable that we can transform our country without greater ambition and force within parliament.

So there are limits to what parties can do, just as there are limits to what civil society can achieve. But politicians can and must do more – just as wider forces must join up so that we can face the crisis of capitalism and the fast emerging environmental crisis with confidence that a good society is not just desirable but feasible.

So what does this mean for Compass?

If this analysis is correct then Compass has a unique and vital role to play in securing the democratic accountability of capital, providing a compelling vision of a good society and a good life, helping progressive parties to transform themselves and building an alliance across parties and civil society.

Of course this is a massive undertaking. But Compass has great strengths: the political analysis of a good society, a growing membership and supporter base, strong links into the leadership of all the progressive political parties and a vast network of relationships with academics and campaigning organisations big and small that enable us to have a huge impact on the future of politics.

While we should be proud of successful initiatives such as Plan B and the High Pay Commission we now need to dramatically step up the scope and ambition of our activities. We cannot do everything we want – because limited resources don’t yet allow us to function in every space we need to – not least at the global or European level.

So the priorities and goals for 2013 are:

1. Re-launching Compass

The most important thing we can do all year is to unlock the huge and growing potential of our membership and supporter base. This includes local and national campaigning as well as participation, influence and support for all the work Compass plans for the next 12 months and beyond.

To these ends we will create a new look and website for Compass. An emphasis will be placed on building active local groups and Compass Youth, increasing the membership and supporter lists while developing the quality of the relationships within the organisation.

2. Gender Equality

Compass must be the change it wishes to see in the world. In what we do, how we do it and what we say – we must transform our own organisation before we can hope to transform the wider political culture of our country.

To these ends we will issue, debate and publish a ‘statement of intent’, which ties the organisation to clear goals and expectations in terms of what we do to reflect and prefigure a society based on gender equality and diversity.

3. Develop Manifestos for a Good Society

This will be the intellectual focus of Compass for the next couple of years, aimed at feeding ideas into the UK election but also at Scottish, Welsh, European and local political levels. Through a mixture of working groups, local initiatives and direct membership involvement we will produce and then campaign on a series of manifestos that makes the desirable feasible and joins up thinking and policy across the policy spectrum with a major emphasis on: a new economy, public service reform, sustainability, social security, Europe democracy and the overall vision of a good society. This work will build wherever possible on existing projects and groups such as the excellent and fast developing work of the Compass Education Group.

To these ends we will launch a manifesto building process with a major event in the new year, focus the annual conference on the manifesto and encourage local group and membership participation as fully and as far as possible in the process.

4. Build a Progressive Alliance

This will be the outward-looking organisational priority, to make a sum that is greater than its parts by joining up the party and campaign silos to create a broader movement for a good society. This good society will require thinking and action at a range of levels, our relationship with the EU, making the most of devolution, and in strengthening local democracy and the role of local authorities.

To these ends we will ensure that every activity of Compass is used to build broad and often unlikely alliances. The manifesto process will be a key platform as will local group activity. In addition Compass will conduct a large scale mapping exercise to identify and plot the progressive landscape as a key step in building a more effective political alliance.

In 12 months’ time we need to ensure our organisation is politically and financially sustainable and can meet the challenge of the new politics. Compass must take the lead where necessary, join up where possible and always prefigure the good society we desire.

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