Seven conferences, six towns and ten meetings involving Compass, me and lots of Caroline Lucas.
September has been something of a whirlwind. Early in the month I had the honour of going to Frome, a market town in Somerset, which was the host of a Flat Pack Democracy event. 300 people came from across the country to talk about why politics isn’t working and what they were doing to change that in their home towns. It was a celebration of people power and an inspiring day. You can get a sense of the event from this video.
Next came Leeds and a meeting with Independent Labour Publications (ILP) on Radical Hope. Jon Trickett was on good form talking about the potential for a radical citizens’ assembly. Sue Goss, also from Compass, did a great talk on open tribes.
The first leg of our party conference season tour started in Bournemouth with the Liberal Democrats. I spoke at a lunch time fringe hosted with the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) and chaired by our own Matthew Hulbert. The speakers were myself, Caroline Lucas and Helen Flynn, all talking about progressive alliance politics. The meeting is packed full of kindred spirits. I did my ‘joke’ that Labour must support such an alliance as they have elected a leader who looks more like a Liberal Democrat than any Liberal Democrat.
The Lib Dems have to drop their attempt to be equidistant from the left and right. Instead, they should say they want an alliance with Labour and other progressive parties. Although of course they may have to deal with the Tories if Labour doesn’t play ball, as it didn’t last time. Caroline and I repeated the performance in the evening at a Sustainability Hub event with former MEP Fiona Hall – again the meeting is packed. I have a sense of hope on my long, late-night train home.
I was back in Bournemouth on Sunday for a panel of the Green Party conference. I spoke alongside: Caroline, again; Andrew George, a former Lib Dem MP; Robin McAlpine, from Common Weal; and Rupert Read, of Green House. The discussion is how we get proportional representation (PR). I start with another ‘joke’: Labour must want PR because it elected a leader who looks more like a Green than…
To get PR we need to align it with a complex and horizontal future rather than a linear and elite past. We have to say it’s the right way to treat people – no fixes or short cuts – and that to change the system we must first change ourselves. I tell them that Labour was wrong to stand a candidate against Caroline Lucas in Bright Pavilion and they clap loudly. I then say the Greens were wrong to stand a candidate against Labour candidate Nancy Platts in Brighton Kempton, letting a Tory in – they didn’t clap so loudly that time. I leave fast, not for fear of retribution, but to drive to Brighton for Labour’s conference. There were no trains; this is still Britain in the 21st century after all.
I make it just in time for a meeting with Red Pepper and Global Justice Now on social movements and politics in the ‘Corbyn era’. Despite being Chair of ‘Compass’ I struggle to find the room. The first stages of the Corbyn wave have begun to ripple into Brighton, and the meeting feels its way to the alignment of party and movement. But it is early days. On Monday we develop the thinking more at the Compass fringe – Caroline is here again and is on sparkling form, as usual. Joining her is Naomi Smith from the SLF (whose write up of the meeting is here); Clive Lewis, new Labour MP for Norwich South; and Lisa Nandy, just back from maternity leave and now Energy and Climate Change Spokesperson.
The issue of PR crops up again and again. The shift from John McDonnell, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the space being opened up by Jon Trickett for the ideas of a citizens’ assembly is getting everyone excited. I’m in the hall on Tuesday for the new leader’s speech. He continues to break new ground, which is good, but it’s clear he will struggle to reach out. More meetings on PR – one with the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), the Fabians and Progress (you can listen here) as well as the Corbyn speech with my friends at Covi. I leave Brighton and what everyone says is an ‘interesting’ conference.
The final conference is in Copenhagen with Uffe Elbaek and the brilliant Alternativet – the new red/green party that won nine seats in the recent elections. They are just like Compass and it’s a joy to work with them. We can learn so much from them and work together for a better Europe.
As ever, the answer isn’t to be found from above or below, just from the UK or just from Europe, but from all the places. Coming home from Denmark I saw an advert from a consultancy firm claiming “Problems can be complicated. Solutions cannot.” – how wrong can they be. We know more than anything that the problems are complex and so are the solutions. Compass is a bridge between all the points of this complexity. Working in this space is both daunting and exhilarating. Long may it continue.