Labour’s New Leader – The Power to Transform?

Dear Labour Leader,

We don’t want to pre-empt the result on Saturday but having thought about it we decided that our advice, if you wish to take any of it, would be essentially the same whoever won and we know you will be inundated with ideas as soon as you actually become Labour’s leader – so we thought we would get in first. Here goes.

First we wanted to spell out the three ways in which we believe you should use the power of your new job to build firm foundations for the political transformation of our country. Being the Leader of the Opposition is often frustrating – but you are already much more powerful than you perhaps think.

 1. Power through the party

The only tangible thing, which you can directly change, is the party, so more than anything we urge you to use the party to prefigure a good society – one that is much more equal, democratic and sustainable. The way we change the party will help people understand how we want to change the country.

You have become leader in incredible circumstances, around 400,000 people joined Labour or became supporters since the election. In an age when political party membership was presumed dead, Labour showed it’s still a screen onto which so many people can project their hopes. The party has been transformed in weeks and will never be the same again. How you react to these new people is key. Your job, more than any other, together with the new Deputy Leader, is to help change the party to harness their energy and attract even more people so that our collective and democratic ability to transform our society is unleashed. Sadly what these keen new people will find is a 20th century top down, disempowering machine. It needs to change, and fast.

Here we get to the essence of political leadership in the 21st century – it is to take a firm stand on key moral issues but more importantly it is the help build the spaces and platforms on which people make change happen together. Just stand back and look at what happened over the last few weeks. The contest came alive because of the people joining – being part the wave. And many will leave as soon as they joined if the openness and empowering sprit of the campaign is lost. Today attachment is more fleeting – people have to be involved and find their voice – or they will go elsewhere. The incredible outpouring of solidarity over asylum is just another example of this people led change.

Whether you are more Bennite or Blairite is beside the point – both traditions had tendencies that wanted to impose and control. But this is the politics of the past. The future will be open and pluralist – defined by the sentiment of Facebook and not the Factory, a world that is negotiated not imposed. The good society can only be created for and by the people. You can show this.

What we have witnessed over this remarkable summer is the inversion of elite theories of change, whether by reformists or revolutionaries, in which the vanguard carries the masses – today the masses in the form of social media and social movement waves carry the political elite.

It is why a shift to proportional representation is now the base camp of the politics of the future.  Neither you nor any candidate made it an issue during the election campaign. It is essential you do so now. It is about how Labour can be in power and govern effectively but it is about doing the right thing because it shows we trust people. You can’t change the country through short cuts and rigged results. Majorities will have to be assembled for what we believe in – which means deep and long conversations within parties and across parties. There is no alternative.

2. The power to convene

The second great power you have is the ability to convene. You can now ask almost anyone in the world to help you and they will respond. The days ahead are going to be tough. Don’t shrink into a small core of people who already agree with you. Instead open out and up. Be challenged. Get the best brains in the world and the most committed and energetic people in the country to help shape Labour’s vision, policy and organisation. They are waiting for your call.

Here we come to the need to forge a Progressive Alliance. No party has a monopoly of truth or share of the progressive vote. The days of two-party dominance are over. Labour is the biggest tent in the progressive camp site – but the Greens often have the better policies, the SNP now look dominant in Scottish politics and Plaid Cymru have radical ideas and may be soon needed in government – why waste time and effort battling them when they could be persuaded to work with Labour to create a socially just and sustainable world? This is the politics of the ‘open tribe’ to which more and more people are responding enthusiastically.

3. The power to reframe the debate

The leadership election campaign has proved already that political leaders, even aspiring ones, can change the terms of debate. What you say matters. Just by putting different and challenging ideas on the table the discourse of the nation is transformed.

It needs to be. For while Labour discussed its future the summer saw huge challenges come into sharp focus: the mass movement of people; the threat of another economic crash; reminders about climate change beyond our ability to cope; the displacement of work through new technology; regressive policies that will increase poverty and inequality; the fostering of extremism, and more.

But more than anything your election comes at a unique conjuncture – a moment when capitalism’s ability to reproduce itself is under strain as never before, combined with the emergence of a networked society. When social upheaval meets social media change happens at speed and scale.  It is as challenging as it is opportune.

So here are just few concrete recommendations on what to do next based on the fact we know the next election is almost five years away:

  • Start a two year values, vision, organisation and policy review- make it as open and expansive as possible – and join the initiatives up – they must support each other.


  • If the party is what matters most then together lets find ways to enable the membership to democratically determine priorities and policy.


  • Make a reality of the community organising role of local parties, started by your predecessor but aborted all too soon. Look at ideas like a Movement Council to bring the party together with the unions and social movements locally and nationally.


  • In particular, help initiate a citizens and civil society led Convention for a New Democracy – learning from the Scottish Constitutional Convention –which built the ideas and forces to make democratic transformation irresistible.


  • Form a Shadow Cabinet of all the talents – be bigger than any recent party leaders by involving MPs from across the party’s spectrum.


  • If, as is possible, both you and the Deputy Leader are men, move immediately to reach agreement for the appointment of a second, female, Deputy who could be the female candidate who did best in the ballot. The party needs to do more to reflect the diversity of the population in what it is and what it does.


  • Show Labour takes the environment and pluralism seriously by inviting Caroline Lucas MP to chair a commission into the future of sustainability and the economy.


  • Jump on a train to see Nicola Sturgeon and with Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett form an anti-Tory Progressive Alliance.


  • Bring in all the leaders of Labour councils across the country – there is so much we can learn from them and do with them.


  • Radically reform and rename the Whip system in Parliament to build consensus through negotiation not force.


  • Your first big event is the Labour Party conference, don’t make a long dull speech. Instead open it up and get delegates and visitors talking to each other – sitting in small groups – they know the answers already and can make them happen. We have found that this works really well in engaging and enthusing people at our own gatherings.


  • Start developing an open election winning strategy, building on Labour’s 30% share of the vote last May but with no presumption that any single vote is safe. So how do we forge an alliance of workers, the precariat, the professions, the cultural and creative sectors, social entrepreneurs, the self-employed, digital workers etc?


Finally, two friendly warnings. First don’t confuse the enthusiasm for Labour over the summer for the reversal of the long-term decline of social democracy being experienced the world over that we described in Downfall. Labour has been given a chance – that is all. We know that things move so fast now that anything can happen at any time. So be brave – the art of political leadership is to make the desirable become feasible. Do today so that tomorrow you can do what can’t be done now. Always build your intellectual and organisational forces. Play the long game.

And lastly, despite this letter being directed at you – this is not about you – it is about all of us. Our country will change for the better when millions of its citizens believe it can change, must change and are prepared to help make it change. Your job is to help them. We search for something, not someone.

Good luck – we are here for you as critically constructive friends – just as we are for everyone who wants a good society.

Love Compass

57 thoughts on “Labour’s New Leader – The Power to Transform?

  1. Your letter is very impressive, and reflects my views (for what they’re worth!) I hope the new Labour leader heeds your opinions.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that politics needs to change, as decisions for the few are being made by the few. Change the voting system to reflect this.

  3. Yes, very good. Critical particularly to break the Blair legacy in two sensens: can’t overestimate importance of PR and alliances if to move beyond cynical Blairite tilt to centre-right and ending his uno duce, una voce style of leadership in favour of networking and participation essential.

  4. Labour is the biggest tent in the progressive camp site – but the Greens often have the better policies, the SNP now look dominant in Scottish politics and Plaid Cymru have radical ideas and may be soon needed in government – why waste time and effort battling them when they could be persuaded to work with Labour to create a socially just and sustainable world? This is the politics of the ‘open tribe’ to which more and more people are responding enthusiastically.

    And whilst you are at it – don’t forget the Liberal Democrats whose civilising influence on the Tories is already being missed and whose principled stance on civil liberties contains many lessons that an oft authoritarian Labour party would do well learn.

  5. An excellent idea and statement.

    I would move constitutional and electoral reform to the top of the list of bullet points in section 2. The next election is only 4 years and 8 months away and fundamental change is needed before then.

    There’s a typo: being part OF the wave.

  6. Outstandingly clear and good advice from Compass based upon experience and success in achieving creative collaboration. Also take into account the carefully thought out, progressive proposals by recent authors. The change we want is in the air. For instance Will Hutton and Paul Mason show rapid but radical steps forward, toward our goals but without the risk of frightening the horses. A minor suggestion: make it a constitutional necessity that our ward meetings always include a substantial period of discussion about policy and how to work effectively together on policy issues. Too often, over many years of experience I’ve seen an excess of formalities calculated to bore the pants off once enthusiastic members so that the field reverts to the apparatchiks.

  7. Well I do agree with everything and I particularly applaud the credit given to Labour and other progressive councillors up and down the country- those who have striven to protect the weakest from the worst ravages of the Tory Government, whose efforts have often been left unsung by the Westminster party. However, would also like to see a clearer demand for a commitment to the decentralisation of civic institutions to match the decentralisation of Labour policy-making. This isn’t made entirely clear in the call for a Citizens Convention. Similarly, let’s hope the Labour Party will look abroad for models of democratic devolution to help shape a new British democratic governance.

  8. Pretty good, especially to link Bennite and Blairite autocratcy – neither can bring anything but factionalism and disaster. The best brains need to include Owen Jones and very sharp attention to how “The Establishment” works and its capture of the once public realm through parasitic philanthropy.

    As to SNP and Plaid – it`s not all one big “progressive” tent – both imperil democratic socialism through the Labour Party. Nationalism isn`t socialism and Murdoch wouldn`t have backed the SNP if it was.

  9. The political parties may well want PR, which means the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member consitituencies. But I as an individual, and also as someone who was twice very nearly elected Liberal MP for Newbury in 1974, would like to keep Single Member Constituencies, so that I know who my MP is. I would just like to vote for my first preference and then for my second and subsequene preferences to count in the election of whoever is elected. That, known as the Alternative Vote, is what the Tories prevented in the recent referendum. It would stop my vote in the Henley Constituency being a total waste of time, while keeping one MP per constituency. Support AV!

    Also, it is wrong that, in a market capitalist democracy, some inherit billions free of tax while others never inherit any capital at all. One third of all land is still owned by the families who grabbed it at the time of the Norman Conquest. Please support UK Universal Inheritance – a citizen’s inheritance out of the past of our country for UK-born UK citizens at 25, financed by progressive reform of inheritance tax and its agricultural and business reliefs and exemptions.

  10. This letter says all the things that need to be said, above all, its encouragement to cooperate with the other parties of the left, not to fight them. If only the new leader can understand and accept this point!

  11. I support what you have written. In particular I would like to see the end of the Whip system. I would also like there to be an understanding that it is not just what you say but how you say it. The medium is the message. We might disagree with people’s politics and we can be angry about it and challenge them but without the personal attacks. The tone of debate will enable more to participate. Thank you.

  12. Can’t fault the sentiment or the articulation of this piece and hope new Labour leader takes note particularly of the power to Convene and Reframe the Debate.However, I yearn for more on tactics of confronting enermies of the Good Society – in particular countering the greed and venal self-interest of the corporate world and its media strongholds.People power all very well but precisely because it can be seen and heard it can be readily crushed. Corporates and their supporters are devious and secretive, using power fueled by exponentially increasing wealth and unmitigated by morality or social interest. That;s what we need to confront and urgently..

  13. Please explain and alert British public to TTIP and also to the privatisation taking place in NHS, which will lead to a USA type system. Platitudes actually don’t win votes. We need concrete policies to protect our NHS and public services.

  14. No mention of media, newspapers. or broadcasters.In a democracy the will of the people is sovereign. In Britain the will of the tabloid editors and news broadcasters is supreme. Just look at yesterday’s Panorama on Corbyn. Look at Private Eye’s collection of headlines interpreting Corbyn’s statements

    Your Compass thoughts are lovely, and would work well if we had a balanced and fair media. We do not have that. So what we gonna do? Don’t look at me, I have no idea.

  15. All talk and little action public ownership of the utilities is the only way we will ever see a labour government again talk to the people not at them Blair and Brown let us down

  16. My priorities, for the leader and party together, would be:

    Cutting out the internal dissent – express a range of views but cohere around that which is agreed policy.

    Introduce PR (with STV) to place the largest possible obstacle in the way of further Tory governments.

    A Labour/SNP/Green/LibDem progressive alliance would be almost unassailable – stop fannying about and do it!

    Commit to fully withdrawing from TTIP.

    Use the knowledge, experience and energy of the many professions to establish policy in the relevant fields. Politicians making policy that flies in the face of professional opinion are fools.

    Amongst other things…

  17. It is important that the Party unites around whoever becomes the next leader. This would not be difficult even if Jeremy Corbyn wins. His critics harp back to the 80s but forget that since then the neoliberal view of the world has prevailed and for many people, including me, it has not been a success. The time has come to challenge it and all wings of the party can contribute to how best this can be done. Corbyn seems open to ideas and this is encouraging. If one of the other candidates wins the leadership (I voted for Cooper) then the same argument applies, All wings of the party must come together for the good of the party.
    One thing missing from the Compass letter is the reform of party funding. If more power is to be shifted down to members then their views will be diluted by the need for the party to receive money from rich doners, big business and yes trade unions.

  18. Excellent. Yes to alliance with other progressive parties, yes to consultation with party members and the wider public. Thank you.

  19. Excellent letter, especially the third section – forming a progressive alliance with the Greens, etc. Might be a slight problem with the first section – with pluralism and negotiation it might be hard to actually get things done & make decisions, and many voters admire (rightly or wrongly) leaders who can control or act assertively. Personally, I don’t want a Facebook society, but the future is not mine anyway.

  20. The next election may be nearly five years away but a change of government could be only 7 Tory by-election defeats away. Thanks to the Tiories’ fixed parliament bill, there would not have to be an election.

  21. Knowing, as I do, how this will come across, I nevertheless feel constrained to say that I find difficult to read and to understand a letter whose author seems not to know the difference between a full-stop and a comma, and, overall, displays a woeful level of literacy. This is a pity, because, as far as I can tell, the sentiments are good ones.

  22. The second section of your Letter to the Leader ‘The power to convene’ was inspiring and spot on. We desperately need the Progressive Alliance that you also speak of.and proportional representation is a must for the next Labour Government. But replacing the Factory with Facebook is a disaster if you mean replacing the group voice of workers of all kinds with the atomised individualism of social media in all its forms, that would be counter-productive. Social media works very well for the anti-progressive forces too. It is not a good or progressive force of itself. Its a means to an end a way of communicating – that’s all and millions do not bother with it except to exchange news and photos. Compass needs to look at its own lack of decision-making and hard policies. It never embraced the ‘left’ and certainly was not welcoming to Trades Unions. Labour has been reviewing its policy for ages. We know now that we need major reform of housing, taxation, local democracy. We need greater equality and redistribution. We know what needs to be done. Its not about creating a ‘good’ society. Its about creating a better one.

  23. If you want a ‘progressive alliance’ but don’t want to destroy the local parties in areas where they would be asked to step aside, Labour members in Brighton Pavillion for example or Greens everywhere else. Then you need to instigate a new system of open primaries, held 2 years ahead of the General Election in every constituency and whereby the progressive parties each nominate their own candidate, these candidates are put to the public (with hustings, general campaigning etc. – but with spending capped) then the victor in this contest would be backed by all the local progressive parties meaning pooled financial and human resources for campaigning and a clear field against the Tories and UKIP. This system would also allow the Greens to potentially win more seats if their candidate was more popular in parts of Liverpool than the Labour one and vice versa allow Labour candidates to try and win in Cornwall with Lib Dem backing.

    It’s no replacement for proportional representation but as we have FPTP this is the system that would make FPTP work for the anti-Tory vote.

  24. This sounds like a Soundings editorial ( formerly Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin). Dr. Eamon

  25. I’ve thought for a while now that Labour should make one big gesture in its next General Election manifesto and promise, if it forms the next Government, to introduce proportional representation for Parliamentary elections as a priority. Following successful legislation it should further commit to dissolve Oarliament and so allow the new, more democratic,system to be used at once to elect the new Oarliament. Just one more point: PR should not be subject to a rdferendum. Politicians need to have the courage of their convictions, not seek to hide behind the spurious legitimacy of an easily corrupted plebiscite.

  26. Absolutely brilliant – for me this letter captures the message for progressive reform in a compelling way. It should be framed and posted everywhere.
    Congratulations – and thank you !

  27. Great letter but it also needs to stress more that once the big picture at the top is sorted out how this is then translated into community and local government. There is far too much procedure and targets at all levels which drives out any chance of bottom up input. What happened to relational governance?

  28. I do think you ought at this stage emphasise the need for an elected second chamber asap and a system of proportional representation – we may then get the support of many who do not take part in politics because they feel their vote is wasted.

  29. During 2014/15 Raise, a benefits advice agency in Liverpool, helped clients become £8.5 million better off due to extra benefits and debts written off. They included £5 million in Disability Benefits and over £1million in Housing Benefits. This is simply one aspect of the probably intended results of the government’s policy. Education, Health and Housing are going to be seriously and permanently damaged.

    So what does the Labour party have to do? First act as an effective and credible opposition throughout the current parliament and secondly make sure the Conservative party is not re-elected.

    I agree with your proposals, particularly the powers to convene and reframe the debate. I also agree with the concrete recommendations. But I do feel strongly that they must be looked at in the light of what I have said about opposition and prevention of the return of the Conservatives.

    Looking at your illustrations there is only one youngish grey haired person. To prevent the re-election of the Conservatives we surely have to persuade lots of grey haired and middle aged people to vote Labour in 2020. There must be a danger of older people being put off by what could be seen as a takeover by the young who cannot on their own achieve what has to be done to produce a “more equal, democratic and sustainable” society.

    If the Conservatives win in 2020 having caused the damage they will undoubtedly have done during this parliament and are then re-elected it will take several generations to rebuild the society we all want.

  30. An excellent letter – on which encapsulates almost perfectly my feelings about the political direction the Labour party should now be taking. More than that it is a message of hope when previously there appeared to be none.

  31. Yes, Right on. I agree broadly with this statement’.
    But object to John Crudas’s closing remarks after his R4 interview this morn. re “Trot” influence.

  32. In the north of England the Labour vote increased. We still need a Labour government with the values of the past, high taxes, controls on business and union protection for workers and nuclear disarmament. It breaks my heart that these MPs from the south all want Labour to be Tory Party Lite. I joined the Green party last year because it offered the same values that Corbyn holds. I will join the Labour party if Jeremy Corbyn has won the ballot.

  33. I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, but follow some of Compass’s writings and share many of your concerns. So I am disappointed Lib-Dems are not mentioned; in particular we could share ideas about changing our democracy through a Constitutional Convention, about changing the way we do business in order to quickly develop more sustainable green ways, explore the most practical ways of helping the disadvantaged in society (which in my view means improving the role of LAs, not diminishing them) and reducing inequality.

  34. I presume the question mark after the title of this piece is deliberate. Transforming the party without transforming the country is meaningless To transform the country you need power and despite the euphoria. of Corbyn’s supporters today the new leader of the Labour Party is unlikely to be in a position to actually change the lives of those who are in most need of a Labour government.
    As you say in the article the art of political leadership is to make the desirable to become feasible.

  35. First the local partys need sorting out . They need instruction in treating each other and new members with comradeship . They need instruction on Labour Party rules . Most new members is our local party are forced out one way or another within a year . This needs stopping and monitoring . All members need a copy of the Founding Principles of the Labour Party .Every time a member does not renew membership they should be asked by an officer at the National Labour Party ,Why they have not renewed their membership . This information must be acted upon and collated .

  36. Good piece. With regards to posted comments on Lib-Dem inclusion, I appreciate that there are some progressive Lib-Dems but the party and it’s leader currently remains unambiguously committed to the neo-liberal fold. If Lib-Dems want to be recognized as belonging in the broad progressive fold there is a huge amount to do within your own house – or perhaps now is the time to consider a different home?

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