Our storm of change

Compass Management Committee

Friday, 24 February 2017

At the end of the film Terminator 2 Sarah Connor looks across the New Mexico desert and says ‘there is a storm coming’. That storm is here. The aftermath of Storm Doris is nothing compared to the aftermath of the political storm sweeping our country.  Last night it tore through Labour in Copeland and subsided just enough not to do the same in Stoke Central, for now. But there is little solace to be found.  Yes it was good to see Labour activists pour into Stoke, but mobilization without a message can only take you  so far.  There will be more by-elections, UKIP might falter but Arron Banks and his ‘People’s Movement’ is readying itself in the wings, the Tories rule supreme and, at the top at least, the progressive parties are too slow to learn the lessons.

In both Stoke and Copeland we wanted to see a local progressive alliance formed – an agreement not to stand or not to campaign to ensure in both of these cases Labour, as the best placed progressive party, would be more likely to win.  Despite some local and national urging it proved impossible. The result: the progressive parties poll a majority of votes in Copeland between them and let the Tories through. The likelihood of a snap general election in which the left is utterly routed just went up a notch. When oppositions lose by-elections, they’re in massive trouble.

In Stoke, the opportunity for a popular front against Paul Nuttall was there and Labour just squeaked through against a Party leader whose credibility and competence was torn to shreds during the campaign. It could easily have been very different.  But again it proved impossible, unlike Richmond Park, to assemble an  alliance.  Why and what comes next?

Many in Labour, it would seem, would rather lose to the Tories, than work with people they largely agree with in other parties.  Anger at the Liberal Democrats for their role in the Coalition is understandable at one level but gets us nowhere. They did bad things and good things – just as Labour did when it was in office.  What matters is what happens next.  And for Labour the legacy of standing in Richmond Park rumbles on. They could have changed the game there by standing aside, but they refused.  Labour only ever does well when it forms a progressive alliance – in 1906 when the Liberals stood aside to let Hardie’s candidates through, in 1945 when Labour relied on the energy and ideas of Liberal thinkers Keynes and Beveridge, and in 1997 when a pact with the Liberal Democrats saw the Tories all but destroyed. Labour will remember its past or that is all it will have.

But Labour isn’t solely to blame. The Liberal Democrats never gave the Greens the credit they deserved in Richmond Park, which would have given even more impetus to the idea of a progressive alliance.  And while they gain some electoral advantage with a clear Brexit line,  they build walls, routinely denouncing Labour over Europe. Surely the goal must be to build a new progressive majority which embraces members of both the 48% and the 52%.  Does Tim Farron really want his only options to be the prop to another Tory government or the wilderness?  He and they need to play a longer and better game.

And what were the Greens doing, standing a candidate against Paul Nuttall when they didn’t against Zac Goldsmith?  It was a local decision, as it must be, and yet the lack of recognition for the decision not to stand in Richmond has triggered a kickback from the Greens.  But the champions of the progressive alliance have to be brave and have to keep showing everyone the way.  The prize is a non-Tory government and the introduction of proportional representation. On which, it is interesting to note that last night’s 38% turnout in Stoke was dwarfed by the 66% turnout in the EU referendum. The people are not stupid: they know when their vote counts and will have an impact change.

Our party political system is broken – not for the Tories, but for progressives. We are going to have to form alliances to win, to change the system so that we can change society.  Then we can start to address the insecurity and hopelessness felt in de-industrialized towns and cities like Stoke, for which Labour and others have to develop a more coherent and credible message of change.

Some at the top of the progressive parties will be the last to shift – but the storm of change is coming. It seems almost every night there is a meeting in the country about a progressive alliance.  Last night 150 packed a hall in Oxford, next week it’s Ramsgate and then Cambridge and then Birmingham, Twickenham and Liverpool. Across the country this is being driven from the bottom up – by local parties and people who are ready to do politics differently.

Compass is working like fury behind the scenes to support this surge for change, to put in place the arguments and resources to build a progressive alliance that can see our dreams become our lives. Soon, we hope to be able to launch a massive national progressive alliance project. The elements of it are coming together. By-elections will come and go, but the need to change our political system to change our society won’t. There will be a progressive alliance or we will be governed for the foreseeable future by a regressive alliance and everything that means for our country and our people. The progressive parties are fighting each other, not the Tories and not the system. We can’t allow this to happen.

We can’t build the platform for a progressive alliance without your help. Meetings, websites, leaflets and publications cost money and we have so little of it.

Please donate what you can here so we can build our alliance to change our country.

Thank you.

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  1. Posted by Daniel Key

    Work with More United! They backed Labour in Copeland after a membership vote where 80 percent of More United members backed Martin Snell to beat Nutty Nuttall. But yes lot of work to do…. Need Labour and Lib Dem leadership on board pronto

    Reply
  2. Posted by Graham Ward

    The Green decision not to stand in Richmond Park (in stark contrast to Labour) was not just in response to Goldsmith’s racially divisive mayoral campaign. It was also in response to his enthusiasm for Brexit. With Labour keen to boast it’s Brexit credentials in Stoke, and it’s failure to secure any concessions from the Government before giving waving a white flag over Article 50, it was never realistic to expect them to stand aside in Stoke Central.

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  3. Posted by Mick Hills

    It sounds great but how can we guarantee that Lib Dems will actually vote Labour. In Stockton South in 2015 the Lib Dem vote collapsed and the vast majority of them voted Tory. The only way we could achieve a Labour government on that evidence would be to tear up clause 1V and become a second Liberal Party, which is where our PLP now is. Policies such as renationalisation of the Railways and spending/borrowing plans Labour have now would be an anathema to many Lib Dem voters. Would we end up with a simple version of the American Democrats who talked loudly but when challenged to actually change things, didn’t. What would be the cut of line that we would ask Lib Dems not to stand, when they are fourth in the pecking order, how many votes would it be that allowed their candidate or ours to pull out. Labour voters may well vote Lib Dem to get rid of a Tory but I’m afraid Lib Dem voters do not have the same drive to support Labour, not from my experience anyway. If there is examples I would be pleased to see them before I committed to doing deals.

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  4. Posted by Iain Christie

    I wholeheartedly agree with your inference that progressive parties must conjoin to take on the blinkered “right”, but I have bad news for all people motivated by fairness and decency……. The only hope for a non-right alliance to succeed is for, EITHER our progressive political representatives to become racist and xenophobic, or for the population to be educated in the fact that foreigners are not to blame for the unfair society we are currently creating. Obviously the former is not a scenario we non-tory/Ukip types are happy to embrace, and of course must not do so, but I fear and regret it is the only road to recover and power. The country we tried to create is now in a dire predicament, and unless and until we manage to force back the tides of division, shame about our birth-right must inevitably ensue.

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  5. Posted by Robert Rae

    I dont think a Progressive Alliance will work without an agreed joint manifesto. As Labour Party member I could not trust the Lib Dems to go into a Progressive Alliance and not use the electoral advantage it gained to support a Tory government in exchange for a few cabinet posts and to ditch any pledges it made. You seem to focus a lot on Labours reluctance but I don’t see that as the main problem. I think Compass should be looking futher ahead to the dissolution of the two party system and the division of Labour into the social democrats and the socialists/podemos like movement – its just a fight over the assets in a divorce right now. Its unrealistic to talk about Labour as a homogeneous party who can take a stance on anything like a Progressive Alliance. Sorry – but its how it is right now.

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  6. Posted by Peter Colebourn

    A starting point would be the drawing up of an analysis of any constituncy which would be winnable by PA but not by Labour or Lib Dems. Then in the second tier those constituencies which can be won by either party more easily without another party standing. Allied to this is a PA platform of policies/values. Corbyn also has to go but that is a separate issue and not a PA objective.

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  7. Posted by David Parker

    I am all for working for this locally and top win over local parties for the idea. But Jeremy Corbyn has to be persuaded.

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  8. Posted by Chris Ingram

    There is little hope of this ever happening, simply because the British have a serfdom mentality. Thatcher proved that the more you beat up working people the more they will support you! Further we are the least politically aware than any other European country: fact! My German friends in Berlin can tell me more about politics of the UK than most of my friends and colleagues! Fact is that we are a nation of conservatives and leaning naturally now toward the far right. WE have a nazi government beating up and using coerced suicide to get rid of the disabled. We are blaming ‘foreigners’ for everything and inept at seeing the truth of what is going on, mainly because we would rather whinge whine and moan and sit on our backsides blaming everyone else! The #EUref proved it! in effect you can fool the British people most of the time because of the serfdom mentality, apathy and fatalism! PR and a PA is beyond the comprehension of the majority of the public and least of all with those who actually bother to vote. This country is fucked and will become nothing less that Little britain and the 51st state of the USA following a UK/US trade deal. A snap general election will see to that as the politically illiterate vote for the Tories and bring in the end of the NHS and poverty of working people as in some of the worst hit areas of America! Workers rights will vanish and poverty, ill health and deprivation not seen since the 1930s will take over this country. Perhaps only Scotland will escape this by remaining within the EU following independence, but for the remainder of what was the UK, it is the end of any aspirations of PR and a PA!

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  9. Posted by Liz Murison

    I read that Caroline Lucas refused to form a PA with Labour in the latest byelection because of their ‘U-turn’ on nuclear energy.

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  10. Posted by David

    Your statement that the Liberal Democrats never gave the Greens the credit they deserved in Richmond Park is wrong. You clearly did not listen to the credit to the Greens the winning Lib Dem candidate gave in her victory speech or the credit the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron also gave. If you want to build a progressive alliance and I support that view then please get your facts right!

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  11. Posted by Martina Weitsch

    I think that a progressive alliance is a good idea; but we have to be clear what it is for. It’s for getting a proportional representation system that will move us from an anti-democratic electoral system to a democratic one. That’s all. Once we have that, the multi party system that we have on the ground will be reflected fairly in elected assemblies from local councils to Westminster and then proper democracy has a chance.
    The fact that at present the progressive parties (and it’s hard to actually know what that means beyond ‘not Tory and not UKIP’) don’t agree on many other things (Brexit, climate change, nuclear, etc…) doesn’t matter if we recognise that so long as we live in a one party Tory state none of this is relevant because we won’t get the chance to do any of the things we want to do.
    The only thing that matters is proportional representation right now. But Labour won’t get that until they are completely trounced and then it will be too late. If there is one miracle that Compass could bring about it would be to convince Labour that we should all get together to fight the next GE on that single issue and promise another GE as soon as PR has been introduced. And for all progressive parties to make a legally binding commitment to actually do that. It has to be done in such a way that the general public will trust us (that’s the hard thing).
    Otherwise: welcome to Brave New World and 1984.

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  12. Posted by Dickie Bellringer

    In this debate involving the hurdles we face in creating a progressive alliance I think I detect the problems highlighted by Joshua Greene in his book Moral Tribes. In this he argues that in order to overcome the damaging pursuit of self-interest individuals resort to what Greene calls common-sense morality in which, at least sometimes, we realise the need to put Us ahead of Me. But that same project leads us to put Us ahead of Them. In other words, while we are happy to co-operate within our groups (in this case political parties) we are much less ready to build bridges between them.
    As a member of the Labour Party I certainly feel this keenly. You make friends at meetings and social events, stand shoulder-to-shoulder during election campaigns during which every other party is an opponent, and it’s extremely difficult to break out of that tribalism. And yet it seems to make sense that we have to somehow overcome this emotional tribalism for the common good. Perhaps our politics have become too emotional. If it is true that reason without emotion is a kind of madness, then it is also true that emotion without reason is also a kind of madness. We need to reconnect our rational and emotional sides so that while we don’t strip politics of passion we ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm our reason.
    There is, by the way, an excellent book called The Alternative – edited by Lisa Nandy, Caroline Lucas and Chris Bowers – which explores the idea of a progressive alliance.

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  13. Posted by Alan Mathison

    Why not admit it, Compass should be affiliated to the LibDems or the Tory Party. You have no place in the Labour Party, PLEASE GO! Do something positive instead of just sinking into disgrace and irrelevancy alongside Blair and Mandelson

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  14. Posted by Bill Kerry

    Labour still sees itself as “the” solution rather than “part of” the solution and that view is strong in both the left and right of the party. It is incredibly tribal. I can’t see that changing for a long while yet. Maybe after catastrophic defeat in 2020 but i’m not even sure then. I would agree with Len Roberts who asks how can you construct a progressive alliance without some agreement on policies? I struggle to come up with even 3 positions/policies on which the LibDems, Labour and Greens could agree comfortably. All this said, I support the idea of a progressive alliance but the obstacles are huge. I also think the tribalists in Labour will take heart from the current revival of the SDP in Germany and think that it’s just a case of getting the right person at the top and all will be well again. There are also lessons from France in the failure of the NPA which defined itself against capitalism but didn’t sufficiently articulate what it was for and so confused the public. A project that is defined as primarily against something is hard to cohere so any PA would need to address what it was for and so we’re back to policies again. I’m sorry this isn’t a more optimistic contribution but I still think we need to take time to analyse the realities on the ground before we can move forward.

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  15. Posted by Leo Aylen

    An extremely pertinent post. My problem is that I look at the state of the country, and what needs to be done seems utterly obvious. Mrs May is skilfully manipulating the British unwritten constitution to turn it into a dictatorship. She must be stopped. But why did the Remainers in the Tory party, with the one exception of Ken Clarke, all vote supinely in support of what is looking very like a complete exit from the EU, with disastrous consequences for us all, especially the poor? Why did Jeremy Corbyn make the disastrous mistake of forcing Labour Remainers to vote against their consciences and judgements so that Mrs May in effect unopposed? Why? They must be challenged for their idiotic cowardice.
    It is also obvious that the only way to bring about the downfall of Mrs May’s virtual dictatorship is for everyone opposed to her to unite. Party politics are anyhow past history; the country needs much less rigid structures. It was disgraceful of the Liberals not to give proper credit to the Greens for the Richmond victory. It is very stupid indeed for the Liberals and Labour to refuse to co-operate. And consider Nicola Sturgeon: she has political clout, and although she works particularly for Scotland, much of what she says applies to England just as much. Perhaps she should lead a Progressive Alliance for Britain, with Jeremy Corbyn working for the neglected poor, Tim Farron (and Nick Clegg?) working for a sensible relationship with Europe, and Caroline Lucas reminding us all the time that top scientists do not give the human race more than a 50/50 chance of surviving 2100, unless we change life-style drastically.
    We must put an end to party-political parochialism.

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  16. Posted by Bill Walker

    Compass Response 26th February 2017

    Rather than arguing that our democracy is broken, or that our political system has failed, we should start by acknowledging their successes and then note that we now need to develop & change, as we always have done, in line with social changes. Significant change is required.

    The required changes cannot be achieved by either of the two main political parties; the current system actually suits them. These two parties are largely class-based organisations funded by self-interest groups whereas we need parties that are based around philosophies and principles. The Greens, unfortunately, are still seen as a single-issue party and nobody knows what the Liberals really stand for. The Labour Party’s opposition to the Progressive Alliance idea is partly a function of an adherence to an outdated concept of class interest.

    A properly democratic system would not allow the buying of political influence through lobbying or the funding of political parties, nor would it allow the development of personal fiefdoms (“rotten boroughs”) or the power of patronage (including appointments to the second chamber).

    Specifically, a modern democratic system must have:
    • proportional representation (at national & local level)
    • stringent control & management of lobbying activity
    • state funding of the political (including electoral) process
    • an appropriately constituted revising or scrutinizing chamber
    • government accountable to parliament
    • an informed electorate able to hold government and politicians to account
    • access to specialist non-partisan advice and expertise
    • an independent civil service

    Within that system a modern, progressive political party would base its policies around a philosophy of democracy and justice for all.

    The main purpose of the current Progressive Alliance, proportional representation, is absolutely right but the method is flawed because it relies on getting the cooperation of the Labour Party which is not forthcoming and which, even before Corbyn, was an out of date institution. (Compass acknowledged this when the decision was made to allow membership by members of other parties).

    Compass should follow the logic of the progressive alliance idea and promote the formation of a new political party, a Democracy and Justice Party. A party, supported initially by open contributions, with a manifesto for change to our political and economic systems for the promotion of a just society.

    Such a political party would be entirely in line with Compass principles and would address current ills, including the democratic deficit referred to above, on a non-class based basis. Ills that include:

    • The increasing emphasis on personal gain rather than the public good that has led to existential crises in key sectors of society. Politicians, financiers, directors and managers, the media, charities have all been found wanting.

    • The prevalence of rent seeking activity. Financial services and the housing market are the prime examples; monopolies are developing apace in the info-tech sector and elsewhere.

    • The commoditization of all forms of activity specifically in the health and care sector.

    • The existence of companies where there is no real market. Typically these companies rely on misinformation &/or lack of alternatives to fleece their customers. The energy and transport sectors being the prime examples.

    • Tax avoidance of all types.

    • Trade unions, which do not have appropriate representation within their companies, turn to abusing customers to get their views heard.

    Dealing with these issues requires a strategic response that includes looking at:

    • The rules and regulations of capitalism, business and the economy in general that are allowing these things to happen. They need major revision to rein in the excesses and make the system work fairly and justly and in support of employment and innovation.

    • The role and regulation of the market, the appropriate place of the public and private sectors, the ownership of land.

    • Corporate governance and the role of workers in the ownership of companies.

    Experience in the UK and mainland Europe shows that there is a real hunger for democracy and justice and that new political parties, not just of the right, can take off.

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  17. Posted by Martin Childs

    I can’t see a Progressive Alliance going forward without all the participant parties first agreeing to support proportional representation for future elections to the House of Commons. More United! has hardly advanced this possibility by backing the Labour candidates in the recent by elections, neither of whom appeared to support PR!

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  18. Posted by Chris Neill

    Yes the storm IS coming and we have to turn the crisis into opportunity. Amongst a proliferation of initiatives, campaigns, petitions and ‘calls for action’ I have found what comes from Compass to be consistently wise, realistic and insightful. Keep up the good work and please don’t be discouraged. The darkest hour is just before the dawn.
    It seems you are doing the right things – working diligently to network and persuade and challenge and cajole. I’m sure it’s right that we need to work locally to build momentum. But Labour’s intransigence and lack of realism at the top,and at other levels is a big problem. They seem to be playing both ends against the middle, and hoping to squeeze back into power, which is a foolish fantasy. Other parties have to experience their commitment. Why don’t we yet know who from Labour will appear in Richmond? At the Godalming meeting in the autumn Clive Lewis was to attend and pulled out after promotion to the Shadow Cabinet. At the Fabian conference in January the arrogance displayed by many speakers (MPs and others) towards other progressive parties was shocking. But still, please don’t be discouraged. If anything, just be louder and bolder and please, tell me and people like me if there is something we can do to help more than attending meetings and donating money.
    One other thought – if the energies of the dozen or so new groups which even to have sprung up in the wake of the EU referendum and Trump’s ascendancy (Common Ground, More United, Open Britain, European Movement, etc, etc) could somehow be brought more together, and joined with that of other groups which had already existed (38 degrees, 350.org, etc), what might that be like? What unites us is so much more than what divides us. We must find solidarity.

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  19. Posted by Martin Childs

    I think one of the most important tasks is to join Make Votes Matter and work to persuade Labour MPs to support proportional representation for elections to the House of Commons. Prospects for their party to be elected any time soon are diminishing fast, the loss of Scotland to the SNP and the continuing challenge from UKIP etc.

    Labour needs PR so that together with other progressive parties they can replace the Tories. OK they have to share power, make arrangements to accommodate others and so on, but this has to be done. PR was always right, now it’s in Labour’s interest as well. PR’s time has come, Labour could lead the rally for it, and take the credit for achieving it.

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