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Compass and the Leadership

By this week-end, three quarters of the votes in the 2010 Labour leadership election will have been cast. The contest will effectively be over.” So Dan Hedges at Labour Uncut points out. And the effective end of the contest neatly coincides with the announcement of the result of the Compass ballot on who they’re going to back. Or would have backed had they decided in time.

I did raise this bizarre balloting timetable with Gavin Hayes, Compass General Secretary, back in July when the ballot was announced:

I’m puzzled as to why you’re balloting about the leadership so late in the day.  The result will be after the ballot papers go out thereby minimising anything Compass could do. What exactly is the thinking behind that?

Exactly four minutes later came the reply ; he was “even more puzzled” by my email and claimed they would still have “plenty of time to influence the final result given the Party’s ballot does not close until towards the end of September”. I pointed out that most voting would be in the first few days but the anticipated rapid rebuttal failed to materialise.  And it isn’t as though Compass isn’t able to organise a quick ballot – it did so during the election campaign on tactical voting, but that’s another story.

I thought no more about it until, returning from holiday, I read of Jon Cruddas’s endorsement of David Miliband. On that subject, the words of John Trickett MP will express what many Compass members will no doubt have felt:

I was proud to have worked on the “Choose Change” campaign which argued for a renewed Labour Party at the time of Jon Cruddas’s deputy leadership bid. This movement was a collective endeavour to put the party on an election-winning path after the Blair years. Those who participated in the campaign seeking such progressive change will be very disappointed with Jon’s unilateral decision to back the leadership candidate most clearly identified with the failed policies of the Blair era. The progressive Labour left will continue to argue the case for Choosing Change, set against the backdrop of an election defeat and a deepening economic crisis.

It may turn out to be fortunate for Jon Cruddas, who is currently standing for election to the Compass Management Committee for the first time, that most  members will have voted shortly after the ballot papers went out in that election too. The Compass response was more circumspect:

Compass is a pluralist not a Stalinist organisation, and we live in a democracy where individuals are entitled to make their own personal views known. Just as Chuka Umunna MP decided to back Ed [Miliband] early on, so Jon Cruddas MP has every right as an individual MP to say who he is supporting.

As the Staggers points out, there had been signs of Cuddas’s intentions for months: the association with James Purnell, longtime David Miliband ally, David’s commitment to an elected party chair, the job Cruddas wants, and his evident evasiveness towards others on the Left. If it hadn’t been for some tough talking by some of his erstwhile friends, the announcement would probably come sooner.

But where will this leave Compass when it is all over?  Chuka Umanna and Sam Tarry are actively supporting Ed, Jon Cruddas is for David and Neal Lawson’s silence on the subject suggests support for pluralism (or indifference) when it comes to the Milibands. It does at least explain the timetable for deciding “which, if any candidate, Compass should support” [my emphasis].

Compass describes itself as “a strategic political voice – unlike think tanks and single issue pressure groups…. an organising force… a pressure group focussed on changing Labour“.  How exactly does this square with even having an option on the ballot paper for taking no position on a leadership contest it described in May as “an essential opportunity for the party” to think “long and hard about how it renews and transforms itself in the years ahead”?

Whoever wins the leadership election, the debate on the party’s future will continue. The Blairites will still be there, especially within the PLP. We will certainly need a centre-left alliance of  organising forces to take the party in a progressive direction. What part will Compass play?

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