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Is Compass about to implode?

The future of Compass, Labour’s highest profile pressure group for many years, is in the balance. Things haven’t worked out quite like its leading lights expected. The leadership, for instance. Neal Lawson, Compass Chair, wanted Jon Cruddas to do the job. Jon Cruddas didn’t feel up to it and, though he’d been telling everyone who cared to listen for months, the message didn’t get through to Neal. Jon and Gavin Hayes, Compass General Secretary, then backed David Miliband. Neal never said. Eventually, too late to have any effect, Compass voted overwhelmingly to back Ed Miliband.

Now, in a party searching for a new direction, with a new Leader keen to make changes but without the wholehearted support of a very large minority, Compass is badly needed. Even those to the Left of Compass should recognise that. So where is it? Instead of playing the role of agitator for change within the party and critical friend to its leader, it has decided (subject to a Special General Meeting before the end of February) to stop being a Labour pressure group altogether, and instead to admit members of the Lib Dems, Greens and other political parties. As Neal Lawson says:

We have changed Labour from the outside not from within… If we make this move now we will  become much stronger in Labour because we will become  much stronger outside of it.

That decision is likely to prove far more controversial than was the Compass decision to recommend tactical voting in the general election. But to make matters even worse, Neal, in his own words Compass’s “fundraiser, the strategist, the talker, the thinker, the go-to-meetings person” as well as Chair of the Compass Management Committee, has now been criticised for receiving £113,498 over two years in consultancy fees. The Compass constitution specifically states that “no paid employee may be a member of the Management Committee“. Denunciations have followed in the expected places (the Daily Mail and Luke Akehurst’s blog).

A consultant is of course a different thing from a employee (though working “24 hours a day, seven days a week” doesn’t sound like a normal consultancy arangement). Provided the consultancy contract was above board and properly sanctioned, the row may blow over. However, that is not yet certain, and therefore the existence of a democratic and effective pressure group on Labour’s centre-left cannot be guaranteed.


  1. Robert says:

    This should be essential reading for any one on the left. Lawson is being paid a fortune on the back of the mugs who have believed that Compass is truly left project. We need a debate about the Labour Left after the betrayals of Compass. There needs to be a debate abourt cruddas’ collaborationism with the Blairites (latest example his article in yesterdays Sunday Times which he co wrote with Hazel Blears)

  2. Tim Pendry says:

    Sadly Compass is yesterday’s organisation because history has passed it by. The new struggle in politics is not about power within one nation State but a struggle between peoples and States across borders expressed in national terms (Eire being a test case in the New Year).

    Compass hitched its standard to trying to build a ‘progressive’ coalition intended (in retrospect) simply to change the policies of one faction of what is really now just one single party representing only the political classes’ internal competition to play a role in managing a bureaucracy.

    This bureaucracy owes (as we have seen from Wikileaks) as much allegiance to itself and to a foreign power as it does to the increasingly cack-handed attempt to distribute the spoils of the right to tax the population. There is now just one Parliamentary Party within which New Labour is just another competing cynical machine for grabbing what spoils it can – screw the south, let’s get cash up north, screw the struggling non-unionised workers, let’s get benefits for public sector workers, and so on.

    As a result, Compass was compromised quite some time ago. Its ‘Progressivism’, which even Clegg and some Tories now claim to adopt, is simply coalition politics through accumulating somewhat jaded and often quite politically dim ‘sets’ of lobbying activists when what was really required was the integration of a new democratic socialist vision (without the distracting green, internationalist and silly identity political bits) with the general population’s growing concerns about systemic failures. It is a creation of a mind-set of thirty years ago …

    ‘Feminism’, for example, has become little more than a minority cult designed to legislate ever more ridiculous economic and cultural demands on a troubled nation, generally against the interests of other women, for ideological reasons … it no longer speaks to many women who have bigger problems than making sure there are more non-jobs in an increasingly incompetent state sector. You cannot offer hope for a nation on Hackney activism.

    Then, Compass could not decide whether it was a lobby against the failures of the political elite (it is not just bankers, but bankers and a government in which the centre-left was complicit) or was the political arm of a faction of a faction (basically that of Mr. Cruddas within New Labour). It repeatedly blundered as that faction treated its opinion with contempt on more than one occasion and then it failed to strike back when it was humiliated and disassociate itself from its own attempted manipulation.

    Even under current conditions it makes misjudgements. It has (or had) a vibrant student arm yet it is using what resources it has to maintain a campaign against loan sharks which is worthy but not yet top of mind for most people, instead of rolling aggressively into the tuition fees debate, backing the occupations, declaring war on Liberal Democrat turpitude and driving the policy of free education for the working population inside the Labour Party. It lacks finesse …

    … and it has become irrelevant – the jaded vehicle for a group of yesterday’s ‘thinkers’ and a tiny faction of the PLP. Its traditionalist coalitional approach misunderstands a world of university occupations, kettling, surveillance, wikileaks and systemic failures in the Atlantic system. It acts as minor key cover for the failed left of a failed centre-left party. I do not think it will be missed. I am not sure New Labour will be missed at the current rate.

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