Compass was right to invite the Greens


7:46 am - October 2nd 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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At the Compass rally last week at the Labour party conference, a bust-up between Caroline Lucas (leader of the Greens) and government minister John Denham threatened to overshadow the heavily-over subscribed event.

Neal Lawson, chair of Compass, invited Caroline Lucas to speak at the Compass rally. This was seen as high treason by many die-hard Labourites because she is fighting for a seat in Brighton and Hove against a soft-left Labour candidate.

John Denham was not happy and made a deeply impassioned speech against the move at the event.

But I think he and many others within the Labour Party miss the point.

Compass has gradually arrived at its position after a long period of soul-searching and coalition building – and realised that sticking within the Labour left spectrum is a fool’s game. And I think he is right to think that.

The Labour Party has ignored and maligned its left-wing arm for so long that the sense of betrayal is palpably deep and entrenched. This Labour government has pointedly ignored soft-left campaigns and ideas in favour of right-wing tabloid scare-mongering even if the proposals offered are popular among voters.

The left can no longer be confined to the Labour party – it also has strong roots with the Libdems and Greens. Compass is doing the right thing by trying to create a strong left voice outside the narrow confines of the Labour party.

And so to pretend that the left should only work within (or be loyal to) the Labour party is an idea that now needs to be laid to rest. The invitation to Caroline Lucas was a bold move and I for one applaud it.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Green party ,Labour party ,Realpolitik ,Westminster

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Reader comments


I’m not convinced that Caroline, in her specific circumstances as a PPC standing against a legitimately selected candidate, should have been invited, though the margin of influence on that campaign is so small as not to get me too stressed about it. I’ve written about it at TCF, though it’s quite dull so I won’t link.

What gets me more is the hypocrisy of Denham and of people like Paul Richards, ex-Chair of the Fabian society, who went on record against the invitation in Progress magazine, but who somehow managed to overlook the Fabians’ own floor show with Tory wanabee PPC Iain Dale and, erm, Caroline Lucas.

Look like one rule for the centrists in Labour, one for the supposedly left leaning a bit to me.

No party that’s got Bea Campbell OBE in it deserves to be taken in the least bit seriously. I just wish Peter Tatchell would see sense and leave.

Good piece, Sunny. And well done to Paul for pointing out the centrists own double standards in offering platforms to the opposition.

As Gavin Hayes of Compass told The Guardian: “If you look at our No Turning Back document, of the 10 policies we proposed, six were Lib Dem, nine were Green and none were New Labour.”

With all the talk from sections of the party that Labour needs to re-build it’s ’97 coalition, those voices fail to realise that New Labour policy has alienated components from that coalition.

I agree with Paul, and think Sunny slightly misses the point for that reason. I wouldn’t have a problem with a Green being invited, but to invite the Green who was standing in that very seat was a bit of a slap in the face for those Labour activists present who’d been campaigning for the Labour candidate (who I think is a member of Compass!). The Fabians were wrong too, although the format of their event meant is wasn’t quite as bad.

I’m all for working with other lefties on issues, although I say to Sunny – if you want a broad coalition it’s not just up to Labour to reach out to the Greens, it’s for the Greens to work constructively with Labour, too.

Ah the good ol’ days, when the right did not have to worry about the left, as they would be warring amongst themselves.

This time round it will be streamed live. I wonder if there is a way this can be monetized?

@4 “a slap in the face for those Labour activists present who’d been campaigning for the Labour candidate (who I think is a member of Compass!)”

Why doesn’t that individual (whomsoever he or she may be…) withdraw their candidacy, and back Caroline Lucas in the name of left unity and saving the planet? Now that would be progress.

I think someone from Compass actually said that they have the largest majority in common with the Greens most of all, then the Lib Dems, finally Labour came in as having nothing in common wth Compass at all!

Paul and tim – I take your point, but that doesn’t negate the broader point about a left coalition.

Compass will have the same problem with the Libdems. I remember when I launched LC and I said to them that there may come a point where we promote and cheer for a Libdem MP over a Labour one for being more left and progressive. That’s something I would do, but I think they would still balk at.

But it needs to happen. The specific circumstance was difficult but I think Neal had that opportunity to make a broader point and he had to take it.

#6 – because they are the Labour candidate. If they thought it would be better to have a Green candidate elected, they should join the Green Party.

And Sunny – of course they would balk at it. They would be chucked out of the Labour Party if they endorsed a Lib Dem candidate, and rightly so. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that if you’re a member of a political party you back that party’s candidates in elections.

There’s a difference between ‘the left should only work within the Labour Party’ and ‘Compass should try to help ensure the defeat of Labour candidates who are Compass members, in the cause of left unity’.

I think this is more the latter than the former.

Sunny – it’s not Compass that have a problem with Lib Dems & Greens, it’s certain entrenched Labour members who also are involved with Compass that do.

Bickering and ruling out conversing with others along paritsan dividing lines are precisely what will allow the Tories to form a massive majority come next June. It’s time we built our campsite of progressive ideas and began to break down the old party barriers – Denham was plain wrong to oppose Lucas being there (her candidacy notwithstanding), the more Greens and LibDems get involved with Compass and LC the better!

Sunny – it’s not Compass that have a problem with Lib Dems & Greens, it’s certain entrenched Labour members who also are involved with Compass that do.

I think while broadly it may be true – I’d rather Compass go further to embrace the Libdems and Greens. But I think they’re slowly testing the waters… worried the backlash from Labour tribalists may be too great.

I would make sure we’re voting for PPCs and MPs that will actually vote for progressive policies rather than just pay lip service, we need to hold them to account. Why not find five policies they have to pledge their support to and for those that sign the pledge, we could rally behind? It’s not my idea, MoveOn did this pretty damm successfully and Sunny’s raised it a few times before.

Sunny, I agree, if Compass were to have a “Labour left only” policy, then we’d end up like the LRC – we almost ended up falling into the trap of being a Brownite faction.

Paul, yes it is a bit ironic, but it’s not a surprise.

Tim F, Compass didn’t invite people at Conference on the basis of their electoral support, they had people from every political party, NGO, think tank that matters. That’s the trust and influence they’ve got. If they were some ginger group in the Labour party, none of those would bother turning up and none of those would bother working with Compass to build coalitions for their successful campaigns.

dontmindme, the only warring going on is between the tribalists, the left are campaigning together on all the big issues.

don paskini so tell me, in future, Compass should only invite for debate people strictly on the Labour left, just in case they’re seen as being too right or left wing, dare they invite anyone else?

Think if you look at Compass’ recent campaigns, they’ve been more successful with the public than they had been before and more and more people are joining. Wonder why?

Luke and Prateek, you’ve said pretty much everything I wanted to say. I would go further than you though, most of the people who are on the left aren’t in any political parties. Yes, our policies were strongly supported by the Lib Dems and Greens, but even more so by the public, whether that’s on the windfall tax, saving the post office or on high pay.

Most people I know on the left don’t get involved in politics because of the meaningless factionalism or tribalism that goes on across political parties. But they’re crying out for a new way of doing politics. Debating internal party politics is like driving a car from the back seat with a stick. That’s why they’re either out campaigning on the issues that matter or they’re not voting…for anyone..

It strikes me that New Labour got in in 1997 for two reasons. Primarily they were not the Tories. Secondly, though, they had made themselves electable by ditching the image of left wing tax and spend policies that had dogged them though the 1980’s and early 1990’s when the Tories were in their pomp. Let’s not forget that, although the 1983 election victory could be attributed to national pride following the Falklands war, the landslide of 1987 cannot be. Further, the 1992 election victory was a bit of a surprise to many Tory strategists but Labour, under Foot and then Kinnock, were unelectable because they were out of tune with the times and the voters of Britain.

Come 1997, however, following the reforms started under Smith and continued by Blair, they had repositioned themselves as the party of the center by ditching the overtly left wing policies such as Clause 4, This made them a viable alternative to the hated Tories and this is what made it possible for them to win the 1997 election.

The Tories could not come to terms with the utter rejection of the electorate and found themselves floundering around having arguments amongst themselves that the electorate didn’t want to hear. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had come up with a set of policies that would have guaranteed world peace, solved famine and hunger and sorted all the ills of the world as the electorate was not willing to listen to them and anyway, New Labour weren’t all that bad were they? The economy was in good shape back then, people were prosperous and none of the lefty stuff that had scared them in the past was anywhere near the agenda.

Now, however, the Tories have repositioned themselves in the mind of the electorate as Labour did back in 1995 to 1997. They have been punished and appear to have learnt their lesson and, in the mind of the electorate, are a viable alternative to the now hated and reviled Labour Party. The circle of life an all that.

The Left have always been tribal in a way that the Right haven’t. I remember at Uni in the late 80’s there being a plethora of leftist organisations, Marxists, trots, socialist, Maoist, socialist labour, labour, feminists etc. etc. trying to get members for there own little faction at rag week but only one or two right leaning ones. I seem to remember Young Conservatives and Young Farmers and the latter was always more of a dating agency. You could always tel the lefties – they would be the ones violently disagreeing with themselves as to their particular brand of left wingery and how it was obviously far superior to another brand of left wingery.

Now, in the red corner we have the Labour Party, Socialist Labour, Respect, Lib Dems and Greens, along with the BNP, espousing left wing policies though they are greatly varying on the liberal/authoritarian front. In the Blue corner only the Tories and UKIP.

15. Stuart White

I come a bit late to this discussion, but I wanted to register my complete agreement with Sunny on this. There is an emerging split within Labour between those who see the future of left politics in pluralist terms and who follow through on the consequences of this, and those who remain committed to Labour as THE supposed instrument of left (or ‘centre left’) politics. The split is not only reflected in disagreements over whether to ask Caroline Lucas to speak at a fringe event at the LP conference, but on a whole host of other issues – not least on electoral reform where the pluralists clearly favour PR and the conservative-Labourists favour AV in the hope that it will maintain Labour’s domination and work to keep upstarts like the Greens out of the electoral running.

But Stuart, that’s not the issue here. There would’ve been far fewer complaints if they’d invited another Green who wasn’t standing for election in that very seat. I’m happy to work on issue-based campaigns with anyone from any non-fascist party, from anarchists to tankies, from the hard-left right through to lib dems/tories if necessary (although I can’t think of a campaign I’ve been involved in where lib dems or tories have been involved). But giving an electoral opponent a boost (however slight) is a different matter. We all fight for our Party during elections and we come together and work on anything we share common ground on the rest of the time, no?

oh – and yes, I favour AV (or ideally FPTP), so I fit nicely into your categorisation. But it is possible to favour those systems because you think they’re right, rather than just to preserve a particular party’s dominance!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article:: Compass was right to invite the Greens http://bit.ly/bGEyB

  2. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article:: Compass was right to invite the Greens http://bit.ly/bGEyB

  3. compassyouth

    what do you think? http://bit.ly/bGEyB





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