Compass must practice what it preaches on pluralism

There remains a contradiction at the heart of Compass’s pluralist mission. Compass, while not formally affiliated to the Labour Party, is registered with the Party, and has a rule that forbids members of other parties from being full members.

Compass does not allow members of political parties other than Labour full membership. It is considering changing that rule – it must make the change, if chair Neal Lawson’s claim that Compass is a pluralist organisation and part of a movement towards a genuine Left-pluralism is to be taken seriously. Compass is a major sign of life in Labourism, and a source of pluralism on the Left; take for instance Compass’s call for tactical voting, at the recent General Election.

But there remains a contradiction at the heart of Compass’s pluralist mission. Compass, while not formally affiliated to the Labour Party, is registered with the Party, and has a rule that forbids members of other parties from being full members.

In other words, Compass’s ‘pluralism’ is very strictly curtailed, because members of other parties cannot participate in Compass’s formal democratic structures, and thus cannot play a democratic part in determining Compass’s direction.

This came home to me with full force recently. Applying to Compass for membership, I was told that, as a Green Party member, I was entitled only to associate membership, with no voting rights. I received my membership pack, and rather bizarrely this included a letter that stated:

“You’re a member of a democratic organisation. Every year Compass members get a say in how the organisation is run through our management committee elections [etc.].”

I queried this with Gavin Hayes, Compass general secretary. He replied that I received this letter, the same as any other Compass [full] member gets, because there are so few associate members that it is not worth there being a separate letter written for them [us]. This seems a rather unsatisfactory response: it is rather insulting or at least bemusing to receive a letter telling one that one is part of a democratic organisation – when in fact one is excluded from its democracy.

I queried with Gavin Hayes the status of the rule excluding members of other political Parties from full membership in Compass. He replied:

“The rule is something we examining at the moment.”

This is a vital test for Compass, and for the future of Labourism. If it really wants to embrace a pluralist politics, a politics suitable for a politically and electorally reformed UK, if it really wants to prepare the way for the new coalitional politics which AV and PR will bring (see here), then it needs to change this rule. So long as Compass forbids members of other progressive political forces from full membership, then it remains tacitly nothing but a glorified Labour Party faction.

But if Compass were to allow the likes of me – and Caroline Lucas and Adam Price and Salma Yaqoob and so on – in, on equal terms, then it would be practising what it preached. That would be pluralism in action.

23 Responses to “Compass must practice what it preaches on pluralism”

  1. RupertRead

    RT @leftfootfwd: @compassoffice must practice what it preaches on pluralism: //bit.ly/cTZFDU argues @RupertRead

  2. DrKMJ

    .@compassoffice must practice what it preaches on pluralism: //bit.ly/cTZFDU argues @RupertRead via @leftfootfwd

  3. Greg Colbourn

    typo: “The rule is something we[‘re] examining at the moment.”

  4. Edward Carlsson Browne

    And this is why I won’t join Compass. Sod pluralism. I’d rather have socialism.

    I’ve got nothing against Greens as people. I agree with them on most issues. But right now they’re our opponents in parliamentary elections and are likely to remain so in local elections, as the rules aren’t changing there.

    That means collaboratio has to, in my view, be limited to specific issue campaigns. If Compass widens its membership, it’ll show it’s not really interested in changing the Labour Party. As the Labour Party is still the only viable nationwide progressive political force, I’ll therefore lose all interest in it.

  5. Edward Carlsson Browne

    And this is why I won’t join Compass. Sod pluralism. I’d rather have socialism.

    I’ve got nothing against Greens as people. I agree with them on most issues. But right now they’re our opponents in parliamentary elections and are likely to remain so in local elections, as the rules aren’t changing there.

    That means collaboration has to, in my view, be limited to specific issue campaigns. If Compass widens its membership, it’ll show it’s not really interested in changing the Labour Party. As the Labour Party is still the only viable nationwide progressive political force, I’ll therefore lose all interest in it.

  6. Christine Clifford

    I am a member of the Green Party after voting Labour for all my voting life. I have just joined Compass and did not see anything about limited membership. Do I get a refund.
    Also if Labour members think we are in competition with them. The Green Party is very small but Labour is very lost. I would hope enough of the Labour membership is aware that the party is well right of centre and just another neoliberal Blairite party little different from the Condem coalition. I read the Co-op policies and values and think they sound like a Green Party organisation but no they endorse Ed Balls another authoritarian right if centre politician. Pluralism on the left is our only hope all else is under the current circumstances a betrayal of the people of this country who will pay heavily for Labours loss of purpose and the Condem ideological destruction of Britains welfare state. Having attended a Compass day where there was much talk of pluralism I felt hopeful but watching the Labour leadership I fear they just want some time out of it before offering us a milder version of the same old deadly capitalist rhetoric

  7. StephenH

    hmmm.. I wouldn’t put it so… err….forcefully as Ed Car Browne, and yet I can imagine before the last election you might have expected quite a few Lib-Dems to call themselves progressive and ask to join Compass.

    That would be a bit awkward now; No?

  8. John77

    Don’t tell the Daily Wail or they will go on about the lazy Compass …..

  9. sunny hundal

    Campaign group @Compassoffice must practice what it preaches & open its membership says @RupertRead //bit.ly/cTZFDU

  10. Rupert Read

    Thanks Christine. Yes, as I point out above, you received the same letter as everyone else, but you are not at present entitled to vote in Compass elections. This really could change – see the fuller briefing that I received from a well-placed source at Compass on this, over at //rupertsread.blogspot.com/2010/07/compass-pluralism-my-latest-lff-piece.html

  11. Rupert Read

    Ed, you are wrong about how limited co-operation must be on the Left: see //liberalconspiracy.org/2010/06/28/why-the-left-will-always-be-at-a-loss-without-vote-reform/ : with AV or STV, it is perfectly possible for Parties or candidates to engage in limited electoral co-operation without in the least compromising their own agendas or independence. A pluralist future is possible.
    Btw, if you are a socialist, then wouldn’t you be rather better off in the Greens than in Labour, in any case?… As Christine points out, Caroline Lucas (who proudly backed socialist policies by name, during the GE campaign) is rather closer to socialism and to co0operative values than are the Labour Leadership candidates…

  12. Rupert Read

    StephenH: you make a good point. But turn this around for a minute. If Compass had already been more genuinely pluralist before the GE, then there would have been more chance of the rainbow coalition possibility coming to life… We could have prevented this whole dreadful realignment on the Right…
    Check out the practical possibility canvassed in //rupertsread.blogspot.com/2010/07/compass-pluralism-my-latest-lff-piece.html , for an idea about how it might work to allow Greens (and yes, maybe even LibDems) to join Compass as full members, without compromising Compass’s historic ‘link’ with Labour.

  13. Richard Lawson

    “Sod pluralism, I’d rather have socialism”.
    As a Green, the society I am interested is pretty much coextensive with humanity. It is a humanity rising above its individual, family, tribal, or sectional interest to act, broadly, in a way that avoids famine, deprivation, suffering, conflict and warfare. One of its key values it toleration of people and ideas that differ from me and mine.

    If that makes me a pluralist, then so be it. Does that mean I am not a socialist?

  14. John77

    @ Richard Lawson
    “One of its key values it toleration of people and ideas that differ from me and mine.
    If that makes me a pluralist, then so be it. Does that mean I am not a socialist?”
    Very definitely it does mean that you are not a “Socialist” – it verges on the libertarian views espoused by Rousseau and abhorred by by Bolshevik and Menshevik alike (and anathema to the Labour Representative Committee of the Trades Union Congress)

  15. Edward Carlsson Browne

    I’m a socialist, and Labour remains a democratic socialist party. Frankly, if I disappear off to the Greens, that’s one less voice in the party arguing against those who want to take us away from socialism.

    The Labour Party is very far from perfect. But it’s not beyond all hope yet and reforming the Labour Party is a much easier route to a decent leftist government than making the Green Party into an election-winning force. I’ll think again when the Greens start making a serious challenge in working-class seats without a major university.

    Sure, with AV we can co-operate a little. But we don’t have it yet, there’s no guarantee we will get it and even then local elections will (Scotland aside) still be carried out using FPTP. If the Greens want to help elect Labour MPs in general election years, I think that’s excellent (and I’ll happily make them my second choice). Hell, even under FPTP if there’s an argument that the Greens can do better than Labour in a seat Labour can’t win, I’d like it if we could withdraw our candidate and tacitly support the Green. For that matter, I’d be a fan of an electoral fusion approach with a view to integrating the Green Party into Labour in a similar manner to the Co-Op Party – although I doubt any Green would go for that.

    But in most years, the Greens are our opponents in local council elections and therefore co-operation can only be limited to issues. In those years, I don’t see how I can do other than oppose them.

    And this is all before I get on to my deep dislike of the NIMBY/anti-growth positions taken by a minority in the Green Party…

    If somebody else wants to be a pluralist, fine by me. If they want to consider themselves as a socialist at the same time, also fine by me. But I’d rather have one strong party of the left. I’m not interested in collaborating with our opponents at the ballot box. I’m interested in convincing them to join said party of the left. That’s not to say I want ideological unity – God knows party meetings can be dull when we’re only discussing administrative business – but I do think it’s better to work for political union than some form of loose co-ordination.

  16. Rupert Read

    hi Ed.
    My ward is mostly Council estate. There are lots of Green Councillors in similar wards.

  17. Edward Carlsson Browne

    I’m well aware there are Green wards like that. I’m in Cambridge and that describes Abbey ward, where the Greens regrettably seem to be getting more and more entrenched.

    It’s just that in constituencies without large amounts of students or middle-class progressives, Greens are thin on the ground, whether there are council houses or not. You’re strong in Lancaster, for example, but you’re not a factor in Blackburn.

    Show me evidence that the Greens are beating Labour in council estate wards across the country, and I might be convinced. Even then I’d want to investigate questions of differential turnout – in Abbey in Cambridge the middle-class bit is strongly Green (the Lib Dems having deliberately abandoned it) and has very high turnout, whereas the bits that are largely council housing are more Labour friendly but have dreadful turnout.

    Because the Greens only have a serious presence in about half a dozen areas, they can’t be called a national force. Labour can be. In FPTP elections having a Green candidate makes it more difficult for the Labour candidate to win, especially if he’s on the left because it’s harder to nick votes off the Tories or right-leaning Lib Dems. Given that I still consider Labour to be worth fighting for, that makes the Greens an irritant in my book, not a strategic ally.

  18. Rupert Read

    But that takes us back to the point about AV etc., Ed. Once we have AV (and, hopefully, STV for the ‘Lords’), there will be nothing to stop cross-endorsements.
    [Labour needs to think about what it needs to do, to deserve cross-endrosing from the Greens. I’m talking about climate change policy, Trident, civil liberties, etc etc]

  19. Rupert Read

    Check out my Liberal Conspiracy piece, Ed, for more on this and how it would work: //liberalconspiracy.org/2010/06/28/why-the-left-will-always-be-at-a-loss-without-vote-reform/

  20. Rupert Read

    UPDATE:
    This is excerpted from the latest Compass AGM agenda:

    Amendments to the Constitution of Compass

    Proposed by Enrico Soresini

    Amended 3.1

    Membership, Para 3.1, to be added the wordings “…and the Green Party” after the words “…The Cooperative Party” on line 3.

    Amendment ruled out of order: This constitutional amendment has been deemed unworkable as a single amendment to the current constitution and has been ruled out of order and cannot be put to the vote.

    However, the Management Committee supports in principle the idea of opening the membership of the organisation up. To honour our pluralist principles, to do justice to the concept of the good society and build our membership and supporter base it is a logical next step for Compass to open out its membership beyond those just in Labour or eligible to be so. But we want a proper dialogue with the membership about how this can be best achieved. We are therefore seeking the membership’s consent to allow the Management Committee to prepare a paper on membership to go out to the whole membership. Based on the feedback from this a series of constitutional amendments will be put to the membership early in the new year for them to vote on. We therefore ask you to vote on the following resolution of intent.

    __________________________________________________________________
    So: it looks like, though victory has yet to be achieved in this campaign, it may be inching nearer.
    Too bad that Compass is not ready to simply allow Greens in as equal members. But it looks like that day or something like it is nearing…
    If you are a Compass member who (unlike me) is already allowed full voting rights, do make your views clear on this matter!

Leave a Reply