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.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.