To be honest, I’ve always been rather dismissive of the Compass think tank, a left of centre grouping that I usually dismissed as Blairite. For a start, I didn’t like their indifferent attitude to Corbyn when I felt strongly that any and every progressive grouping in the country should at least have given his leadership public support whatever private reservations they may have held. Niether was I enamored by some of the New Labourish MPs gathered around them. But what I failed to do was actually read their stuff. A mistake. Their material is, I now realise, thought provoking and relevant.
It isn’t rocket science to argue that the quickest route to get the Tories out of government once and for all is to create a progressive alliance either via proportional representation or through a simple agreement. The former is a hard nut to crack in the UK but the latter is relatively easy, if only there was the political will. Unfortunately, there seems to be no such will, either from the left or right of the Labour Party. Both wings seem to believe the Scottish seats and the so called ‘red wall seats’ will come flooding back to Labour sooner or later and hey presto, Labour will be back in government.
I don’t think so.
Compass is advocating a progressive alliance to break the current Tory dominated status quo. But what would a progressive alliance look like? Well, if you’re going to go down that road, then I would suggest making it as broad as church as possible. That would obviously include the respective nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the just about left of centre Lib Dems and of course the Greens. Those that regularly vote for those parties invariably out vote the Tories both in seats and individual votes, so there is no reason to imagine they would not do so under a more formal alliance. The old guard in the party, both left and right, don’t like it one bit. They don’t want to be seen kowtowing to their erstwhile political opponents either out of some misguided form of political purity or more likely, out of sheer political arrogance. And to be honest, despite the eminently rational arguments outlined by Compass, I don’t see that political pig headedness evaporating any time soon.
Compass has another major string to it bow. Part common sense, part radical politics, Compass has advanced their 45 Degree thesis. In short, this thesis advocates an active interface between bottom up progressive activism and top down, paternalistic reformist legislation. One without the other, argues Compass, is a recipe for eventual failure due to the usual matrix of reactionary forces and sheer political exhaustion. Even the best intentioned reformist programme will peater out without a significant and ongoing push from below. Similarly, the most heartfelt and popular protest movements will eventually run out of steam if a sympathetic government hasn’t got the grit and ambition to formalise their radical demands into law.
None of this pretends to be a Bolshevik programme for the wholesale transformation of British society. In many ways it can all be regarded, as I suggested earlier, as jack blunt, common sense. But if the 45 Degree thesis was implemented with vigor, it could presage a quiet revolutionary advance in how politics unfolds in this country. I for one have tentatively argued for a radical revamp of the cooperative movement, which I have advocated could become the natural interface between community socialism and legislative reformism. Add to that, a determined programme of green investment, a radical overhaul of the tax system, a four day week and a universal basic income and suddenly you are talking about a radical transformation of British society. Corbyn and the Momentum movement were heading in that direction anyway. Compass, it might be argued, are simply trying to give the whole process some theoretical flesh.
Compass could easily be dismissed as yet another Labour Party talking shop, but it does seem to have influence well beyond the party confines. My gut feeling is that, rather than dismissing Compass outright, as I once carelessly did, it is well worth engaging with their material and seeing where it leads. The labour movement and its erstwhile political party has arguably been marginalised for some time and digging itself ever deeper into an irrelevant hole under the current leadership. Compass may just have the ideas to help end that marginalisation and reinvigorate the entire progressive pulse in Britain. They have my attention anyway.
Will any of this shake the political and economic foundations of the neo-liberal establishment? I think not. But we have a choice. We always have a choice even if, as Compass (and Marx) is keen to point out, those choices are sharply circumscribed by the conditions we find ourselves in. And the simple choice is this: passively accept the status quo as it is or challenge it by whatever means available. I think this is precisely what Compass is inviting us to do.