I went to the Compass event yesterday – I would have reported back before except that not having access to email for two days meant I had hundreds of the bloody things to wade through this morning.
It was an interesting event for a number of reasons. First it was big – getting on for 1000 attendees (incidentally, it was reported that Compass has 4,000 members and 25,000 on its mailing list).
Secondly, the atmosphere was remarkably open and non sectarian. When Neill Lawson read out a ludicrous blog by Luke Akenhurst, a Hackney Blairite councillor, attacking Compass for inviting Caroline and Jean (“In my borough and in Oxford, Norwich and Brighton, the Labour Party is engaged in a strategic electoral battle with the Greens. We don't need a dialogue with these single-issue clowns and their anti-working class policies, we need to attack and destroy them.”) the audience responded with a great roar of laughter. Caroline, Jean and Salma were all very warmly received.
Jean spoke at a workshop on electoral reform and was very good. There was clearly a consensus for the desirability of a campaign for a referendum on PR. Jean, Caroline, Salma and Cruddas all welcomed the idea of a joint campaign.
Caroline said a number of interesting things. First, in her keynote speech she said that what unites us is that we “put people first, not big business”. She said that though greens want to work with others “Ireland shows what happens to Greens when they get it [coalition] wrong.” She said that “we, as part of the progressive left” should agree three things; 1, “we all have the right to exist” (this went with an allusion about the fragility of Blair’s ‘Big Tent” and the desirability of a gathering of tents and people sitting round camp fires instead) 2, We should continue to meet and talk about how to cooperate more. 3, That we should have a broad based campaign on PR.
She said that the greatest failure of NuLab is the increase in inequality and that Labour has become the party of war, privatisation and attacks on civil liberties. A new politics is urgently needed and she wants to continue to talk to Compass on how to develop it [perhaps we could make a few suggestions?]. Her speech was met with enthusiastic applause.
In the session on ‘A new socialism’ she said that “socialism is good as far as it goes but we need to go further – to develop a new wide progressive politics.” During her speech she twice called for a maximum wage and said it was green party policy! As I was under the impression that the right had defeated our resolution calling for a maximum wage last spring I was rather surprised, but delighted that Caroline seems to have come round to our position. Quite a few people were clearly impressed by Caroline and surprised how left her speeches were.
Other points: Harriet Harman spoke for a quarter of a hour but said absolutely nothing. However, its was nice to watch her squirm as the Director of War on Want very politely shred NuLab and demonstrate how reactionary it has been. Salma spoke very well and very directly as ever. She said that she had been proud to call for a green vote in the North West and was the only speaker not to dodge the issue of electoral alliances and tactical voting, saying “we must all put our weight behind each other”. She said that she regretted that it had not been possible to come to an agreement with greens up to now but she hoped that it would be for the general election. She pledged to support any progressive candidate in the next election and specifically mentioned Caroline and the Plaid). She got good applause for that. One of the top table speakers in the new socialism session was Adam Price, a Plaid Welsh Assembly Member. I had never heard of him before, but he was really really good.
It seemed to me that there were two great limitations apparent at the conference. First was the almost total lack of involvement by the trade unions, apart from UCU and PCS. The second was the very narrow electoral perspective of virtually everyone on the day, as though political activity is restricted solely to political parties (plus NGOs for some) during and in preparation for elections.
Only Adam Price ( who actually talked about workers control and said that inherited wealth is morally unacceptable!) and to an extent, Salma, said much about political activity as part of the daily life of working people, although Caroline did make reference to the need for a new politics in both her speeches.