A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What on earth is Progress up to?

I was a bit surprised and annoyed to see Progress (a moderate Labour magazine/political education organisation) giving publicity to this weekend's Compass event in their latest email to members.

Quite apart from the fact it is a phenomenal waste of time that upwards of a 1,000 people will be engaged in a navel-gazing exercise in central London whilst only a few miles away there is the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election where Labour's campaign really needs help ...

it seems odd that Progress would promote an event organised by a grouping/internal party faction whose objectives are so different to their own. My memory of the founding editorial board meeting of Progress (which ages me a bit ...) was that Progress exists to ensure party members understand what the leadership is trying to do, whereas Compass exists to change the leadership and policy direction of the party.

I actually think Progress should be engaged in a branch-by-branch, CLP-by-CLP battle to expose the weaknesses in Compass' analysis and marginalise them as an organisation.

It's bad enough that some Government Ministers are giving credibility to this pernicious and subversive grouping by speaking at its event, let alone that the people who ought to be fighting them are publicising it.

I really take a strong objection to Compass' constant undermining of the party and in particular the Prime Minister and think that all right-thinking people in the party should have absolutely nothing to do with them.


Blogger A soft socialist said...

Thats not what compass is about or why did they invite ed balls, oona king e.t.c. They don't exist to bring Blair down. They just believe that labour hasn't gone farenough fast enough. It essentially a Brownite organisation.

3:43 pm, June 18, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

Compass are a moderate organisation. can you honestly say that you have read the stuff they have put out in any detail, as I have Progress? From your comments, it seems not... I mean look at Compass compared to the old labourites in the Campaign Group. we have environmentalism, radical new, untried ideas on taxation, the society we want to live in, and many other areas. they have 1982. Surely, though it does not suit your purposes, you would agree with this observation?

Compass is not dogmatically statist, but pragmatic. It is not vying to bring back failed policies of the past, but invent more radical ones for the future.

Labour is meant to be a democratic socialist party (and also social dfemocratic). That means everything from the centre to the most trotty campaign groupers.

But it does not mean centre-right neoliberal policies, owing more to Hayek than Giddens... but that is what we are getting. Labour can't contain the left and the slightly right of centre at the same time, or even the left and the dead centre. the differences are too big, unless we all comprimise. That could result in a split like in germany happening (in which case, we would probably get the unions).

would you prefer that, or should we just know when to shut up and continue to be ignored? would you like to be the new SDP? That's the reductio absurdam result of what you argue for.

we can't do 'everyone is included, but only us get influence', basically. it won't last. because people want to know what they get for their dues.

compass gets no movement.

you don't join a party just to go along with every populist demand of those you oppose, be they 'the public' or not. it is a compromise between progressive principle and power.

Foot was all principle, no power. Blair is all power, no principle. compass is about maximising both, in equalibrium.

Most labourites understand that, at least. Sounds pretty representative.

I think Progress do a fine job by promoting Compass, and I think Compass do a fine job by promoting Progress.

I am not trying to excuse public calls for a change of leadership, at least, from those in a position of some influence. but by the same token, for the right-wing of the party to call for a group to be marginalised panders to the language of division and warfare, as do calls for boycotts and refusals to debate! So that's a broad church, eh? How immature.

The party comes first, and that means unity, debate, and comprimise; not intra-party sectarianism that you seem to encourage here.

you are effectively de-dummying the pram because you don't like what someone else is doing. I would respectfully suggest that you do something yourself, and if people don't like it as much as Compass, quite frankly, tough.

furthermore, you claim that compass is unrepresentative. well, we are linked to the unions through catalyst, have support from a third of labour members and at the very least 80 MPs, as well as councillors and normal activists throughout the country such as myself. Then there is a largeish section of uberlefts and entrists in the campaign group.

So you can hardly say that Progress represents any mainstream bulk of the party. actually, it is a grassroots organisation for the leader above: Mr Blair.

Compass on the other hand stretches from avowedly new Labour Brownites, such as Ed Balls (and to an extent me: hence why I find your remarks so offensive... I mean, I agree with Crosland for christ's sake!) through to the soft left and tribune (also like me!), ie. critical supporters of the government.

we are a broad coalition against blairism, not necesarily new Labour, though some Compassites plainly are. Thus, we are, once again, as representative as any sectional group (a charge to which progress also pleds guilty) could be. our backing is certainly wider than progress's.

'what's labour for? to keep the tory acheivements of the 1980s in place forever! comrades, we must sell the NHS/Schools/Transport, lock up the innocent, bomb the poor for freedom and institutionalise the class system through educational selection!'


it's for equality, democracy, freedom and change. Values Blair has lost touch with.

We must be that change.

On that basis sir, I challenge you to a duel.

1:07 am, June 19, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Hmmm ... some of my best friends are in Compass and attended the conference. I used to be on the Labour Co-ordinating Committee exec with Neal Lawson. Back then he was proclaiming how great Blair was ...

I wouldn't have a problem with Compass if it did stick to generating radical new ideas. I even agree with some of them - I've been involved in campaigning for electoral reform, for instance, since the early '90s.

My problem with Compass is that Neal Lawson keeps using it as a platform to attack Tony Blair.

In doing so he is undermining the chances of a smooth handover from Blair to Brown and reversing the historic shift that the "soft left" made in 1985 when it formed an alliance with the right of the party around backing Kinnock's leadership. This is very dangerous. It puts the fault line in the party down the middle of the broadly sane people rather than between the sensible people and the ultra left.

We should all be on the same side not attacking each other.

One of the ironies is that Blair actually came from a soft-left Kinnockite/LCC background - the ideological ancestors of Compass - and No10 went out of their way to encourage the set up of Compass - then it bit the hand that fed it.

I'm personally a traditional Labour right-winger - I'm sceptical of the more market orientated reforms to public services that the Blairite ultras want, and I'm a supporter of the union link, but I also believe in loyalty to the leader and letting him choose when he wants to go.

Central to my politics is support for the alliance with the USA - and Compass' hostility to that is another reason I'm not keen on them.

I wouldn't, as Tom suggests "want to be the new SDP" as unlike Compass supporters like Polly Toynbee people from my wing of the party were the ones that stayed in Labour and fought the left in the early 80s (Toynbee defected to the SDP).

I disagree with your suggestion that Blair is about power, not principle. If this was the case he would not have pursued unpopular policies like Iraq. His principles and mine just happen to be different to your's.

The organisation within the party I'm involved in, Labour First, has better things to do with its time than organise rallies and conferences. That's why this weekend I went and campaigned for Labour in the Bromley parliamentary by-election rather than attend a talking shop.

When Compass stops attacking Tony Blair I'll stop attacking Compass. In the mean time as far as I am concerned you are fair game.

I do wish you would stop suggesting everyone that speaks at a Compass event is somehow endorsing it too - if I came and debated against you would you be listing me as a Compass supporter?

10:24 am, June 19, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

no, I wouldn't. but Ed Balls is a leftie in disguise... he even writes a regular column in Tribune. Balls's speech was as close as someone bound by collective responsibility could get to endorsing compass's view, the same with miliband... that said, we all know we can't get everything we ask for. That's life.

In that way, I'd say that Compass and Progress actually have a slight overlap.

My problem with Compass is that Neal Lawson keeps using it as a platform to attack Tony Blair.

I'd agree with that statement. I think Lawson severely lacks tact, but he's been getting a lot of flack for the things he says, not least from adele and I. Like I said, the party comes first, and that means comprimise.

when I was talking about principle, I was talking about socialist principle... respect for Labour values. I don't agree that Iraq was in touch with them.

you don't spread democracy by bombing it into people, especially when they live in a fractured country where everybody owns firearms. and is nextdoor to Iran.

Nor do I believe that blair went to war to free Iraq, because the reason kept on conveniently changing every time it was proven to be unfounded or was too unpopular. I believe Blair wanted a war from the start. And I'm not even a crazed SWPer, a lot of people, mainstream people, think this. especially those my age.

Now we have this bush doctrine of pre-emptive invasion, as riddled with uncertainty in application as pre-emptive self defence in the criminal law. We also have as a result a license to invade a country and kill innocent people to spread democracy.

I agree with spreading democracy, and despise this insurgency; indeed i signed euston. But I don't believe in that, and naither does the vast bulk of labour. it's not principle, it is a backfired opportunism.

I agree in being an allie with the US, as wel as europe etc. But, I would take the Labour position on Vietnam as the correct template, not the current ones. I also think we should take them on on the environment, aids, and global neoliberalism/IMF/WTO/G8 issues. We should aim for the right kind of globalisation, not the american whim.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't be the strongest allies in other areas, particularly in defence (not offence!) and Human rights (outside of guantanamo/eastern europe). For example, the US has a superior position to us on China, we should recognise that.

I can get on with the traditional, croslandite right; indeed, that is why Blair was right when he first came in, and deserved to have his praises sung.

Power without principle. What, excepting Warwick, has Blair done since 2001 that Ted Heath could not have endorsed? where's the principle gone? it was there in the early years of new Labour, and even then, it came mainly from Brown, e.g. tax credits.

I just think that he has changed away from the reality of modern life, rather than changing with it.

My point about the SDP is this. the unions are to the left of the government, and critical. half of the party is the same, in the CLPs. neither constituency gets listened to. So what can it do? it can criticise, such as compass have done... or it can split. and if the left takes the unions, what would the right be?

And if we, the left-ish, can't criticise or disent (just not cricket), or win power, through groups like your nemeses, the grassroots alliance (yes, I know you hate them...), what's in it for us? where are we to find representation?

oh. we shouldn't. we should shut up, pay our dues, and learn how to take it.

The difference between compass and Blair is that we will invite Oona King, listen, and mostly disagree. Blair shuns outside influence, makes poilicy without consultation, never responds to criticism, unless from the right-wing press,then ignores any dissent from parts of Labour. Compass listens and considers, even when it seems destined to disagree.

I would love to take you up on that debate by the way ;o)

Best wishes

4:48 pm, June 19, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

and if you sometimes agree with compass, what's so pernicious?

4:50 pm, June 19, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't think you should "shut up and pay your dues" I just think you shouldn't be surprised if people from my wing of the party argue back in equally robust fashion.

I disagree with your analysis of the position of CLPs - most of which outside inner city areas are basically loyal to the leadership - and the unions, who may have left-talking general secretaries but whose ordinary members are profoundly pragmatic (indeed many of them vote Tory).

Feel free to organise but don't be surprised when the moderate majority organises back.

We had to put up with decades of party leaders like Wilson who were to the left of us and we stayed loyal. To quote John Spellar MP "the right are loyal to leaders like Michael Foot they didn't vote for; the left are disloyal to the people they did vote for."

We will have to agree to differ on Iraq - I think that particular debate has been done to death.

5:05 pm, June 19, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Pernicious means "having a very harmful effect or influence". That's what Compass' current impact is on the Labour Party (at least from where I'm sitting).

5:51 pm, June 19, 2006

Blogger A soft socialist said...

Yes CLPs are in general loyal to the leadership. I'm in a CLP in an almost purely working class area and we don't tend to speak out against the leadership at all. But we will start to get pissed off if the leadership start behaving in a silly fashion, backbiting e.t.c, which in the long term will only damage the party.

Erm if trade unions are so pragmatic then why are they all arguing against privatisation. Could it be because its not working that well??

11:19 am, June 20, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

The current crop of general secretaries do talk left (but then often do quite pragmatic deals) but below that there is a lot of common sense - e.g. the Amicus London Region Political Committee which I'm on has a 100% moderate line-up - the left couldn't win a single seat at the regional conference. Remember it is ordinary members of unions who will get balloted in a Labour leadership election, there is no block vote.

1:52 pm, June 20, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Interesting that there are quite left sounding posting from members of Manchester Uni Labour Club. Back in the day... when I was NOLS National Secretary Liam Byrne, now Home Office Minister, ran that Club and it was very Blairite... the fight in those days in Labour Students was between Blairites and Old Labour Rightwingers.

1:54 pm, June 20, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

We have quite a wide range of members. Sorry about taking youir blog over, by the way! we've been a bit 'active' lately. (maybe that comes from getting drubbed by the SWP...)

Labour students nationally lacks a left wing, because they join other groups. now that's disloyalty.

My experience of CLPs is that mine is non-existant... but it is also everything but blairite. silly really, because in Woking, Blairite policy would serve us best electorally. I'm glad to be back up north for the most part!

Yes, Iraq is a done debate. all there is to talk about now is how to clear up the mess. that means smashing the terrorists and making a hasty withdrawal. I'd argue for doing things the expensive way.

I quite like today's union leaders. they strike the best balance between their members and the leadership there'll ever be.

7:00 pm, June 20, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

I think the objection is to the fact that compass thinks up ideas, puts them forward, and the response is accusations: 'old labour', 'hard left', 'disloyal' and 'divisive'.

Even before *some* Compass *members* asked for blair to go, the attacks they recieved were of an ad hominem nature.

er. no. the leadership has the option of a united party, there is plenty of scope for agreement. but that's no good for triangulation. the best way to fight the tories, they see, is to fight the rest of labour, then introduce the tories' policy for them. carry on, and the coalition we have fractures. come to consensus, and we may still disagree, but move forward in unison.

Less of the labels, and the witch hunting. that has been the response.

how about debate, co-operation, and in the recognition that no-one is always right, comprimise.

together: further, faster, better.

7:08 pm, June 20, 2006

Blogger A soft socialist said...

The current crop of gen secs maybe excluding Dave Prentice are part of the reclaim Labour squad. I.e. they want labour in power but would like to see a better deal for workers. As it goes for AMICUS bar Derek Simpson they are one of the more right wing unions, why else would they sponsor NOLS?! However, AMICUS are so much better with him at the helm than Ken Jackson. I don't think its good for the unions to be too close to the Government. I think you'll also find that the unions will back Gordon Brown for leader despite the obvious problems.

In terms of left sounding posts. Hmmm, we are basically of the new labour brand, just don't agree with absolutely everything that TB does. Manchester Labour club is pretty loyal to new labour because it has given us 9 years in power. But that loyalty is not blind.

I'd put myself in the Jon Trickett, Jon Denham, David Chaytor mould. Judge for yourself whether that is left.

11:57 am, June 21, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

Tony Lloyd is my one and only. well, I admire quite a few brownites and hard lefts actually.... basically people that build their views on philosophical values and what is right above what the papers say, irrespective of whether you agree.

But I doubt that Milburn, Reid, and to a lesser extent, Byers (remember railtrack!), wouldn't get on with the Notting Hill set a little better than they do TUs and social democrats.

1:02 am, June 23, 2006

Blogger A soft socialist said...

Tony Lloyd what a legend. Now he is the epitome of a good labour MP and trade union man.

10:35 am, June 23, 2006


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