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, January 23, 2007

Compass does its bit to lose Labour the next election

I predicted on Monday that Compass calling for the overall tax burden to go up from 37.8% to 50% of GDP was likely to be the policy equivalent of our canvassers dumping on each voter's doorstep and then sticking a flag in it saying "sorry you were out, the Labour Party called".

Unlike the lunatic fringe, who at least don't pretend to have any influence, Compass write long pamphlets that look semi-official and make out (falsely in my view) that they have some kind of inside track to Gordon Brown.

Hence their ideas will get quoted in Tory leaflets in all the seats we need to win in the General Election to actually get Brown a full term as PM, probably with graphs attached showing exactly how much extra people in that constituency will pay.

It's started already - my hits log reported yesterday that Tory Central Office were googling for the words "Gordon Brown + Neal Lawson" to seek to link Compass' shooting from the hip ramblings with the official Treasury line.

And today we saw the first salvo against Labour, using Labour-manufactured ammunition, from the Daily Express: http://www.express.co.uk/news_detail.html?sku=1092, saying
"HARD-WORKING families could be hit with an extra £6,000-a-year tax bill under a Gordon Brown government it emerged last night.The Chancellor’s supporters have given warm backing to a report calling for swingeing increases to make Britain “more equal”.But last night experts warned that the shock plans by Left-wing think-tank Compass would be equivalent to raising the basic rate of income tax to 62 per cent."

Compass has hit back, disputing the figures :

Unfortunately, most Express readers don't check what they read in their paper against the Compass website, so the damage has been done.

Compass dismisses the Express as a rightwing tabloid. Yes it is - I can't bear what it stands for - but actually on stuff like this it also reflects the concerns of its readers, who just happen to be disproportionately the kind of people who won us the last 3 elections - so that we could deliver the schools, hospitals, police and jobs our core vote needed - and could lose us the next one. On the doorstep as a PPC in 2005 the kind of people who read the Express told me they struggle to keep afloat and pay their mortgages as it is. Telling them they are going to see their tax hiked up is not much better than actually walking down to the polling station with them and putting a "X" in the Tory box.

If I sound angry, actually I've toned the language down.

I am incandescent that this stupid little clique of middle class theoreticians and hobby factionlists can have given such a gift to the Tories.

Labour - specifically Gordon Brown - worked for years to win the trust of the British people on tax and the economy. Compass does not speak for Labour or anyone in it in anything approaching a position of responsibility.

Most of us learnt the public's views on tax the hard way. I learnt it having doors slammed in my face on poverty stricken council estates in Avonmouth and Southmead in 1992 by our core voters who thought Labour was going to give them a tax "double whammy" and at the count in our target constituency of Bristol North West watching the tears on the Labour people's faces as we lost by 45 votes after recount after miserable recount.

Some of the people in Compass are too young to have learnt those lessons. I hope for their sake they never do. I particularly hope it for the sake of the working people Labour represents, who won't get the redistribution Compass calls for, but years of Tory cuts.

But the head honcho at Compass, Neal Lawson, did learn those lessons. He lived in Bristol when we lost Bristol North West by 45 votes. I sat there in an upstairs room at the TGWU SW HQ with him at the LCC (Labour Co-ordinating Committee - Compass' predecessor) inquest into why we lost that General Election. He has no excuse for publishing own goals like this.

I used to think Compass were a joke. Now I think they constitute a serious threat to Labour's chances of re-election. Their arguments need to be taken on. Their members need to be argued with to persuade them to quit. Government ministers need to stop attending and giving the stamp of credibility to their events. To quote Cyril Smith's comments on the SDP, "as an organisation it should have been strangled at birth".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neal claims that the reason he is involved in compass is because labour sacrificed too much to get into power.

9:53 pm, January 23, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Former member of the Labour Coordinating Committee? Check.

Supporter of electoral reform? Check.

Supporter of an elected upper house? Check.

Are you sure you're not a member of Compass, Luke? Is this a cover to protect you from your Labour First colleagues?

10:15 pm, January 23, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure you'll be delighted to hear that I've put a post about your beloved Gordon on the blog...


11:07 pm, January 23, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Adele - in what sense is trying to keep people's taxes at a level they can afford a sacrifice?

Owen - your critical post should get most of my readers actively campaigning for Gordon.

Anonymous - my Labour First mates deliberately recruited me from the LCC's executive back in the mid-90s, so my former membership of that body ain't really going to be a surprise to them.

11:17 pm, January 23, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that I disagree with the idea that the overall tax burden should be raised so radically. Perhaps such an idea could be implemented over time.

It is not a good idea to hit th British working class with higher tax. But it is definitely a good idea to make our tax struceture more progressive. I would argue for hitting those in the top third; possibly raising some thresholds, but also raising rates. That's what we need to work for in the future.

I think ruling yourself out of an idea like that is sacrificing too much. I didn't join Labour to keep the structure of material equality the same, or even in decline.

We need to be more radically redistributive, even if all of Compass's ideas ain't spot on (in fact, the pamphlet doesn't claim to e a silver bullet; worth remembering). To fail to be is to sacrifice the 'Labour' bit of 'Labour in power', which is not acceptable, in my view.

It doesn't have to be one or the other.

Re. your post, no, we didn't all grow up in the early nineties, but isn't that exactly the point?

I feel like I'm stuck in a timewarp sometimes. This is not 1992, and this is certainly not 1982.

Tommorow is now. Time to wake up.

2:29 am, January 24, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I know it's trite, but if you don't learn from history you are doomed to repeat it. If we start pushing policies that are like those of 1992, or even worse 1982, we will get 1992 or 1982 style results.

9:06 am, January 24, 2007

Anonymous Dave said...

I think you're absolutely right, Luke. What people forget about taxing high earners is that there aren't actually that many of them: the revenue raised by punative taxes on the rich isn't that high. What taxes can tend to do, however, is reduce the incentive to work, reducing the tax base and meaning that we have to tax ordinary people even more just so that we can meet spending commitments.

There are ways that we can reduce income inequality in the UK, but the crude mechanism of the income tax system isn't one of them.

10:05 am, January 24, 2007

Anonymous Ian G said...

Compass is a threat to Labour's chances of winning the next general election because what they've said has been twisted by the tabliods? On that mesure every politician that opens their mouths is a threat.

Are you really saying that Labour Party-related organisations can only say things which will find favour with the Express?

11:44 am, January 24, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Compass were only calling for higher taxes on high earners, not on most people. I am basing this on the Guardian report which Luke cited, because the Compass report is 130 pages long and I can't face reading it just to find this out. I don't understand how you raise the amount of state spending by 8%+ just by taxing the rich, for the reasons that dave outlines, but it is a bit unfair to criticise them for wanting to raise the tax burden on our supporters or on swing voters if that is not what they are proposing.

12:01 pm, January 24, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was just what Neal has been quoted as saying. I dont agree with him.

12:17 pm, January 24, 2007

Anonymous New Socialist said...

Read Owens blog which will reassure all of you out there who fear Gordon may be a closet socialist. Frankly, it scares me to death.Particularly as Neal Lawson and Co still have so much faith in him that they won't support a left leadership candidate.Luke, your kow-towing to the Express and right-wing media is wrong-headed and way out of touch with the zeitgeist.Once Mr Plod gets his hands on your New Labour chums, that will really be an electroal asset,won't it.

12:20 pm, January 24, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I think you are under the misapprehension that the views of a tiny minority in this country - who one could characterise as Guardian & Indie readers - represent the zeitgeist. There are another 59 million people in this country. You should try talking to them.

12:40 pm, January 24, 2007

Anonymous Gregg said...

This seems like a remarkably different reaction to the one you had to Stephen Byers' proposal to abolish IHT (which is from last August but I happened to find in the B4L lisitings this morning, presumably thanks to blog code updates).

3:06 pm, January 24, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Luke

I think Compass are a problem for slightly different reasons to yourself I suspect.

There is no earthly reason - given what they have been syaing about his economic policies and practices and his support albeit reluctant for other mistakes that they should be endorsing GB.

GB should probably disown them and make sure they do not identify themselves as his cheerleaders or he as their champion.

Then Compass would need to find their own candidate and a deeper and wider debate in the party could ensure - which barring accidents/miracles (depending on POV) would still return Gordon but with a much healthier foundation of satisfied members of all stripes to build on.

The roundheads who organise and tramp streets and staff phone banks are mostly not clueless drones. There is a huge amount of political intelligence and engagement in our party, still.

People need to be won over or at least treated with respect as they are asked to accept things they don't like. So long as they feel there has been some reasonable process to reach the policy.

Winning over is better than rolling over.

The Compass Tax announcement was one of the most clumsy things I have ever seen in the LP.

Best w

Chris P

3:36 pm, January 25, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My problem with compass is not their politics; but just their general clumsiness and the business with tax plans and Cruddas ballot have reinforced that.

9:44 am, January 26, 2007


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