I spent all of yesterday at the Compass Conference in London. Bit depressing, spending all of a summer Saturday indoors, but it was worthwhile to go along. The programme of the conference – attended by 1000 people they claim – was very impressive, with an enormous number of breakout groups talking aboout a waide variety of issues. See the programme of the event here. Here are a few observations…
- Attendees at the conference were not especially representative of the population, or indeed the Labour Party. Very few people from ethnic minorities, and a large number of retired people. Plenty of people with sandals and socks, and thick glasses. A decent number of young people though.
- Neal Lawson, the Chair of Compass, is clearly a sharp bloke, but I can see why he does anger some people in the party. He talks of not being scared into silence. That there are many visions of the good society, but the treadmill is not one of them. That nothing on the left was won without a struggle. Good stuff, and clearly with more intellectual coherency than many on the left who have a tendency to rant.
- Listening to government ministers has become an excrutiating and painful experience. You know you are going to get no light-heartedness, only a single-minded commitment to what the government has managed to achieve. Ed Balls gave a half-decent speech, but it was very managerial in substance. Hazel Blears was dire – so defensive about everything and seemingly lacking any creativity and sense of humour. Why can’t these people just lighten up a bit?
- Labour needs to place lots of trust in the Miliband brothers, Ed and David. They are both humane, pleasant, and intelligent.
- I can’t make up my mind about Dennis MacShane. He was a loudmouthed Europe Minister, and gave a terrible speech in defence of nuclear power yesterday. But his passion for the EU in the CER’s Europe in 2020 session was clear for all to see. I wish he was a bit less full of himself.
- Seems there is just a kind of resigned feeling among Labour activists that Brown will be the next PM. Plenty of people at the EU session were very fearful. But where will any challenge come from?
- There was a considerable consensus in favour of PR for Westminster and local elections – plenty of applause when these points were made. Are attendees yesterday representative of the party?
- Labour has no sensible of clear idea about what local democracy and accountability actually mean. They talk as if they think foundation hospitals and schools outside LEA control assist local people, when it strikes me that the opposite is the case. It’s bizarre and alarming.
Anyway, overall it was an interesting day… Compass are clearly making some major progress, and there will be more from them in the future. While the activists seem to be getting some direction back, I don’t think that has been realised by the party leadership as yet.