Caroline Alabi on yesterday’s Compass conference and leadership husting


The first issue that needs to be addressed is how on earth did the Compass conference manage to sell out even though it was on the same day as England’s first World Cup game?

Fair enough, the actual match didn’t kick off till two and a half hours after the conference ended, but many who have endured the World Cup in the past will know how important it is to have a ‘good spot in the pub’ to ‘warm up to before the kick off.’

The morning speakers were the first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, Nick Dearden of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, Christine Blower from the National Union of Teachers and Neal Lawson of Compass. They all spoke well on where Labour went wrong at the last election and what is required for us to move forward.

I was struck by the boldness of Caroline Lucas’s assertion that: “even when it was clear that Labour wouldn’t win the election outright, certain Labour MPs were still opposed to the idea of a rainbow coalition, and this in itself proves that Labour were not listening to the changing needs of the public.”

Lucas then went on to discuss why a rainbow coalition is beneficial for the public and why parties like Labour should see it as the mainstream option if they wish to stay current. She mentioned the Robin Hood tax and the failure of Labour MPs to speak up against the current government for not considering this.

However, Lucas sounded like she was recruiting for new Green members towards the end of her speech rather than making a constructive argument.  She should be wary of patronising Labour and undervaluing the achievements of the Labour government – like the minimum wage, tax credits and employment rights – as a voice for the working class.

Nick Dearden was by far the most inspiring speaker about tackling the deficit. He spoke very quickly and very clearly, rarely changing the pitch of his voice; but somehow it worked:

“….come out of your comfort zone as campaigners and be prepared to campaign with other NGOs and trade unions on issues that you all believe in, because it’s for the greater good.”

“Put an end to the economic and financial experiment in the UK to avoid the results seen in Greece and Hungary. Why is increasing tax on the rich instead of making cuts an issue that all MPs are currently avoiding?”

Dearden certainly brought the message home.

In the session on Housing, Caroline Davey of Shelter said that housing barely got a mention in the last election and the new government has already brushed it under the carpet.  But from the doorstep we know how much of a priority it is to people. Every pound spent on housing saves money down the line.

West London MP Andy Slaughter, is another passionate advocate for better housing.  His calm manner when discussing the topic shouldn’t be confused with lack of interest.  He knows when to sound casual and when to look the audience in the eye, and “ordinary families need housing to be subsidised” was the simple truth which dare not speak its name.

Dave Smith from London Citizens talked about the proud council tenants who keep their homes immaculate, but the outside conditions of which would never reveal this. People want to be proud of their homes.  We can make it possible by community land housing trust schemes in which the community buys and owns the land that houses are built on and when the flat is sold the profit is retained to subsidise housing later on.

Oona King wouldn’t take this sitting down.  She literally stood up to defend her record and Labour’s record of housing achievement in Tower Hamlets.

She believed and explained how much more important is housing than education. What’s the point of an EMA if you have to share a 3 bed flat with 8 other family members and don’t have the resources or space at home to study and think?  Basic facts that many non working class people take for granted.

Mayoral selection candidate King is not happy that Boris Johnson will not take action against London Boroughs that don’t meet minimum housing targets. She also cheekily plugged her Oona for Mayor website – which earned her a hearty laugh from the audience.

She pledged free wi-fi for poor families, as it has been proven that children do 20% better when they have internet access at home. As well as housing, that will be King’s priority if she becomes Mayor.

The audience, though, felt that too much emphasis is put on housing as an issue in London.  Now that the middle classes are experiencing a housing problem, we should be more creative with housing solutions.

As a Barking and Dagenham Labour campaigner myself, I am all too aware of what a lack of housing led to in terms of the BNP and local politics. 20 years of not being able to build council housing did help the BNP win seats in the 2008 election, but now that social housing is being built let us all remember what our priorities are: a better standard of living for the people we seek to represent.

At the Compass youth fringe, Sam Tarry, Laurie Penn, Noel Hatch and Aaron Porter discussed why it is important for young campaigners to support other young candidates.

Adults have not repaid the favour therefore it is our chance to empower ourselves. Tarry spoke of the need for Young Labour to have powers to make its own policies, paid employees and so on, and to be able partially to separate itself from mainstream Labour.

London Young Labour put in a great performance during the election.  LYL was organised; Labour Students were organised and regular campaigning via phone canvassing, leafleting, door knocking, talks and socials led to a dozen or more LYL members being elected as councillors.

However, outside London – particularly in the Southern areas where Labour lost many MPs – there may not have been this opportunity.  So, as Tarry said, let us take note and motivate ourselves to campaign and reclaim CLPs that were lost to Lib Dems or Tories. Don’t be disheartened; but be excited about the challenge ahead of you to transform your CLP and lead from the front.

Leadership husting

David Miliband was not in his comfort zone, although he did his best in front of the 1000+ people who were seated and standing in the main hall eagerly awaiting his speech.  Sitting on stage and crossing his legs, looking out into the crowd smiling and waiting to be given the go-ahead to sit on the panel, he seemed a little too relaxed but that soon changed.

In their opening speeches all panel members made great points. Ed Miliband won generous applause when he promised that half his cabinet would be female if he were elected.  However it was clearly Diane’s moment when she openly challenged the status quo of the usual male white candidate and said: “the next leader may just look like me”.

Never before has a panel been so reluctant to clap and accept that their opponent is right. She is the only candidate that isn’t white, male and middle class. But was this enough for Diane to deliver a message that would capture the audience?  No.  Unfortunately her responses were limited, with little policy content.

This is where Ed Miliband excelled, as in his response to the question about youth and the importance of helping young people, in contrast to the current government’s abolition the Future Jobs Fund as soon as it came into power.  Ed’s ability to admit the mistakes of the last Labour government without being critical struck the right balance. Labour members are not naive enough to believe that the party didn’t make mistakes, but the new leader must also help us to believe in our successes.

David injected much-needed pride into the audience when he told the hall that the 16,000 schools that weren’t achieving A-C grades at GCSE in 1997 had been reduced to 260 schools today.

There was a slight dig at Diane from Ed Balls, who mentioned how proud he was of Hackney Downs state school, which his daughter will be attending.  Clearly, Diane’s choice to send her son to a private school was the reason for Balls’ comment.

Andy was the least memorable speaker.  He only made one prominent statement on the need for tax on financial transactions.

Overall the conference was a success because not one leadership or mayoral candidate could have left feeling smug. Instead, they will be feeling that they must listen to the public, listen to the left and take pride in what makes Labour a great left party.

A future fair for all  – in terms of housing, education, NHS spending and minimal public sector cuts – really was the message of the day.  One which candidates would do well to heed if they want to have any chance of realising their ambitions.

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3 Responses to “Caroline Alabi on yesterday’s Compass conference and leadership husting”

  1. AmberStar says:

    Who’d have thought it – Diane did best on her own turf.

    I’m hoping Andy B is saving something for the final furlong, he’s been very quiet so far. 😎

  2. KeithNieland says:

    I was at the Compass Conference yesterday and would like to post the question I was not called to ask during the Leaders’ Hustings.

    I am a Labour Party member in the virtually Labour MP free South East (apart from London). This is the Region where we must pick up seats if we are to win the next election. It is also the Region where hundreds of thousands of voters who voted for Thatcher and Major in the 80s and 90s voted for Blair in the last 3 elections and we have now lost. What would be each candidates pitch to win these voters back to Labour?

    The question needs to answered through the prism of the South East, not London, Manchester and Birmingham.

    I personally feel Diane was weak yesterday after her intial clever sound bite. DM was most Prime Minister like and spoke from a position of knowledge and understands the wider policy (and inter policy) context. I was also impressed by Ed Balls.

  3. Jack Falkingham says:

    I was also at the Conference yesterday, of which I saw Neal Lawson’s take on Tribalism v. Pluralism in this weeks New Statesman an accurate prelude.
    From Carolina Luca’s opening remarks on the necessity for a consensus across the leftist movement, it seemed an underlying argument throughout the discussions.
    Furthermore I felt Ed Miliband resonated this call for pluralism when mentioning the need for the machine to follow the movement, not the other way round.
    Although you mention the message being placed in specific policies, I felt there was something much clearer. A call for internal democracy within the party, cooperation across the leftist movement, and therefore a need to purge ourselves of the tribalist past.
    That said, I personally felt a worry – brought about by Jon Cruddas’ remarks on the Soviet Union Politburo’s lack of ability to change. It highlighted to me how it could this search for a new movement, within the Party’s elite, that subsequently prevents any change – mealy casting aside those affiliated to the past… whilst a new elite is born.

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