Should Compass open its membership beyond Labour?

by Ruth Lister

Compass is currently balloting its membership on the question of whether it should allow people who belong to political parties other than Labour to be full voting members. Not surprisingly, this move is controversial. It is, nevertheless, a move which I strongly believe Compass should take.

I’ve been involved with Compass since the word go, before it was formally established in 2004. Since then it has grown in both size and influence to an extent we could not have envisaged. I was recently co-opted on to the management committee. In many ways, I see it as my political home. And one reason why I feel so comfortable there is its non-partisan approach to politics.

One of the organisation’s main arguments is that Labour needs to be more pluralist in its politics. To a certain extent, this is what Compass practises.  Anyone who has been to one of our annual conferences will know that you will hear from speakers from a range of parties on the centre-left. The conferences would certainly be the poorer without them. Yet should those same speakers say they would like to become full voting members of Compass, they would be turned away. For me the clinching argument for opening up is that we must practise what we preach, or, in the jargon today, “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk”.

Of course, there are valid concerns that this could weaken our influence within the Labour party. In the consultation we had with members prior to the ballot (in which over 200 participated), a number of people expressed this view. In particular, they feared that it would look as if we were turning away from Labour just as Labour under Ed Miliband appeared to be turning towards us. I understand those reservations and of course there is that risk. But I believe it’s a risk worth taking. Indeed, Ed Miliband himself has talked about the need for Labour to open up and listen to people outside the party.

Politics is more fluid now and we – Labour and Compass – need to take that on board in the way that we do our politics. Arguably, we can be of more value to Labour if we are channelling not just the view of Labour party members, but also members of other parties who subscribe to the values statement, which would act as the new membership test. This values statement emphasises equality (social, economic and political), democracy and sustainability within an internationalist framework.

In my view, Compass still has some way to go in integrating gender and wider diversity perspectives into its analysis and campaigns. I may be wrong but I have a hunch that a more open organisation might also become a more diverse organisation and that can only strengthen Compass.

In order to achieve the rule change, we need a two-thirds majority. If we achieve that majority, we will, in my view, have taken a decisive and significant step in helping to open up politics.  We will then have a broader and more resilient platform from which to campaign for the good society.

Ruth Lister is a Labour peer and emeritus professor.

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6 Responses to “Should Compass open its membership beyond Labour?”

  1. Maria says:

    Fully agree with you, Ruth. I have already returned my ballot and I voted ‘yes’.

  2. Idiot Spotter says:

    Politics is more fluid now

    Classic example of historical egocentricity.

  3. william says:

    Is membership of your new unelected club restricted to card carrying members of the Labour party?

  4. Chris says:

    Yes, the font of all wisdom does not reside solely in the Labour Party.

  5. Simon Barrow says:

    If it did open up it’s membership, I’d join, for one. Thoughtfully radical politics needs bridges not barriers, more shared territory and less tribalism.

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