The Compass conference attracted over 1,000 centre-left activists to London last Saturday. It was billed as building the “Good Society”.
Compass is an influential Labour Party forum, boasting 40,000 members. But it has recently opened up to others, including Liberal Democrats and Green Party members.
For example, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes was a key speaker.
Some radicalism was apparent. Daniel, from UK Uncut, said his group was “driven by Labour’s inability to challenge what is happening in Britain today”.
A video message from Ed Miliband said that New Labour had done too little to tackle people’s concerns on banks.
But he also pandered to the right, suggesting that New Labour could have been harder on immigration.
Compass chair Neal Lawson said, “In 13 years Labour didn’t build the moral roots for the ‘Good Society’… We paved the way for the Tories.”
He added, “In a world of Facebook and fewer factories, we have to rethink social democracy. Ed has been too cautious, he needs our help.”
The idea of “Blue Labour” ran through the conference, with key Blue Labour thinker Maurice Glasman speaking several times about New Labour’s “relentless humiliation of working people”.
But his answer was for workers to be part of management bodies. He also attacked globalisation’s role in immigration: “The idea of free movement of labour is a bosses’ idea, a capitalist idea.”
Labour shadow minister Tessa Jowell said, “I am proud to be Blue Labour—we win from the centre. “We have to speak to the world as it is, not as we wish it were,” she added.
Blue Labour even drew some praise from the TUC’s Frances O’Grady. “We need to take the fantastic thinking of Maurice Glasman and put it into practice to inject into pay packets,” she said.
This highlights the problems with Blue Labour. The concepts are so vague that many have pinned a variety of contradictory hopes on it.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was near alone among key speakers in supporting this week’s public sector strikes.
Others argued that “winning the argument” with the public was more important.
There was clearly a desire from most delegates to move on from the disastrous years of New Labour. But the way forward seemed at best confused.