Compass U.K. Progressive Economic Program

I shared the podium recently in Sydney with Neal Lawson, who is the chairperson for a very interesting U.K. initiative called Compass.   As far as I can tell, Compass is kind of a cross between a think-tank and an activist network.  Its explicit goal has been to challenge the right-wing policies of the New Labour leadership.  It functions largely, but not exclusively, as a pressure group within the Labour party — although it welcomes membership from non-Labour members as well.  Compass has support from about 50 Labour MPs, has built up a membership of several thousand individuals, and generates a lot of media coverage.

Lawson’s review of the terrible economic and social record of New Labour challenged us to go beyond simply blaming it all on the “betrayal” of unprincipled leaders.  There were times (especially before the 2001 election, he says) in which the hard neoliberal direction of Tony Blair’s government was still contestable.  But the ability of progressive communities to exert influence in the opposite direction was undermined by several factors, especially:

  • a desperation to do anything to get the Conservatives out of office
  • lack of a confident economic program

Compass has a “Renewal Project” which aims at developing broad, values-based statements of progressive direction.  The Project features three accessible booklets, including one on a New Political Economy:

It provides a broad overview of the alternative economic directions a different government could head in, that will be of interest to progressives in Canada.  Both its tone and content remind me of the documents we put together a few years ago for the New Politics Initiative.  Like the NPI itself, I worry that the Compass initiative is too focused on internal battles within the Labour Party.  (The NPI’s aim was to unite progressives within the NDP with activists outside the party — like the anti-globalization movements.  In practice, however, it ended up being too focused on internal party processes.)  Nevertheless, it’s great to see some refreshing thinking from the left in Britain, which will face a long road rebuilding from the dead-end which New Labour’s approach has left them in.

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