Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Compass needs to find its bearings

Compass is a “democratic left pressure group” – at least, that’s what it presumably is in those moments when it’s not serving as a media platform for Neal Lawson to attack the government while gushing about David Cameron (e.g. “The anti-Tory wave that swept New Labour to power to 1997 is still rolling. It is the wave Cameron is trying to ride when he talks up public services, the environment and now redistribution” or “Of course Cameron will keep pitching to the left of New Labour because that [is] where the centre ground is”).

Anyway, today, we find that Hetan Shah and Jonathan Rutherford of Compass (it’s not just a one-man band) have written a report, The Good Society, in which they claim:

“New Labour has achieved important reductions in poverty, and has managed to implement a number of socially liberal measures. But it has never made a serious challenge to neo-liberalism by seeking active political support for an alternative, democratic – and hegemonic – vision of the good society”

But in their Guardian article introducing it, they claim:

“New Labour has failed to stem the tide of poverty growth because it never challenged the reign of free markets by seeking active support for a democratic vision of the good society.”

One of these is half true and half woolly, and the other is half false and half woolly. Now the wool looks consistent, and I daresay forgivable, but what puzzles me is this. Why do Compass-ites, when they clearly are capable of intelligent thought and factual knowledge (I’ve skimmed bits of the report – looks like some decent stuff there), turn into anti-government attack dogs when they have media access to a wider audience?

It just isn’t true that the government has failed to reduce poverty. In fact, for me, it’s their greatest achievement, even though I want them to do much more on this front. So why do these people, who seem to know the truth, and who could perfectly well say “yes, well done, but…” instead start waving a big stick made of lies designed to let the Tories steal some of Labour’s support and demotivate the rest of it.

There are people on the left who are utterly uncomfortable with power; they would rather be in an academic debating society or a street protest movement than a government. They don’t want to make the compromises of power; they don’t want to be held responsible for the inevitable mistakes. They managed this very successfully for most of the 20th century, and I hope that nowadays they’re fewer in number. If not, then Lawson may well prove right about one thing: “David Cameron will not win the next election. Labour will lose it.”


Anonymous said...

I recently returned from the Liberal Democrat conference, and I've noticed several overlaps between what the Lib Dems do and what Compass does. They both slag off New Labour a lot, while allowing occasional faint praise for the government's achievements. They both go on and on about the war. They're both unwilling to think very hard about the compromises of government.

There are some big differences too, though, and perhaps the most important one is that the Lib Dems have some policies. You might say that the Liberal Democrats are Compass for grown-ups.

Benjamin said...

Income inequality has widened under Labour, and so have health disparities.

Child poverty has simply stopped getting much worse. But check the latest figures and you'll find, after over 9 years of a Labour govt, the UK's child poverty rate is one of the worst in Europe. It is still a disgrace.

I am sure you will agree with me that the rate of child poverty is a good measure of how civilised, decent and advanced a society is.

On that measure Labour has failed.

Tom Freeman said...

"Child poverty has simply stopped getting much worse."

Do you mean (a) child poverty has only been getting a bit worse, (b) child poverty has neither worsened nor been reduced, or (c) child poverty has been reduced?

(c) is what has happened. If you're complaining that 9 years of Labour government - the first two of which weren't redistributive - haven't undone the poverty boom of 18 years of Tory government, then that's true enough.