Over the next few months – ahead of a special general meeting in February – centre-left group Compass will be debating whether or not they should admit non-Labour members. This is a highly contentious issue within Compass, and could have a significant bearing on the future of the organisation.
At present, to be a member of Compass you must either be a Labour Party member (or a member of no party) meaning that the organisation revolves around Labour, although doesn’t organise within it. However, Compass have always sought to hug close others from the “progressive” left, including greens and leftish Lib Dems. Indeed it has always been part of the Compass ethos to build a coalition that extends beyond the Labour Party.Earlier this year Compass advocated voting Lib Dem in seats where Labour were in third place, something which upset a number of activists and led to some leaving the group*. Compass currently has 40,000 supporters (a large proportion of whom are Labour Party members). The question is, will they attract more new members from Lib Dem/Green supporters than they will lose from disgruntled supporters in the Labour Party?
Whilst the decision has yet to be made, both Chair Neal Lawson and General Secretary Gavin Hayes spoke in favour of the change at the weekend, with Lawson describing the party as a “necessary but insufficient vehicle for our politics”, before going on to say “we are beginning to build a strong coalition outside the Labour Party and we are stronger within the Labour Party because of this”.
Perhaps Compass should remember the words of the great Nye Bevan – “It’s the Labour Party or Nothing”.
* In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that this includes me.
Edit: A previous version of this article stated that Compass has 40,000 members – this should have read supporters and has now been amended.