Neal Lawson: The project to build a green and socialist government to last forever begins again this weekend

Neal Lawson

As the weeks and months tick by, anyone who thought the next election would be won quickly and easily by Labour should start to think again.

Yes, the Tories might implode over Brexit, resulting in a fresh poll, but while they are stupid they are probably not that that stupid. Despite their mishandling of almost everything the polls are still pretty neck and neck – just when governments usually start to go into the mid-term doldrums. And no this is not a “have a dig at Jeremy piece”. No other MP could probably have opened up the space for Labour to renew itself in the way that he has  – but creating the space and filling it are, as we are seeing, two different things.

Any rational reading of the situation would suggest there will be no election until after Brexit has happened and a new Tory leader is in place. Such a situation might well be chaotic but a very pro-Brexit new PM could have a very strong hand to play.  

With Brexit done, why not have a PM and a government that always believed in it and wants to make the best of it? It’s not hard to imagine many Remainers thinking that’s the only way to make the best of a bad job, leading to a landslide for the right. Its just one possible scenario – but its perfectly possible.

But, even if Labour can get over the electoral line first – and that is a big if – the issue is not just winning office but managing power. This won’t just be in the conditions of a likely bad Brexit but all the financial and political upheaval that would come from a radical Labour government that threatens the hegemony of neo-liberalism.

All of which is a way of say why don’t you come to the Compass annual gathering this Saturday at Toynbee Hall in East London? It’s free to attend (you even get lunch) and you can take part in all the sessions, you just can’t vote in the AGM part unless you’re a member. Crucially, we will be examining how radical progressives can build a hegemonic project to put us permanently on the road to a good society – one that is much more equal, democratic and sustainable.

And here, of course, we get to the idea of a progressive alliance. Compass has always seen this as part of a transformative project – building an alliance or bloc that can take on and overcome neo-liberalism. Given the snap election we decided to fold this into an anti-Tory alliance to stop a Conservative landslide. It worked and helped deliver crucial seats to Labour and could have delivered more, putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street, if Labour had given something back.

Surely the issues we face demand something better than an “all or nothing” approach to power?

But now we return to the real job of building the vision, culture and organisation of a progressive alliance that can help transform society. Sue Goss has written this short introduction called What is the Progressive Alliance?  

In it she outlines the what, how and why of such alliance-building. If we want a future that is social, liberal and green then it is only going to be created by socialists, liberals and greens working together. It will be the strength of such diversity that allows us to deal with the immense and complex challenges we face. Labour can and must lead this alliance – but it can’t do it all alone.

It is because Compass sees the big problems we face, and understands we need big solutions, that we advocate this bloc-building approach. Just like in 1945, we need a broad alliance to rebuild our society and now also to stop climate change.

This is the moment to think big and ambitiously. Political paradigm shifts seem to take place in fairly regular cycles -1945, and then 1979. We are overdue another big shift. But so big are our ambitions that we don’t simply want our turn in charge and for our ideas to be dominant for a while until there is another backlash. Instead we want a permanent settlement around the concept of a good society – not because we believe in imposing a blueprint but because we know the good society is one that knows its not “good enough” and must be continually negotiated by all of us.

Building the infrastructure, culture and resources for that negotiation is key. It is a journey which must engage not just one party or, worse still, one bit of one party – but the vast majority of our country if it is to work.

The moral decline of neo-liberalism coincides with the rise of change through networks and social media. Yes we have to fight Amazon, Google and Facebook to really socialise social media and realise the full potential of the networked society. But at least we now have the means to counter the media and power of the right and to build structures of governance that are amenable to forms that are more flat, democratic and egalitarian. As such, this is an incredible moment to be involved in progressive politics.

So back to the annual gathering – Sue Goss will be discussing her paper, Hilary Wainwright will talk about alliance-building and Mathew Sowemimo will outline his analysis of Labour’s electoral strengths and weaknesses. And we will be announcing details of the new Compass project– the Common Platform – a vision, policy and alliance-building project for the next two years. Jon Cruddas will be joining us to share his insights into how big ideas can be assembled and disseminated.

Big change in the 21st century is going to be complex. Compass embraces that challenge. We can and must fight many things – all forms of inequality and climate change – what we cannot fight is the collaborative spirit of our age. Our annual gathering will be about how we do that.

Neal Lawson is chair of Compass.

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