Observations from the Compass conference

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
20 March 2010

I went to the Compass 'What the hell do we do now?' conference on Thursday, aka 'Do you have a theory of change, please?' A lot of the discussions were inside the comfort zones of the left. But John Harris, a Guardian regular, had a sense of the chasm that's now opened up between the public and the political class.

I went to the workshop on Culture led by Jeremy Gilbert. A discussion of NGOs and telling stories that touched people veered into an exchange about capitalism. Jeremy said that freedom is irredeemably collective, which struck me as stretching things. Jon Cruddas agreed that we need stories that are allegories for the state of society and how it can change. At the end of the afternoon John Harris was scathing about the socialism of stealth we've had to endure from New Labour. 'Never Again!', so far as he is concerned. Only he put it more wittily.

I've heard Labour Party members talk about the need for an alliance with the Lib Dems. But it has always been heavily tactical and party-centric. Harris was different and refreshing. He called for a pluralism in which Greens, Liberals and progressives of all kinds were the platform along with Labour. It was genuinely anti-tribalist. Neal Lawson summed up, we would reconvene after the election. The watchwords were: Endure, Organise, Recover.

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