Inside and outside left

The left must build new coalitions of ideas and organisation, inside and outside Labour, that compel leaders to be as radical as possible and encourage the more radical to rise to the top, writes Neal Lawson

September 24, 2007 · 3 min read

First, congratulations and good luck to Red Pepper for the relaunch. The left needs real pluralism and vitality, inside and outside Labour. I always find the magazine interesting and I’m always in awe of Hilary’s commitment and consistency for a liberal left project.

So what did become of the Labour left?

Alex Nunns gives a fair overview but probably didn’t have the space to go as deep as he needed. Liz Davies, sadly, is just dismissive. Sure there are weaknesses and problems but why does she want to write off the left in the party? I don’t want to write the left off outside. We can challenge, compliment, support and learn from each other.

Alex Nunns does a run round the people and the forces. Cruddas and McDonnell, the Campaign group and Compass. What he doesn’t really get into is the history and the ideas. The weakness of the left is in part a product of the low base it starts from. The soft left divided over Blair and lost its leading figure, Robin Cook. There was no organisation. Compass has started to change that but there is a long way to go.

If the left is weak it’s because our ideas aren’t yet strong enough or haven’t been honed and popularised. There are lots of left ideas but they haven’t been formed into a convincing narrative or a popular language in the way that both Thatcher and Blair managed. That’s the second challenge.


Compass has made some headway with its Programme for Renewal but now a string of symbolic and transformative policy ideas need to be worked up. Working with a fluid group of MPs, issue by issue, using our base of 2,500 members and a much bigger email list, and then linking into the unions and progressive NGOs and charities, we are learning how to campaign and exert real pressure. Alex Nunns highlights some of the campaigns we have been involved in – like Trident, the education bill and the commercialisation of childhood.

In London we will do all we can to get Ken Livingstone re-elected on the most progressive ticket possible. I know people get fixated about leaders. Well leaders have a role and Compass helped get Jon Cruddas within a whisker of winning the deputy leadership. More importantly, he changed the terms of debate.

Following the advice of Gramsci, we wont have illusions about Gordon Brown, but neither will we become disillusioned. We won’t be cheerleaders but there is no point in being oppositionalist. We know the real enemy are the Tories.

Instead we will try to build coalitions of ideas and organisation, inside and outside Labour, that compel leaders to be as radical as possible and encourage the more radical to rise to the top. In that we look forward to a strong relationship with Red Pepper and its readers.

Neal Lawson is the chair of Compass

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