Speech to the Compass conference

The New Statesman editor on why Labour must embrace pluralism and leave tribalism behind once and fo

This is the full text of Jason Cowley's address to today's Compass conference.

Hello. I'm Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman. Good to see so many of you here today, and thank you to Caroline Lucas for such a rousing address.

When I became editor of the New Statesman in the autumn of 2008, I kept being asked whether I was a Brownite or Blairite. Which was my tribe? Whose camp was I in? Who was my sponsor?

And so it went on . . . ad tedium. I didn't have a Westminster background nor had I worked in the lobby, and I found this tribalism I encountered in the Labour Party dismaying.

So I set about remaking the New Statesman not as the Labour Party's in-house journal as it has sometimes been perceived, but as a magazine of ideas -- as well as developing and launching a new website, with a catch-all, rolling blog, The Staggers -- and repositioning it in space somewhere between the Guardian (but without the flip-flops on politics) and the more writerly American magazines such as the New Yorker and the old Atlantic Monthly.

Through our leader columns and in essays and articles, we have been arguing for a long while now for a realignment of centre-left politics, for a new pluralism and for far-reaching economic and constitutional reform.

We have been publishing essays from within and outside of the Labour Party by thinkers who share our vision of a new pluralistic politics -- Neal Lawson and John Harris's manifesto essay "No turning back", David Marquand, Richard Reeves, Amartya Sen, Stuart White, Jon Cruddas, Jonathan Rutherford and James Purnell, and so on.

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Following the fall of the second Labour government, R H Tawney published a celebrated essay in Political Quarterly entitled "The Choice Before the Labour Party". He complained that the "degeneration" of socialist parties on assuming office was an old story and that what the party needed was not "self-commiseration" but "a little cold realism".

Labour, he wrote, is

hesitant in action, because divided in mind. It does not achieve what it could, because it does not know what it wants. It frets out of office and fumbles in it . . . Being without clear convictions as to its own meaning and purpose, it is deprived of the dynamic which only convictions supply.

Sound familiar? And that was in 1931, when the circumstances were similar to those of the present moment: a world-changing financial crash, recession, a realignment of British politics and coalition government.

So what now for Labour? It seems to me that there's once again a clear choice for the party, and it's between triablism or a pluralism which is about the dispersal of power and opportunity and which embraces a more republican notion of freedom: freedom from domination and arbitrary power.

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Much earlier, in 1909, Charles Masterman published his great book The Condition of England. A Liberal MP and friend of Winston Churchill, he was writing from within the establishment but, influenced by his experiences among the urban poor of London and despairing of deepening inequality between the classes, he recognised that England was suspended between the old ways of the Victorian world and something quite new. It was a period of profound unease and transition.

He wrote of how

the man who is living amid that long-drawn decline is wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.

It is an age in passing. What is coming to replace it? No one knows. What does it all come to? Again, no one knows.

It feels to me very much as if we are once more living through a period of profound transition, that ours is an age in passing. We are, as Masterman thought himself to be, suspended between two worlds: the old failed politics of the New Labour period, with its fatal embrace of neoliberalism, and the hope of something better -- the hope of an entirely new way of doing politics and of the dream of the Good Society.

Events such as this can lay the foundations to help make it happen.

Enjoy the day.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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