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  1. Politics
2 February 2011

Does a more pluralist Compass mean a more pluralist Labour?

The left-wing pressure group debates whether to open its doors to non-Labour members.

By George Eaton

The divide between pluralists and tribalists remains one of the most significant in the Labour Party. It underlines the increasingly fractious debate over electoral reform. With this in mind, the decision by Compass, the influential Labour faction, to ballot its members on whether to offer members of other political parties full membership status is an important development.

At present, members of other parties are only entitled to associate membership and cannot stand for the management committee or vote in internal elections.

Here is the key paragraph from the text that has gone to Compass members in support of the change:

The crux of the issue is this: why do we let in neoliberals who backed low taxes, privatisation of the Post Office and PFI because they happen to be in the Labour Party but keep out a social liberal or green socialist who campaigned against all this and more, because they are in another? Party affiliation is only one (albeit important) aspect of today’s politics. The Facebook generation has shown that it is perfectly possible to have multiple affiliations to different left political causes; this is the future of political identity.

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One reason why the result is worth watching is the ongoing debate about Labour’s own membership rules. At the end of last year it was reported that Ed Miliband plans to refom the party’s electoral college to give 25 per cent of the vote to non-party members who register as Labour supporters.

In addition, as I’ve noted before, having once joked that he wants to make the Lib Dems “extinct”, Miliband has adopted a more conciliatory tone in recent weeks. In his speech to the Fabian Society last month, he declared his respect for those Lib Dems who have “decided to stay and fight for the progressive soul of their party”, and pledged to campaign for the Alternative Vote, having previously only promised to vote for it.

If, as seems likely, Compass members approve the proposed reforms, we could see Labour and Lib Dem members working far more closely together on areas such as constitutional reform, climate change and inequality. With hung parliaments likely to become more, not less, common in the future, it is not just desirable but essential to heal the progressive divide.