Compass Shapes the Politics to Come

Introducing the conference's closing session

Yesterday I spent the day at a national conference hosted by Compass, the democratic left pressure group upon whose board I sit.

Over one thousand people of centre left persuasion gathered in the incredible Westminster Methodist Hall – home to many an historic meeting of the Suffragettes, Gandhi and the Labour Representation Committee – to discuss the future of the centre left in Britain and to remember the late Right Honourable Robin Cook MP, who was so cruelly and suddenly taken from us last summer. Last year’s Compass Summer Conference was the last major event at which Robin spoke and we wanted to celebrate his life and the contribution he made to Compass. If Robin was still alive, there is no doubt that he would have been the driving force behind Compass in Parliament.

The conference was joined by a host of ministers including Ed Balls MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ed Miliband MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Cabinet Office, the Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP, Labour party Chair, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, International Development Secretary, Senior Trade Unionists Derek Simpson and Jack Dromey, and many journalists, campaigners, academics and Labour party members from all over the world. One Dutch MP had travelled over to Britain especially for the conference.

I feel absolutely privileged to sit on the board of Compass. In a political era where too many value style over substance, and spin over discussing real policy, Compass is reawakening real debate in our party.

Compass cannot be labelled “Old Labour because we are not “Old Labour”. For us, Equality, Democracy and Freedom is our party’s future, not its past.

Below are some pictures of the day…


Chair Neal Lawson opens the Conference

Chair Neal Lawson opens Compass’ third national summer conference. This year’s conference was held in memory of the late Right Honourable Robin Cook MP.

With housing minister Yvette Cooper, Unison's Maggie Jones and Shelter Director Adam Sampson

As well as the major plenary sessions, the conference held over fifty seminars on a range of major topics. I attended the seminar, held by Housing campaign body Shelter, to debate UK housing policy. I complained to housing minister Yvette Cooper (pictured above first left) about the horrendous problem of overcrowding in my ward. Yvette informed me that the Government plans to draw up an official ‘overcrowding strategy’, in collaboration with London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the thirty-two London borough councils. This is good news and I will be talking to my council colleagues about our council’s contribution.

Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee chairs the 'Question Time' session

In the afternoon, Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee (centre) was joined on the podium by Labour Party Chair Hazel Blears (second on left), Jon Trickett MP, comprehensive education campaigner Fiona Miller (first on left), Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti(in green, end of the panel) and former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke (sat directly left of Shami) for an excellent ‘Question Time’ Session that went for on a good hour and a half. John Kampfner, from the New Statesman magazine, chaired the session.

Chairing the final session of the day

I was privileged to chair the final plenary session of the conference – the afternoon’s key note addresses by Baroness Helena Kennedy and Professor Richard Sennett of the London School of Economics. Richard gave us a fascinating talk on ‘Trust and Politics’. I also learnt that he too was a cellist (I began cello lessons when I was eight) and loves the Czech composer Dvorak, as I do. We promised to talk cellos the next time we bump into each other….

With that, and a few closing words from me, the Compass Conference 2006 was all over.
With Compass Chair Neal Lawson

I must thank Compass Chair Neal Lawson (pictured with me above) for allowing me to play such a central part in this year’s Compass conference and in Compass’ work in general. Neal is extremely supportive of Compass’ younger activists and really nurtures our growth. His faith in my abilities has seen me represent Compass on Pakistani television, Sky News and, last night, BBC Radio Five Live. I am very grateful to him.

With tireless Compass organiser Gavin Hayes

A thank you too, to Compass’ tireless organiser Gavin Hayes, without whom, Compass would be nothing. Contrary to what our critics say, Compass is not a sinister organisation bank rolled by big business and private money. On the contrary, we raise money through old fashioned canvassing of our members and donations from charitable trusts – all of which is organised by the formidable Gavin. Gavin’s organisational skills and talent are amazing. Compass is lucky to have him.

If you would like to find out more about Compass, please get involved and be the change YOU wish to see in the world.
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