The inboxes of progressives across north London have been bulging in recent weeks with updates on ‘the event that everyone is attending this summer’ – not Glastonbury or the Trooping of the Colour, of course, but Compass’ annual conference.
However, unsettling news came on 23 May with an email warning those thinking of attending the lefty thinktank’s annual jamboree that they could not simply expect to turn up on the day and walk in. Why the sudden break with tradition? This need to book in advance was apparently ‘due to potential security arrangements’, a mysterious phrase that frequenters of progressive get-togethers will now recognise as a euphemism for ‘we’re hoping Gordon Brown will give the keynote address’.
Last month’s Tanked Up noted the disquiet that Compass caused among members by opting to back Brown and not John McDonnell, leading to chair Neal Lawson’s stern missive to members declaring that ‘we come from the soft left – not the hard left’.
‘We hope to announce more heavyweight speakers very soon’, the conference email went on, implying that the presence of Claire Fox on the list of speakers was one heavyweight too few.
However, those who had ignored the ‘book early’ warning must have been hugely relieved the day before the conference by a message reassuring delegates: ‘You can now register on the day’. No security concerns at the end of the day then.
While no doubt the majority of delegates thoroughly enjoyed their day with Lawson et al in Central Hall, one person who came away less than satisfied was the Independent’s Mary Dejevsky. In a comment piece for Blair’s favourite ‘viewspaper’, Dejevsky complained that the Compass conference ‘spent most of its time in “break-out” groups, a dozen or more running concurrently. The result was that participants divided along predictable professional and gender lines and never met, let alone argued with each other. What contest of ideas is this?’
A surprising verdict indeed given that the conference was hardly lacking attack dogs unafraid of lively debate, among them Ken Livingstone and Tony Benn.
However, Dejevsky’s gripe is not with Compass alone but with the UK’s burgeoning band of ‘think tanks and pressure groups that – deliberately or not – disguise their allegiances’.
Her diatribe continues with some questions known to occupy many a coffee break at the Fabians: ‘How would you know…that Global Vision is actually hostile to the European Union – as is the European Foundation? Or that Policy Exchange and Policy Network are at opposite ends of the spectrum (guess which is which)? Then you have the ‘classicists’ – Demos, Politeia and Civitas – which betray scant hint of their direction, even if you know what the words mean. Why are they so shy about their genesis and purpose?’
One think-tank conspicuously absent from Dejevsky’s list of targets is of course Progress, whose name contains more than a scant hint of its direction.
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