21 June 2009

A day of political talking and thinking

My re-engagement with politics continued with a whole day spent at the Compass Annual Conference listening to talks and participating in workshops with other people who believe that left-wing politics are the best way forward.

The pluralistic nature of the event was shown by the selection of main speakers which included representatives from the Greens and the Lib. Dems., as well as from Labour. Other parties and organisations, e.g. Respect and CND, were represented in the delegates and exhibition.

I was pleased to see that Harriet Harman had the courage in these difficult time for Labour to join the opening panel and her speech was well received.

However, my impression of what she said was that some of it was somewhat empty rhetoric. For example, the claim to be taking a string stance on climate change is hard to square with the decision to support another runway at Heathrow.

After the opening plenary session I decided to attend a workshop on real democracy. For me, this started off a little on the wrong foot with too much emphasis on some sort of proportional voting in parliamentary elections as there is a lot lot more to electoral reform than that.

The debate improved (from my perspective) when it moved from the panel to include the participant and several good points were made on the ways and means of engaging more people in more decisions that impact their lives. I commented that if increasing PR is the first step that we have to take to get electoral reform then the easiest place to do this is probably in council elections where we already have multi-member seats and these seats could be allocated more proportionally with little change.

After a lunch break spent in Gosh (a local comics shop where I was able to pick up Kick Ass #2), the British Museum and Russell Square Gardens, it was time for the second workshop, this time on education.

The room was packed for this one showing just how much this topic matters to people and also how much needs to change here. Unfortunately almost all of the changes that people were calling for were unwinding things that this government had introduced.

The day ended with two plenary sessions back in the main lecture hall.

First up was a question and answers question with the panel shown here answering questions from the audience.

This was all worthy stuff but some of it rather came across as naval gazing with an emphasis on procedures and organisation and not that much said on specific outcomes, such as reducing poverty.

The final session was three speeches from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Prof Richard Wilkinson and Dr Jon Cruddas MP.

Jon Cruddas closed the show and sent the crowd home happy but the enlightenment for me came during Richard Wilkinson's brief talk on the imperative for reducing the inequalities between the richest and the poorest.

Put simply, we can live happier, for just as long and more sustainably by reducing inequality. Put simpler, we should copy the Nordic countries. And that was a good positive and realistic thought to end on and to build on.

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