Having spent the last 5 years convinced that the future of democratic engagement is one that ensures that those of us firmly outside of any Political Party structures, and who wish to remain there have a role to play, and Political Parties had an important but diminished role to play, last night gave me a hazy glimpse into that future. It came after many frustrated conversations with people whose identity or confidence lies in what I would describe as old fashioned, and certainly tribal Politics. In Brighton & Hove post the General Election a group of 20 or so people have gathered a couple of times to discuss common ground, under the banner of Compass, a group that began life within the Labour Party, but which has now a much wider perspective and is not linked to any Political Party or group. The Guardian describes it as a pressure group, but it did not appear to be a place where any external agenda was in evidence. There are many Green Party members who are involved, and inevitably many from the Labour Party. The balance is made up of a number of us who have no Party allegiance, a few Lib Dems and even a few folk from UKIP. The objective is not to rubbish any Political Party, but it is to find a space that is safe enough to debate issues and ideas, free from dogma and able to benefit from the thinking that has gone on in all parties and outside Party discussions too. Last night in a slightly more organised and larger gathering, 120 of us met together in the Brighthelm URC Community Centre to continue the conversation. There were folk from Lewes and the Wealden area as well as further afield but most of us were from Brighton. It was a meeting that discussed Politics extensively and discussed initiatives that could be adopted to help improve the well being of people in our communities. Although we heard some folk speak who hold senior positions within Labour and Green Parties as well as an academic and Neal Lawson who is Chair of Compass, the event was not focused on what the speakers had to say, but was on the face of it, an opportunity to debate issues and propose ways of collaborating together on matters of common concern. The future may be very different from what I experienced last night but last nights meeting felt more hopeful on a political level than anything I have experienced for a long time.
We plan to meet again in October – why not follow @BtnHoveCompass on twitter and also check out the Brighton & Hove Compass facebook page.