I have been struck talking to new party members how often I have heard variations on the sentiment ‘I couldn’t be an elected politician, I couldn’t compromise my beliefs’. There is admiration for Jeremy Corbyn, based on his refusal to compromise, but also a recognition that it is something successful elected politicians need to do.

The art of compromise – reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable – is a noble one. It is rarely about finding the lowest common denominator but at its best about teasing out a win-win solution.

Look at the long-lasting achievements of Labour governments. Nye Bevan ‘stuffed the mouths of consultants with gold’ to create the National Health Service. It has endured over 60 years, is deeply loved by the British people and envied by many others across the world. When Harold Wilson’s Labour government created and extended equalities legislation they did not go as far as we would have today; they did not look at purity; but how far they could direct and encourage the British people in the right direction. When the 1997 Labour government created the minimum wage they did not go for the maximum some demanded, they embedded the principle that going too low was unfair and gained confidence and support for that idea to the extent that a Tory chancellor proposed raising it.

What matters is that we do not compromise on our core beliefs. I am Labour because I believe in a fairer society, where the circumstances of your birth should not adversely affect your destiny. I am involved in politics because I want to move our society in a fairer direction and I recognise that will involve compromise about how far and how fast we move in  that direction – but it does not mean we should compromise about the direction itself.

We all approach issues with our own experiences and prejudices, but looking at those issues from the perspective of others can be beneficial. Indeed, talking to those who oppose what you want to do can lead to an understanding of why and what the adverse unintended consequences might be and how to avoid them and thereby overcome that opposition.

As a parliamentary candidate, I met numerous people who were not sure they could vote Labour because ‘we weren’t left-wing enough’ or ‘had compromised too much’ who then went on to harangue me about a particular policy aimed at reducing inequality because it might adversely affect them or their family. Our job as a political party is to put together a manifesto that if implemented will move society in the direction we want and will assemble a wide enough coalition of voters to enable us to win and put it into practice.

To do that we need to ensure our policy making includes voices from areas that are not currently represented in parliament. In 1997 we had 20 members of parliament representing coastal towns, like the constituency I stood for in 2015: today we have one. In 1997 we held all the Medway Town constituencies in Kent where I grew up: today we hold none.  We need to be out campaigning in such areas, listening to the concerns of voters and taking them on board.

We need to understand the aspirations of voters in such seats: those who feel marginalised, left behind and tempted by Ukip; but also people who have worked hard, own their own home, have something worth conserving but don’t feel comfortably off. To win them over will involve a meeting of minds. Instead of fearing this as ‘compromise’ we should embrace it. The prize is a Labour government that can once again change the country for the better.


Mary Wimbury is a candidate in the general members’ section in the Progress strategy board elections. She tweets at @MaryWimbury