The lessons to be learnt from Blue Labour
Blue Labour is dead. A project that failed to ever take off outside the Westminster bubble was cut down this week after its creator-in-chief, Lord Maurice Glasman, courted controversy in recent days with a string of outrageous remarks about immigration.
Whether Glasman truly believes some of the guff he comes out with on immigration, or whether he airs such polemic views simply to lavish some more attention onto himself is rather academic now. Laurie Penny summarised it nicely when declaring that in advocating a total block ban on immigration into the country and favouring integration with leaders within the EDL, Glasman was preaching ideas that would ‘have the most cynical Tory spin-doctor chewing his shirt in a panic’. It comes as no surprise that his closest allies such as Labour MP Jon Cruddas and academic Jonathan Rutherford have been dismayed by such comments, particularly as it is thought that Glasman gave them personal assurances that he would tone down some of his rhetoric. For Ed Miliband, he will surely not want to run the risk of being seen to associate too closely with Glasman in light of these recent interviews.
It is not entirely surprising that Blue Labour’s downfall has been brought about due to its supposed stance over immigration. The issue remains a highly toxic one within the Labour party and no candidate during last year’s leadership contest was prepared to offer a definitive vision for the party on the subject. There was a rough consensus between the candidates that the party became scared to talk about the issue but that was about as far as any of them were willing to go before hastily switching the debate to some less harmless subject.
What is surprising though, is that for all the headlines Blue Labour have attracted due to Glasman’s outspoken views on immigration, ‘The Labour tradition and the politics of paradox’, which forms the basis of much of Blue labour’s thinking, contains remarkably little on the subject. Whilst there is plenty to dispute within Glasman’s contribution to the e-book, on the basis of the text alone one would find it hard to pick a fight with him over the issue of immigration because he steers well clear of it.
Paradoxically though the demise of the Blue Labour brand may not be accompanied by the demise of some of the values it espouses. Blue Labour as a brand was never likely to succeed if for no other reason than that too many within the party thought it stank of a new version of New Labour, not because of ideological similarities between the two concepts but because it had the distinct feel of a select group of people imposing their doctrine onto the party without any mandate to do so. But the ideas of those behind the Blue Labour project are now out in the open and the Labour leadership can freely choose which ones are worthy of consideration without having to be directly associated with the notion of Blue Labour.
And after all, when one sets aside the issue of immigration, as well as the seemingly sexist society Glasman might have us inhabit, there are some plus sides to the Blue Labour narrative. Glasman has been a leading campaigner for the Living Wage over the last decade and speaks strongly of its advantages, not just as a means of increasing income for those from the poorest backgrounds, but also as it ensures such workers are not forced into taking on second jobs and thus are able to spend time with their families that was previously unavailable to them. He also makes the point that introducing the Living Wage leads many companies to bring back in-house many of the staff that they had previously contracted out thus increasing a sense of solidarity within the firm.
Perhaps most important though, is Glasman and Blue Labour’s recognition of New Labour’s uncritical stance of the markets and the domination of the financial services in our economy. In reading the preface that Ed Miliband wrote for the e-book it is clear that it is here that the Labour leader believes Blue Labour can have a profoundly positive effect on the party. It was the influence of Blue Labour that led Miliband to go and visit the porters of Billingsgate Market last December as they battled against the Corporation of London’s decision to withdraw their trading licenses. The decision is one that was taken purely with the aim of driving down the price of labour within the market and one that showed complete disregard for a tradition that has survived for over three centuries.
It is the recognition of the brutal impact that such decisions can have on the lives of workers that underpins most of Blue Labour’s best thinking. If Lord Glasman is prepared to accept that the Blue Labour project is dead, then some of its ideas may yet be able to live on.