Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why Labour should not become "Blue Labour"

Lord Glasman argues in today's Guardian that the Labour Party should become "Blue Labour" (and not "New Labour") to win the next general election. Details here and excerpts:

"[. . .] Labour is a unique and paradoxical tradition that strengthens liberty and democracy, that combines faith and citizenship, patriotism and internationalism and is, at its best, radical and conservative. [. . .]

The resources for Labour's renewal lie within the practices and history of the Labour movement. Blue Labour reminds the party that only democratic association can resist the power of capital and that the distinctive practices of the Labour movement are built upon reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity.

This is not a politics of nostalgia, as has been claimed over the past few weeks by some critics inside and outside Labour. It is a claim that practices and values crucial to what Labour is and stands for have either been forgotten, lost or wrongly downgraded in the party's list of priorities. Nor is it a defence of a vanished working class; it is a claim that the ethical vision of a humane society which led working men and women to found the party in 1900 is still relevant and vital today. It's good that the media is increasingly talking about Blue Labour, but "blue" should not be understood to denote insularity, fear of change and a rearguard action in defence of the white working class. [. . .]

The lessons of New Labour are not to have a contemptuous attitude to the lived experiences of people but work within them to craft a common story of what went wrong and how things can be better. To bring together previously separated political matter in the pursuit of the common good.


In his Fabian speech in January, Ed Miliband set out the direction of travel. He stated his opposition to the domination of capital and an exclusive reliance on the state for redress. He expressed a desire to "change the common sense of the age" through renewing democracy in politics and the economy and opening the space for people to build a better life together. The price of victory is a constructive alternative and it will be crafted by all elements of the tradition. [. . .]"

So we appeal to a contradictory set of values at the core of Labour? It sounds more like an appeal to all (and to none) at once. A constructive alternative that is for democracy and common sense. If this sounds bland, it may be because it is -- and it's unclear why precisely a "Big Society" Tory supporter could not argue for the same. Note also the absence of specific policies.

Labour has much to be proud of as a progressive force for good in British politics. But the answer is not to triangulate the Tories by becoming more "blue" than they are. Instead, the battle ahead will concern values and how new policies will speak to these values. These values are the values of the Labour Party. The trick is not to "reclaim" them, but to better communicate with the public to ensure a progressive future.

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