June 24, 2011


Old, new, borrowed or blue... Has Blue Labour been duped by conservatism? (Craig Berry, 23 June 2011, OpenDemocracy)

In promoting ‘the big society’, David Cameron has defiantly marched into traditional Labour territory – this is the supposition at the heart of Blue Labour thinking. For Maurice Glasman and others associated with the Blue Labour tag, the labour movement emerged out of a groundswell of civic action and a desire for self-determination by individuals, families, communities and workforces, whose political horizons were not fixated simply on the state. As such, Labour needs to recapture these traditions in order to reconnect with the lives actually lived, and the things about life actually valued, by the party's traditional supporters.

The campaign so far has been a welcome moment of reawakening for the Labour Party. The party is finally talking about ideas, and Blue Labour is leading an overdue post-mortem – something that the leadership election failed to deliver – on exactly what went wrong with New Labour. Yet it is based fundamentally on a misappropriation of conservatism. In basing their perspective on a simplistic version of both conservatism, and working class conservatism, Blue Labour thinkers are suggesting that the big society does in fact belong to the Conservatives, therefore rendering Labour the squatter.

Blue versus New
Blue Labour rests upon four key challenges to Labour Party practice. The first is the return to religion: Blue Labour recognises the role of Christianity in the birth of the labour movement, and the fact that many of the community groups doing the work Glasman et al believe the Labour Party should be doing are faith-based. As such, Blue Labour isn't looking to 'do God' in any messianic sense, contra Tony Blair, but rather acknowledges the importance of faith to many people's identity and everyday moral compass.

The second is its challenge to New Labour’s version of modernity. As I argue in Globalisation and Ideology in Britain, a profound acceptance of globalisation escorted New Labour leaders to a neoliberal understanding of society and the economy. Blue Labour shows how this orientation served to undermine the social and spatial ingredients that comprise the things that people most value about life.

This is strongly associated, thirdly, with Blue Labour’s powerful depiction of a Labour Party disconnected in organisational terms from the day-to-day realities of its traditional supporters among the working class, and therefore in breach of its duty to engender and embody democracy.

Fourthly, as Anthony Painter reports in Labour’s Future, Blue Labour also speaks to an important turn against the managerial, instrumentalist state among Labour’s base, and towards values such as reciprocity. New Labour reduced the state's macroeconomic role but, due in part to its attachment to liberal universalist principles, increased the state's presence as an arbiter of everyday life. Most importantly, the state's redistributive power was used to supplement wages through tax credits. Rather than enabling families and communities to function, the benefits system was used to smooth the participation of disadvantaged groups in the global economy (after all, there is no alternative), which often undermined family life further.

...of one party reacting against the Third Way and, therefore, losing power, while its opponent embraces the Third Way. Rinse, lather, repeat...

It is Labour's turn to ditch its reaction and get back to Thatcherism.

Posted by at June 24, 2011 6:06 AM

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