Something old, something borrowed, something blue

Submitted by AWL on 4 May, 2011 - 10:04

According to the Observer (24 April), Labour leader Ed Miliband “is set to make two speeches informed by the ideas of Blue Labour over the summer, although insiders insist he is also listening to contributors to a soon-to-be-published Purple Book”.

The Times (19 April) reports that the “Purple Book” will be diehard-Blairite — “Purple was the colour of new Labour. It’s what you get if you combine red and blue. It symbolises the need to stay on the centre ground” — and will come out about the time of Labour Party conference in September.

So Miliband is “listening to”... two strands of very right-wing Labour thought. The 50,000 new members who have joined the Labour Party to fight the Tories and Lib Dems, and the old Labour loyalists who stuck it out through the Blair years, need to organise fast to make some “red” Labour audible.

Blue Labour is an ostentatiously conservative (small c) counter to “Red Toryism”, the scheme by writer Philip Blond to reposition the Tories as a party of communities rather than just of markets. Blue Labour’s chief champion, Maurice Glasman, describes it as “a completely agitational idea to provoke a conversation about what went wrong with the Blair project”. His critique of New Labour is both very limited and reactionary.

He says Labour needs “to build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL [the racist, Muslim-hating, street-fighting English Defence League] within our party. Not dominant in the party, not setting the tone of the party, but just a reconnection with those people that we can represent a better life for them, because that’s what they want”.

He would “involve” those people not by pointing a better way — working-class struggle — for them to defend and improve living standards damaged in the Blair-Brown years, but by moving Labour in the direction of the EDL.

He says immigration and multiculturalism which has become “the big monster that we don’t like to talk about”. Mass immigration under Labour, he believes, served to “act as an unofficial wages policy”. He said Labour occupied a “weird space where we thought that a real assault on the wage levels of English workers was a positive good”.

He blames the “real assault” on migrant workers, not on rapacious capitalists and New Labour’s decision to keep the crippling Tory anti-union laws.

Glasman champions “Family, Faith, and the Flag”. (Just which “faith” he has in mind is not clear. Some of his ideas resemble old fashioned Catholic social teaching, but he is of Jewish background and still described by the Jewish Chronicle as Jewish).

To Glasman, New Labour’s problem was that it forgot about the centrality of community, family and the working-class traditionalism. He advocates a greater regulation of of the banks, encouraging cooperatives, and a corporatist capitalism.

He sees trade unions as having a key role, not as combat organisations of workers in the class struggle but as a expression of working-class tradition, cohesion and solidarity.

He argues unions should pursue coalitions across class lines with faith groups and “community organisations”. The campaign against the privatisation of forests, which involved unions with Tory squires, NGOs, and environmentalists, would be his model for political unionism.

Jon Cruddas, who tried to position himself as a more pro-union and slightly leftish figure under the Blair and Brown regimes but backed David Miliband for leader, and former hard-Blairite minister James Purnell, are reported as key supporters of Glasman.

The Labour Party is in the middle of a period of flux when a genuine working class socialist voice is needed against cuts and the assault of the right. Unfortunately the left in the party is not yet in a state to take the field, let alone win the battle of ideas.

Workers’ Liberty will continue to fight inside the party and without to organise the left around the fight for a workers’ government.

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