After the red Tories-what would you expect?
Miliband and Glasman-sketch out a new direction?
Politicians are constantly on the look- out for new themes and ways of thinking that will unlock voter apathy and which will define them in relation to their opponents. Politics has moved to the centre ground and it’s just a bit crowded there, so new ideas are needed, and often, to help differentiate political parties and to give them a reason to exist beyond being technocratic electioneering machines. They are after all not just a bunch of mainly middle class Oxbridge graduates from privileged backgrounds. They are men and women ( still not many of the latter in the higher echelons it has to said) of vision, marking out a new political landscape fit for the twenty first century, which voters can buy into, or not, as the case may be. Blair had the Third Way, which never quite caught the imagination of the electorate –it’s not socialism, it’s not capitalism- it’s the third way (remember Professor Giddens?). The Tories or rather a group of Tories warmed to the themes articulated by Phiilp Blond ‘the Red Tory’, until quite recently a little known academic, who is now one of the major thinkers behind the Big Society and leads the progressive think tank Respublica. Now Ed Miliband, (sorry he is now to be called Edward) who doesn’t seem that different in the eyes of some electors to Cameron or Clegg, is busy articulating the Blue Labour agenda. At the heart of it is a growing realisation that the leadership might just have lost touch with the core Labour voter and the issues that get them animated (remember Gordon Brown on the campaign trail and what he referred to as that ‘bigoted’ woman up north). The idea is informed by the proposition that New Labour was more a methodology than a political philosophy and it was unable to build a genuinely different conception of society than the one that’s been on offer for the last thirty years. Blue Labour is the creation of an academic named Maurice (Lord) Glasman. He is social activist who was ennobled by Ed Miliband in the New Year’s Honours List. And Mr Miliband used some of Lord Glasman’s ideas in an important speech to the Fabian Society in January, as it happens. Essentially what Miliband said was that things could not go back to how they were before the Great Crash where Britain had been in thrall to an economic ideology that put money ahead of pretty much everything (including presumably Brown and his sidekick Ed Balls) The result was damage to “the values, institutions and relationships that people cherish the most”. The attraction of Glasman is that he thinks that the haemorrhaging of Labour support can be stopped. His research interests focus on the relationship between citizenship and faith and the limits of the market .As founder and director of an enterprise called ‘ the Faith and Citizenship Programme’ Glasman, a Jew, has been trying to help establish, among other things, a civic practice of interfaith scriptural reasoning, in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims explain their holy books to each other. So, he doesn’t lack ambition Glasman has been trying to nudge the Labour Party back toward its historic roots as a social movement based on a genuinely communitarian (and not exclusively statist) form of politics. The Guardian reported in late 2010 ‘The Labour party was born out of civil society groups organising against power, and he thinks Labour needs to return to that, weaning itself off a reliance on the state as the sole organising force of leftwing politics. Through his work with London Citizens, Glasman used those techniques to help organise people into persuading Ken Livingstone to agree a living wage when he was the capital’s mayor.’
The term Blue is not referring, of course, to Thatcherism or implying that the right have won the ideological argument. It is about conservative socialism, about the primacy of democracy over capital, society over the market and human relationships over commercial transactions but rooted in the past. It seeks to protect and revitalize social cohesion, solidarity, a moral order, and the “mediating structures” of social life. In talking about mediating structures there is something here too of the Big Society.
What really matters in people’s lives doesn’t often correspond with what is preoccupying the media and the Westminster village and the expenses scandal has merely reinforced the sense of alienation of voters and the feeling that no party or political leader understands them or is currently truly representing their views and interests and what actually matters most to them . This Blue Labour shift is about reconnecting and reengagement, rather easier said than done in these straitened times when electors are less trusting of politicians generally blaming them not unreasonably, it has to be said, for the mess they find themselves in . Watch how Blue Labour thinking develops over the next few months and how the Red Tories respond. The big question is whether this will capture the public imagination and that remains to be seen.