Thursday, 5 March 2015

How "Green" is Blue Labour?

It was Isleworth Labour councillor Ed Mayne who first introduced me to the concept of Blue Labour, in a conversation which took place between us shortly after he had been elected for the first time in 2010.

I had never heard of Blue Labour before. When I did I confess I baulked a little, because I kind of assumed that the “blue” aspect referred to a peculiarly rightist tendency within an organisation which had already moved too far to the right in my humble opinion. I envisaged a kind of ultra-Blairite movement within a movement, maybe something along the lines of the Progress grouping.

But it appeared that Blue Labour, oddly named as it was in my view, was something entirely different. Its emphasis was on fusing together “a progressive commitment to greater economic equality with a more 'conservative' disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality”. The use of the term “conservative” is in this sense, of course, descriptive as opposed to organisational.


So it would appear that Ed had perceived my possible interest to lie with the “community and locality” aspect of Blue Labour’s outlook, as opposed to its “conservatism”. Which was fair enough, bearing in mind my deep-rooted commitment to a politics which sprang upwards from the grass roots as opposed to one that was imposed from on high.

The term “Blue Labour” was first coined in 2009 by a Labour life peer and academic by the name of Maurice Glasman, a senior lecturer in Political Theory at the Metropolitan University in London. Amongst its adherents was none other than John Cruddas, the hero of the successful struggle against the BNP in Barking and Dagenham and a man certainly associated with the left of the party rather than with any Blairite strand of thought.

It seemed to me, and still does seem, an odd choice of terminology for an idea which appears to transcend the traditional left-right divisions which engage the party at various times. Rather than taking either part in this historic debate, it instead positions itself as a champion (by Labour Party standards) of community co-operation and working class activism as opposed to the draconian “We Know Best!” mindset of the Labour Party with which I am much more familiar.

Because of its emphasis on family and locality many on the authoritarian left, as well as on the more dominant right, see Blue Labour as an attempt to shift the party in a more conservative direction on issues such as immigration. But Cruddas in particular has been clear in his thoughts on this subject, that whilst any kind of racist or xenophobic thought is rightly opposed it is legitimate to be concerned about the effects of rapid, unforetold immigration on such things as social cohesion and pay and living standards.


Blue Labour does not, as I see it, move the debate in a more leftwards or rightwards direction, but in a more community-friendly direction, to a place where the electorate whose votes are begged at five-yearly intervals are trusted during the intervening periods to hold opinions that may actually be worth listening to. It is not a left-right divide, in other words, but a Red-Green divide, Green being traditionally the colour of organic democracy alongside its other association with environmental politics.

It is no coincidence that environmentalist organisations such as the Green Party tend overwhelmingly towards a sympathetic view of localist democratic institutions, alongside small industry and ideally self-sufficiency. These are the aspirations which are most threatened by the relentless onward march of the big corporations – by the capitalism either of Big Folding Money or of the State.

I still fail to understand why such a radical tendency within the Labour Party is labelled “blue”, but whatever it chooses to call itself it seems to be one that is gaining currency.


sam said...

Just another bunch of ambitious neoliberals who cannot be trusted any more than the other bunch.

caroline andrews said...

Very deep, but the Green's have it!?