Time for one nation Labour to reach out to the red Tories

by Michael Merrick

The Labour party is changing. Or rather, the landscape in which it sits is changing and the party is trying to keep pace. The last election brought with it some hard truths, while post-election analysis has offered little solace. The party had become too detached from ordinary people, increasingly rejected by that very constituency it always claimed to naturally represent. The Labour party had been abandoned by the people, just as those very same people claimed that it was the Labour Party who had abandoned them.

Clearly something had to change.

Nonetheless, there were and are still many within the Labour Party who screech themselves hoarse at the merest questioning of contemporary party dogma, the core creeds of an activist left not especially representative of the views of many in the tradition they claim as their own.

Yet the “new politics”, if it was ever anything, was a general and as yet undeveloped realisation that the old status-quo was bust. Difficult questions had to be asked. Difficult answers had to be countenanced. The party was too exclusionary, too ideologically narrow, and too doctrinally puritan. One nation Labour, whilst not devoid of internal contradiction, was partly a reaction to precisely this – the recognition that Labour has once more to become the party of the people.

Yet if change is happening, if politics really is on the cusp of a post-liberal settlement as many insist, then the common existence of liberalism across the political spectrum means that it is also on the cusp of post-party politics, since the post-liberal response also finds expression across the political spectrum.

Paradoxically, if Labour is to rediscover the ability to reach out across the social spectrum, it needs to grasp the post-party mantle. It needs to see itself once more as a movement, not a party, meaning it needs to once again build a social and cultural coalition agitating for change. It needs, in short, to throw open its doors and cease barring entry to those it once welcomed with open arms.

It is for this reason that Labour ought to be seeing “red Tories” as fair game, those who are (as a rule of thumb) economically to the left and socially to the right, much like many of those missing voters we have lately heard so much about . As I have written previously, Phillip Blond, the self-styled red Tory, can and did play an important role in reinvigorating the left. It was Blond’s work, and the frenzied responses to it, that kicked off a moment of self-realisation in the Labour party, the recognition that many of the most radical and cherished ideas of the Labour movement had fallen into neglect and misuse – Maurice Glasman appeared, reminding the party of the importance of grassroots activism and community organising, Tessa Jowell popped up to reaffirm the central importance of mutualism and the co-operative movement, Jon Cruddas began talking about the socially conservative case against globalised capitalism and the economic settlement of Thatcher.

There were many debates, on asset ownership and wealth capture, on moralising markets and empowering the worker against market and state, on the asset-stripping of the poorest and the oligarchical nature of “free-market” thinking – all conversations generated by a radical pro-society narrative that outflanked Labour on the left even whilst being, like many of the best Labour traditions, fundamentally conservative in nature.

And it is from precisely here that Blond has since denounced Cameron and the destructive social and economic liberalism he has so enthusiastically embraced, in so doing re-asserting his red credentials.

In other words, exposure to alternative voices has enriched the Labour debate, forcing it to question its assumptions and re-evaluate its established orthodoxies. The diversity of thought and contribution got Labour thinking again, hearing new voices and confronting the manner in which its socio-political narrowness had isolated those voices that could legitimately claim to be part of the Labour heritage.

This renewal continues today, albeit tentative, with the post-liberal ground being a new political landscape that the left has already made a march upon. In this respect red Tories, who necessarily identify more with a vision than with a party, look very similar to blue Labour, indeed at times appear inseparable, two sides of a coin that stand closer together on many issues than either does with the progressive activist core of their own political parties.

Perhaps, then, to build that movement Labour needs to see in the midst of a general apathy the seeds of renewal, the ground upon which the movement can rebuild to better reflect not those who have hung about, but those who have long given up, seeing nothing in Labour to represent them or their concerns.

Perhaps Labour needs to extend the hand of welcome further abroad, to stop seeing enemies where there are potential allies, to offer a home to those who find something within the red Tory/blue Labour axis to articulate their concerns and outline their vision of the good life.

Perhaps, controversial as some would find it, Labour should even consider extending that hand of welcome to the (increasingly) red Tory himself.

Michael Merrick supports Middlesbrough and blogs here


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10 Responses to “Time for one nation Labour to reach out to the red Tories”

  1. Ex-Labour says:

    At last after several months of reading this blog we have a good and sensible contribution.

    After 30 years for voting Labour I could no longer feel any connection when Brown became PM. Whether this was a personal dislike of the man or his lurch to the left in policy terms I’m not quite sure, but maybe a little of both. Under ‘New labour’ I felt that they were governing for all of the population most of the time encouraging social mobility and working for the strivers in our society. Financial figures have since emerged to show that perhaps they weren’t as fiscally responsible as they should have been e.g. huge budget increases on benefits, and we also saw some bonkers legislation such as the Climate Change Act which is now crippling households with subsidies for renewables included in our bills.

    So am I a Red Tory or a Blue Labour? I would say the former at this moment in time and here’s why. I look at the Red Ed’s and I have no trust in them economically as their main answer to any problem is to tax people more. Figures show that for the ordinary working person our current overall tax level is at its highest ever. The labour party as a whole seems to have regressed into traditional class warfare and constantly harp on about the rich, bankers, multinationals etc. For me I don’t care if anyone earns more or is richer than me. This Labour quest for a social utopia where everyone is equal will never happen, and mainstream economics tells us that we need the wealthy, the innovators and the entrepreneurs in society to create wealth, prosperity and opportunities for others so that they may have the platform to prosper themselves. Should we have a welfare safety net ? Of course we should, but not one that rewards people for choosing not to work. Labour have been responsible for an entitlement culture and it seems they are continuing to promote this by opposing every government initiative to get people back to work.

    I’m also sick and tired of hearing about bankers from Labour. Yes the financial crisis started with them and some dodgy practices, but what it also did was expose profligate governments, mainly socialist, who were spending beyond their means, like many in the EU who are now expecting us to bail them out. The EU has also become an all consuming monster who wants to control every aspect of our lives, and of course Labour would let the march of their powers continue unabated.

    Finally the strengthening of ties with the unions again is a major mistake. They are pushing Labour evermore to the left and away from voters like me.

    So at this moment in time I’ll stay as a Red Tory until such time as Labour become fiscally realistic and responsible, understands that there is no such thing as a free lunch and rewards people who work rather than the workshy, and establish a different relationship with the EU and the unions.

  2. swatantra says:

    We mustn’t pander to the pinko Tories or Lib Dems. Its up to them to have the courage and take the plunge by coming over to us. They know that we are for a better and fairer society, and world.

  3. Ralph Baldwin says:

    I don’t know what is cruller, the self-delusion or the deception to Labour Members who will realize nothing and see nothing, just more privileged people occupying senior positions of their dead Party…

  4. To Ex Labour; Stay where you are, there are enough of you in the Labour Party without the likes of your good self contaminating it even further. The comment about Gordon Brown’s lurch to the left was hilarious, Gordon’s left wing credentials(if leftwing is what they are, he is on record as saying he was never a socialist, just used the old Labour Party/Social Democrat trick of sounding left and playing to the gallery) were gained during his stint as John Smith’s deputy during Smiths’s absolutely useless time as Shadow Chancellor, Niglet Lawson used to play with Smith, but suffered an attack of diarrhoea when faced with Gordon Brown(and incidentally terrified the whole of Thatchers front bench, he was a colossus, a one man demolition team that gave Labour the backbone to stand up to thatchers class war)
    Articles like Merricks convince me that I was right to leave the Labour Party many years ago. We dont need the Red Torie’s the tide is turning decisively against Cameron and his Coalition and their class war policies, yes there is a problem with many working people turning their backs on the main political party’s, but pandering to the likes of the Red Torie’s and their blood brothers,New Labour will not bring these people back, fortunately every electoral test(P.C.C farce notwithstanding) proves there is every chance of Cameron being defeated and a Labour government being elected.

  5. swatantra says:

    Good job the Party has been cleansed of these ex’s. It’s frankly much better off without these whingers.

  6. Amber Star says:

    @ Ex Labour

    You’re not Red Tory or Blue Labour; you’re a Blue Tory who used to vote Labour. I wonder: Was it you who made a huge mistake or [New] Labour?
    8-)

  7. Amber Star says:

    Phillip Blond? He’s looked at the polls & the state of the economy; he knows it will take a miraculous event to save Cameron from an electoral kicking.
    8-)

  8. Ex-Labour says:

    @ Francis Gerald Allen

    “he was a colossus” – Now I know you and the Labour party are deluded.

    @ Swantantra

    Nice of you to join in. Pity you didn’t answer my question from one of the previous blogs ????

    @Amber Star

    Really ? Blue Torie….I guess by your definition and your co-horts listed above that probably means I’m not a card carrying member of the looney left which you all seem to be. And yes I will stay where I am as clearly the Labour party is going back to the days of Militant. Do you people have a suicide wish ?

  9. LesAbbey says:

    Do you think Luke Bozier might come back then?

  10. Andy says:

    Get your head down. There is no such thing as ‘one nation Labour’. We in Wales aren’t the slightest but interested in that creed of New Labour – it failed us badly. Now that Plaid Cymru have a leader who is a socialist, a republican and can’t speak Welsh so is not obsessed with culture , then expect Plaid to start to make inroads into the welsh Labour areas down in the valleys.

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