Blue Labour could help Labour get back in the game

by Michael Merrick

Throughout the country, beyond particular urban strongholds, Labour is in a perilous position. The natural advantages so long enjoyed in certain areas have made it presumptuous, whilst electoral security has rendered safe constituencies the fiefdoms of (often incoming) architects and guardians of the progressive, liberal- left projectAs such, Labour has become sluggish, but also detached – in all too many places it has failed to hold its voice at the heart of the communities from which it originally sprung.

This presents a problem in the face of the new political realities before us. Put simply, Labour is in no position to fight UKIP in its heartlands. Or even to speak with authenticity to that social and cultural angst from which UKIP is siphoning support.  Our initial reaction, to disregard UKIP as a Tory problem, has left us vulnerable as the roots of revolt have crept into lands once occupied by the left – we did not conceive that we might need to build an alternative offer of our own.

Alas, the penny has dropped, and the response has been typical of a party that does not accept the legitimacy of that which it seeks to combat – when we listen, it has been the job of those who are part of the problem to provide diagnosis and solution; when we speak, it has been in tones of that which is being rejected.

Thus Labour has too easily condemned itself as part of the problem it is claiming to solve. Worse, it often does not have the resources or the rootedness to even imagine that there exists a legitimate alternative. For all our talk of reconnecting with the disaffected, one cannot help but wonder how many in the formal organisation of our party have the capacity to recognise the extent of this cultural deficit – the once rich chorus of the Labour tradition has long turned to a shrill, castigating shriek. At root this is a culture clash, and there has been little sign that those with their hands on the levers are willing to budge.

So Labour is poorly placed to fight UKIP. It needs a different voice, which presents a problem to a party that has spent so long rooting out difference. The critique-free liberalism that has delivered the party to its current predicament must now accept challenges to its narrative – doubts over its ability or willingness to do so remain.

Yet the picture is not as bleak as it might be. For all the homogeneity of the professional arm of the party, the Labour tradition nonetheless has within its heritage precisely this alternative voice. It still exists as a cultural phenomenon, in the hearts and minds of many a Labour voter, and many more an ex-Labour voter, and indeed in many an activist feeling increasingly alienated within the changing landscape of the local associations they helped build. By a rule of thumb, this might well be more economically to the left – it is certainly more socially conservative. Either way, it can naturally articulate a legitimate Labour vision of society that not only pitches for that sizable band which is deserting us for UKIP, but can do so in a way that is more wholesome and hopeful than anything UKIP – with its misanthropy and its myth-peddling – has to say.

This offer, which up until now has remained in the background, a loose coalition, informal and ultimately unloved (despite early signs of interest), is perhaps best articulated by the group now given the moniker ‘Blue Labour.’

Yet substantial obstacles block its advancement. Even if the Labour hierarchy were to accept the need for diversity, party infrastructure is hostile enough to its delivery that those who might just provide it will rarely break through to the front line. The party has become an echo chamber – it would require something drastic for those with another tale to tell to walk the gauntlet and come through successfully on the other side. Or, as I have written previously,

“To exacerbate the problem, engagement with the party on a local level too often offers little opportunity for the excluded: the arteries are clogged up. Those that Labour recognise they have alienated are not the kind of people who tend to advance through the party, either by selection or appointment. Those who are opposed to the traditional views of what is in effect the Labour dalit class generally are the kind of people who advance through the party, both by selection and appointment… [so] the old grassroots might well be socially conservative, but it is highly unlikely that any such individual would gain any position that would allow such views to be honestly represented, whilst those who expend such effort in shouting them down regularly do so. As such, even in the event of recognition of this representation deficit, there is unlikely to be any concerted action to address it – it remains a fact to be confronted that it was/is during the ‘diversity years’ that the Labour Party has become so very ideologically narrow.”

Perhaps, then, the UKIP moment presents an opportunity. If Labour has within its tradition the ability to respond to UKIP, if there exists within the party a group already articulating this alternative, if that articulation currently finds little direct representation because of structural barriers to advancement – might part of our solution lie in giving Blue Labour a more formal voice? Can an affiliate grouping be created which would assist Blue Labour in getting its message to the front line? Might direct intervention be justified?

It has long been the paradox of Blue Labour, and the post-liberal movement which it represents, that for all its reverence of institutions it has yet to form an effective one of its own. Perhaps it has lacked the incentive, or the support, or indeed the will.

Well, times have changed. The answer to the ‘Purple Revolution’ might just be a bit red and a bit blue. Which means the Labour Party needs Blue Labour, just as Blue Labour needs the Labour Party. It is time to formalise that union.

Michael Merrick is a teacher and a Labour party activist

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12 Responses to “Blue Labour could help Labour get back in the game”

  1. Harry Barnes says:

    Labour has a progressive policy endorsed at its recent Party Conference. It skips over the New Labour years and takes us to an up-to-date version of the approach which was developing in the far-too-short era when John Smith had the leadership. There are signs that bits and pieces are being pushed from the centre, on matters such as zero hours and private schools. What is needed is for Labour and Trade Union activists to have a general understanding of the broad thrust of Labour’s agreed policies so they can be pushed with the electorate. Chances have been missed on this policy front at the European Elections, at the Scottish Referendum and even at the last Party Conference when the full range of the policies was formally endorsed. But a number of Regional events have or are being held about Labour’s coming Manifesto which will hopefully set this ball rolling. It needs to move to the levels of the CLPs and the Branches and to the ranks and file itself. Using a series of bullett points, Labour policies as adopted in a 218 page document, can be accessed via the web-site of Independent Labour Publication, the blog of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group called “Dronfield Blather” and/or my own blog “Three Score Years and Ten”. We have the tools which can do the job. After an electoral victory, we will need to ensure that the PLP delivers.

  2. Blair says:

    “The answer to the ‘Purple Revolution’ might just be a bit red and a bit blue. ”

    Oh God. Not thrid way-ism again.

    A disaster the last time it was tried. Please no more.

    Be gone.

  3. swatantra says:

    ….. up the blues! lets not pander, to anyone.

  4. John Reid says:

    Blair, Swantantra and Harry Barnes, comments I’m confused, none of he. We’re about the article, Blue labour is t the third way Blairism ,it owes more to the 1950’s concept of the working class communities working with the church and charities to help extra funding of state projects,

  5. paul barker says:

    I have to say that I dont recognise your description of the The Labour Establishment as “Liberal”. What sort of Liberalism wants to lock people up for 3 Months with no charge ?
    You are certainly right in seeing a lot of potential suppoert for Blue Labour in your Grass Roots, ther are pockets even in The PLP, I would not rule out a Defection to UKIP.

  6. Mike Stallard says:

    OK so I am a conservative.
    Believe me, our lot are in terrible trouble too. Ukip is surging and it is largely (Private Eye) composed of old men who want to go back to 1959. Mr Cameron is looking seriously past his sell-by date now – very 1990s.
    Bear with me – Mr Gove and Mr Paterson, our two brightest lights were snuffed out in a recent reshuffle. Now Mr Paterson has come up with a brilliant plan about Europe – a big deal for us – and everyone is rubbishing/neglecting him!

    I say all this to encourage you. Why not be a little generous for a change?

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    Blue Labour = Class Traitor. Labour are losing support because they are seen as too Blue, too much like the Tory scum, and nowhere near ‘Red’ enough. Get back to some proper Marxist values and policies that we can vote for.

  8. John reid says:

    Clueless peasant, have you ever been to a Blue labour meeting, many ex Green Party member, who’ve joined Labour,or those in the occupy movement, go there ,

    Why d’you say Lsbour is losing support becuase were seen as being to blue, the one election you backed in 1983′ was out worse ever result,

  9. Dan says:

    “Get back to some proper Marxist values and policies that we can vote for.”

    You might vote for it but you’d be part of a small minority. If Labour tacked hard to the left they would get utterly, totally smashed.

    “proper” Marxist politics are not popular with the vast majority of the populace. It is a fringe belief.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Dan

    If Labour want to pander to reactionary populism rather than stick to what should be their true ideals and principles then they lose my vote, simple as that.

  11. Landless Peasant says:

    @ class traitor Reid

    “Why d’you say Lsbour is losing support becuase were seen as being to blue”

    Because that’s the way I feel and so does everyone I know. All the true Socialists and ex-Labour people I know say this is the reason why they no longer vote Labour. Labour are seen as a Party who have ‘sold out’ and are no longer relevant to our struggle.

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    Blue Labour are the reason we’re now voting Green. Labour is supposed to be Red, not fucking Blue.

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