Big tent Labour is underpinned by liberal Labour

by Jonathan Todd

The Miliband years were rich in intellectual touchstones, including Blue Labour’s social conservatism and economic statism. As much as improving Labour’s polling on economics and leadership is the absolute precondition of Labour government, Miliband is right that ideas matter.

Just saying aspiration is not an alternative idea to animate the post-Miliband era. There are some terms, like aspiration, with New Labour associations: effective communication, solid economic policy. These are not ideas as much as truisms of political success.

Labour must urgently re-imbibe these truisms. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition of the strongest possible Labour recovery. Sufficiency entails a deeper reassessment of Labour’s ideas. Jeremy Cliffe, one time Chuka Umunna intern and now a writer at The Economist, and Jamie Reed, MP for England’s most remotely accessible constituency from Westminster, which I born and raised in, are making relevant interventions.

Reed is threatening to run for the leadership unless a Blue Labour tinged theme is absorbed by contenders. “The next Labour leader,” argues Reed, “needs to listen to the marginalised, peripheral communities of our country as the United Kingdom ‘balkanises’ in front of us”.

On Thursday at Policy Network, Cliffe, according to the invitation email, “will argue that though UKIP’s rise might suggest otherwise, the electorate is becoming more urban, more educated, more ethnically diverse and (through travel, work and immigration) more used to contact with the outside world”. Winning majorities for Labour, he argues, will be best sought by building “‘cosmopolitan coalitions’ of support”.

How can cosmopolitanism be the answer in a ‘balkanising’ country? If this were an argument from a devoutly Blue Labour perspective, I’d shout, “through paradox!” But Labour’s renewal must be more thoroughgoing. And should begin with a crucial reality: People are the same everywhere.

In Brixton, part of Umunna’s deeply cosmopolitan constituency, they violently protest gentrification. They fear that the jobs and homes that have characterised their community are, to bring to mind ‘My Hometown’, the Bruce Springsteen song, going and not coming back. In my actual hometown, during my lifetime, two banks, two pubs, and a shop and a petrol station have closed. It might not sound much. In the villages of Reed’s constituency, it is. To coin a phrase, people fear that the jobs and homes that have characterised their community are going and not coming back.

The hopes and fears of West Cumbria, where I grew up, and East Dulwich, where I lived for a decade on the borders of Umunna’s constituency, are not pulling apart. They are the same. Which is why the claim that “Umunna won’t go down well in the north” does not immediately persuade me.

I’m not sure what part of smooth communication and winning charm the north is not supposed to like. Northerners know as well as southerners how these traits are valuable. If northerners were to fail to attach these or other positive characteristics to Umunna, it would only reflect their judgment of him, not some fundamental difference between north and south. Because, in important senses at least, no such difference exists. This notion has been peddled by the likes of Paul Morley to sell overwrought books but it risks getting out of hand.

Getting drunk on Morley tends toward Blue Labour solutions when sober assessment of British history points in the opposite direction: toward social liberalism and economic liberalism. Every enduring modern prime minister – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, David Cameron – has deployed this couplet. In a Prospect essay, Phil Collins reviewed longer history and found that both the Conservatives and Labour are most effective in policy and political terms when they embrace their liberalism, the semi-concealed source of British political success.

Of course, liberal Labour is not the same as liberal Tory – TH Green is not FA Hayek – but they can both be found amid the constellation of liberal thought, which provides the essential intellectual backdrop to what is a liberal country, increasingly so on the Cliffe thesis. Realising what country we live in is an important step toward a revivification of Labour’s ideas. It would take us to Leonard Hobhouse, not Keir Hardie; Roy Jenkins, not Jim Callaghan; and remind us that thinkers most vital to social democracy’s strongest period in British history, Beveridge and Keynes, were both Liberals.

The demise of the Liberal Democrats creates the possibility of solving David Marquand’s progressive dilemma, the splintering of progressive forces one hundred years ago between the Labour and Liberal Parties, within one party, Labour. Anyone who thinks that this does not provide the resources with which to solve the Blue Labour problem of the detachment of places like West Cumbria is not thinking imaginatively enough about the rich ideas bequeathed by the liberal tradition.

The real test of this strategy, however, may come in the West Country, the heartland from which the Liberal Democrats have been evicted. Liberal Labour would cut off the ideological purpose of this party, so Labour taking seats in this region, as part of a re-colonisation of the political centre, should be possible too.

When the rise of the SNP and boundary reviews mean Labour may need to gain around 100 seats from the Tories in England to form a government, we require audacity. Grounded in the reality that this is a liberal country.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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21 Responses to “Big tent Labour is underpinned by liberal Labour”

  1. swatantra says:

    There has to be a reallignmrent of the Centre Left . With the defeat of Cable it should be easier for the Social Democrats to come back to Labour, and for Labour to shed its portion of leftie looneys. when we have recaptured the Centre Left ground then we can return to Govt.

  2. Tafia says:

    Then lets see Labour deal with this, being as the victims are it’s natural voters – and by the way, foreign in their eyes also means EU.

    Foreign workers drag down UK wages, says bank chief: Carney’s explosive intervention as number of EU migrants working here hits 2million

    Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England, issued stark warning
    Influx of foreign workers is threatening economy by holding down wages
    He said rates of immigration explained why pay rises have been subdued

    If Labour doesn’t support policies to dramatically throw this into a sharp and rapid reverse – including EU workers (and it’s current inclination is not to), then it will never see the inside of Number 10 ever again, not even as decorators because they’ll be east europeans.

  3. Geoff Hallett says:

    Swatantra totally agree, why stop there? Pre 1997 election Blair and Ashdown had talks about merger. Not enough to separate three parties never mind two. Millions of Libdem voters will make no impression on national elections for a decade, merge?

  4. paul barker says:

    Where was this “Liberal Labour” when the 90 days proposal came up ?

  5. Greta says:

    The empirical evidences suggests that there are zero or small negative effects of immigration on wages. Research on the labour market effects of immigration in the UK suggests that immigration has relatively small effects on average wages, but more significant effects along the wage distribution, i.e. on low, medium and high paid workers.
    “An influx of immigrants to the UK is not the main cause of lower wage growth, the Bank of England governor has said.
    – See more at:
    Older people willing to work and workers seeking more hours added 500,000 to the labour force over the last two years, said Mr Carney.
    Migrant labour also expanded the workforce, but its impact was only a tenth of the size according to Mr Carney.
    One of the misunderstandings, taking about migrants and their impact on the labour market, is that the economy has a fixed number of jobs. (This chief logic mistake is sometimes called the lump labour fallacy). In reality, just as immigration may increase competition for jobs it can also create new jobs, increase the demand for labour. The cities with higher immigration density have also a higher amount of mean income.
    More foreigners – or indeed more population from any source by itself – do not mean lower wages or increased unemployment in the longer run, because the additional people not only supply labour but also add to the demand for output.
    However considering the paucity of evidence suggesting migration depressed “the wages and job chances of working-class Britons”, there are far more pressing concerns such as ensuring minimum wage legislation is enforced and where possible that employers pay a living wage.

  6. Greta says:

    Correction … Lump of Labour Fallacy….

  7. Tafia says:

    The empirical evidences suggests that there are zero or small negative effects of immigration on wages.

    Greta that is not true. The report that sparked all this a year ago is now largely discredited because it didn’t investigate the effect on social housing state pension provision in the long term, private rents, house prices, housing benefits, NHS provision, school places provision etc etc. and the unions themselves produced a newer report showing it has little effect at skilled level and upwards, but is having a massive depressive effect on wage levels of semi-skilled and none-skilled workers (they are the segment that left Labour in the north of England and switched to UKIP)/

    Then Carney at the Bank of England less than two days ago said basically the same thing – that the levels of immigration are depressing wages which is one of the reasons the economy is not recovering. (“contained wage growth in the face of robust employment growth”.

    So you are basically calling the unions and the Bank of England incompetent liars.

    I’ll tell you something now and you better accept it because if you don’t Labour will disappear. low skill/no skill workers have boosted UKIP into second place in large parts of northern England and that is not going to reverse precisely because they do not see why they should have to compete with ‘foreigners’ for jobs, NHS dental places, local school places etc etc (and indeed why should they). You will not get them back unless you remove that threat to them – in fact you don’t deserve them back.

    I can even give you an example less than 6 miles from me where a decade ago a meat processing plant laid off it’s entire local workforce of 300 people working three shifts and replaced them with 200 east europeans working two shifts, on minimum wage. And in a rural area 300 jobs is a colossal amount. And an electrical components factory employing 450 a mile away that shut down and relocated everything – including plant machinery – to slovakia. Major heavy engineering plant employing 2000 shut down and relocated to Brazil and Slovakia. Or the major company I was union rep in threatening that it would institute large scale redundancies and bring in east europeans unless the workforce agreed to accept no pay rises for 4 years (Labour MP refused to get involved in that – coward). Same company now recruits it’s IT & management graduates from the Baltic states and pays them 17K for a 3 year contract – and that is starting to spread through other employers as they seek to reduce wages and compete, so where does that leave our IT and other graduates?

    Or jobs being advertised in Oldham and other former mill towns for doctors receptionists, teaching assistants, health workers, nurses etc etc with the caveat ‘Must speak a south asian language’ and priority given to PCSO recruitment to people who speak a south asian language.

    The proof of the pudding is in the proposed changes – no tax credits for two years, no benefits of any kind for two years (including EU migrants) etc that will be brought in. No means to support yourself – job etc, then you leave. If immigrants (EU and non-EU) are having no effect then this will create no problem for them will it.

    More foreigners – or indeed more population from any source by itself – do not mean lower wages or increased unemployment in the longer run, because the additional people not only supply labour but also add to the demand for output.

    That is utter rubbish as anyone who has lived in an area with a large influx of EU migrants will inform you. For instance Poles lived next door to me. They were friendly enough. They used every room of a two-bed terraced house as bedrooms with two bunk beds (4 people) in each room – 16 of them in one house. They spent virtually nothing in the local economy – buying out of date food etc and clothes from charity shops, sending most of the money home. Some even claimed child benefits for kids that weren’t even here. Most were skilled workers back in their own country – plumbers, mechanics, hairdressers etc etc They then started not only working in the meat factory (thus removing local jobs and depressing wages) but also doing work on the ‘black’ for cash providing what skills they had thus depriving local businesses of work (causing some to close) and earning money that no tax was paid on. Indeed they went further than that, when they had holidays they went to Ireland to get Ryan Air flights back to Poland, but drove back in a banger with Polish plates on that they then sold to the local population. Advantages of a foreign number plate? Speed camera tickets unenforceable, parking tickets unenforceable, no insurance or road tax to pay etc etc. At one point a few years back you could virtually guarentee that every car you saw with Polish plates was owned by a local youth or someone disqualified for DD – in short, depriving the Treasury of income.

    So lets have none of this juvenile posturing that it has no effect. It has dramatic effects on the problems teachers face (and therefore the lack of attention other pupils receive) , it causes problems with NHS dental places, it causes problems with NHS doctor places, it drives up rents, it creates local shortages of rental properties, it drives down wages for low skill/no skill workers, it adds to the benefits bill, it reduces the amount of jobs available, it removes money from both the local economy and the Exchequer and it damages councils in that they are having to provide services but are not getting the money (16 to a house only pay the same as two). And that is just scratching the surface. And like I said, unless you address all of that you will not get those voters back from UKIP, quite the Opposite – their vote will continue to grow.

    And if you know much about UKIP you will know they are now at a crossroads. They can see now where their vote is and where they can achieve success – this election was very much an experiment for them – a testing of the water and nothing more. If they pick Nuttall as their next leader expect them to mount a sustained challenge right across northern England. And also expect them to totally destroy Labour’s majority in next years Welsh Assembly elections as they take seats from Labour in North Wales and also in the valleys of south Wales. Likewise to take enough seats at the GLA to not only vie with the Tories for Opposition, but maybe even damage Labour enough to stop them being the largest party there and make it impossible for anyone to form a workable majority without them.

    More foreigners – or indeed more population from any source by itself – do not mean lower wages or increased unemployment in the longer run The arrogance and typical disgusting middle class attitude in that statement is both breath-taking and insulting in equal measures. People on low skill/no skill employment do not live in the longer run. They don’t even live for tomorrow let alone next week. They live for now and the today and it’s now and today that have to be sorted out or they will give you a very well deserved two fingers and a lot of open hostility.

    Oh, and read the full text of Carney’s speech. Mannah from heaven to the Daily Mail and UKIP and you won’t have hear the last of it.

  8. Greta says:

    @ Tafia …another example of toxic debate

    Marc Carney, governor of the Bank of England, was quick to clarify his comments – after some newspapers had published their anti-immigration articles based on segments of his opening remarks on Wednesday:
    The Bank of England governor says UK productivity not harmed by migrant workers
    Quotes from Marc Carney ‘s so each:
    “There has been a huge growth in employment – this is one of the strongest job markets in the world. There has been a big increase in British nationals wanting to work.”
    “In the course of the last two years the number of older workers in their fifties or sixties that have stayed in the labour market is around 300,000 more and people want to work more hours, so we have another 200,000 to 300,000 more workers.”
    “When you compare that to the increase in net migration, the first two numbers add up to more than 500,000, while the increase in net migration is 50,000.”
    “Foreign workers tend to work in lower skilled jobs when they first come, even though they are more qualified. Over time they move up the skill chain to jobs that are more suited to them and contribute to an increase in productivity across the economy.”
    “Now the only option to grow and increase productivity is to invest more, to do more with less.”

    Is The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC, Radio 4, Financial Times etc etc. lying?
    Is the home office lying?
    Are UK business surveys on Brexit lying?’s-link-between-labour-productivity-and-immigration-uk#.VVXF2ZIaySN
    Is the Institute of National Economic and Social Research lying?
    Is the London School of Economics and Social Sciences lying?
    Is the Adam Smith Institute lying?
    Is the Financial Times lying?,Authorised=false.html?
    As to the unions
    The unions have to tackle toxic debate around immigration.”

    If the wages were suppressed by migrants making it a more economical operation why did VION close the plant?

  9. Madasafish says:

    I see denial is strongly evident in Labour supporters.

    Denial of an economic theory is one thing – it MAY be wrong.. Denial of why your own voters say they are leaving is another. If they think the theory is correct, you are stuffed.. even if in the final analysis that theory is wrong.. It’s like sticking your hands over your ears and shouting wahwahwah like a spolieed child.

    No doubt your new voting system is at risk of being undermined by the unions busy affiliating members so they can vote in the Unions’ choice.

    I see no evidence here or on other Labour blogs that reality is anywhere near dawning.. It reminds me of Michael Foot and Tony Been in the late 1970s and early 1980s… Or William Hague and IDS /Michael Howard in the 2000s.

    Losers all.

  10. Tafia says:

    If the wages were suppressed by migrants making it a more economical operation why did VION close the plant?

    Two reasons. Firstly the subsidies they were receiving were coming to an end (the very fact they were given subsidies when they were making indiginous workers unemployed to be replaced by immigrants beggars belief anyway.

    And secondly because they intend to relocate to where it’s even cheaper.

    And like I said, read Carney’s complete speech. There’s no mistaking what he said and he’s obviously since been told off about it and is backtracking.

    And even the Labour party says that the impact immigrants are on low skill/no skill wage levels is detrimental to the indiginous population. As does the GMB (who commissioned quite a comprehensive study on how immigration is affecting wages on low skill/no skill jobs) – quite vocally. And unless you address that – today, not tomorrow, then you are irrelevant and will always be a loser. They simply are not going to vote for you and worse – will still viote but for a rival and quite rightly so.

    You must not, under any circumstance, support any policy that depresses wage levels at the bottom end of the market, raises demand for rental accommodation faster than it can be built, increases infrastructure demand and means indiginous population cannot get places in the nearest school, nearest doctors or on NHS dentists or wait so much as 1 minute longer on a social housing list.

    And it’s pointless clinging to employment figures when the Labour Party has spent the best part of the last 5 years (and still are) saying they are wrong.

    You deserved the derision with which the ordinary working people in the north of England treated you, believe me it’s far more than they actually think you are worth and unless you change the message to one they want to here then they will not be coming back.

    The regular people on here will remember me saying several months ago that two years ago I bet a tenner on the Tories to win with a low majority and I remained confident because it was blatantly obvious. I picked up the £200 winnings yesterday and have already put £100 of it in the Tories to win with a bigger majority in 2020 – and I remain confident of that as well. You just don’t seem to understand that your message is totally, totally wrong.

    Madasafish is bang on the button. You keep living in denial and you’ll never see the inside of Number 10 ever again. You won’t get those voters back unless you move position and offer them what they want and without them you are f***ed pure and simple. And I’m betting a hundred quid on it – because it’s blatantly obvious.

  11. Tafia says:

    UK research suggests that immigration has a small impact on average wages of existing workers but more significant effects along the wage distribution: low-wage workers lose while medium and high-paid workers gain.

    Nevertheless, there may be some downward pressure in the low wage labour market where (despite their higher relative education levels) many new immigrants tend to find work. There may also be a positive effect on wages in the high wage labour markets where it may take more time for the skills that immigrants bring to transfer.

    However, the MAC did find impacts on the wage distribution, with greater pay inequality and adverse impacts on the most poorly paid UK-born workers (Para. 7.100)

    “When millions of workers already have low pay and poor job security in Britain and we add high levels of low skilled migration mostly from within the EU, some benefit but some lose out. It isn’t prejudiced to believe that.”
    Ed Milband, Jan 2015 (but what would he know – he’s a loser)

    tended to have the biggest impact on the semi/unskilled services sector.

    For each one per cent increase in the share of migrants in the UK-born working age population there was a 0.6 percent decline in the wages of the five per cent lowest paid workers.

    And there are hundreds and hundreds of papers form Oxford, Cambridge, the LSE, the Trades Unions etc etc all saying the same thing as well as speeches by Labour MPs.

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    Aspiration has no place in a Socialist Utopia. Leave aspiration to the Tories. All we need is adequate wages, public services and social security.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Landslide (victory) Peasant

  14. Tafia says:

    Good one John. 😉

  15. Greta says:

    Not to forget:
    Cleek’s Law
    “”Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.
    and Pommer”s Law
    ” A person ‘s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having the wrong opinion”

  16. Greta says:

    (What have the immigrants ever done for us?)

  17. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Without aspiration the proletariat can never overthrow the the bourgeoisie and capatilism!

    Without aspiration we will never have adequate wages, public services and social security!

    Without aspiration we can’t even begin to ignore the national debt!

    Vote for the left, we will nationalise aspiration – the Tories will only capitalise on their monopoly of aspiration!

    Comrades in the Labour Party, we must give out vote tp the Communist Party in the next election. You know it makes sense…………


  18. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Comrades!…… sorry for the typos, facepalm – “Comrades in the Labour Party, we must give our vote to the Communist Party in the next election. You know it makes sense………… ”


  19. Mr Akira Origami says:

    …..and comrades! Without: aspiration, knowledge and being in touch with reality… we are nothing!


  20. Mr Akira Origami says:

    CAUTION! This comment could include sarcasm, satire and be of
    mordacious content.


    We don’t know much about German politics here and we thought the Germans didn’t have a sense of humour. Are Germans Python fans?

    PS… Do you think Ashkenazi synagogues of Altona, Germany, should have forbade its congregants from attending the opera?

  21. Greta says:

    Aye, Pythons are popular in Germany… despite common prejudices… and despite surveys on the world’s least funny country, unsurprisingly, Germany comes out on top, but Britain is not ranked so much higher either, placed fourth after Russia and Turkey (2011) … all grim nations or rather grumpy by nature..:-)
    As to looking for enlightenment, truth, and soul seeking ..there is well-known Jewish Joke about (Talmud) logic:
    A Jew is talking to his Rabbi.
Rabbi,” the man said, “Explain the Talmud to me.”
“Very well,” he said. “First, I will ask you a question. If two men climb up a chimney and one comes out dirty, and one comes out clean, which one washes himself?”
“The dirty one,” answers the man.
“No. They look at each other and the dirty man thinks he is clean and the clean man thinks he is dirty, therefore, the clean man washes himself.”
“Now, another question:
If two men climb up a chimney and one comes out dirty, and one comes out clean, which one washes himself?”
The man smiles and says, “You just told me, Rabbi. The man who is clean washes himself because he thinks he is dirty.”
“No,” says the Rabbi. “If they each look at themselves, the clean man knows he doesn’t have to wash himself, so the dirty man washes himself.”
“Now, one more question.
If two men climb up a chimney and one comes out dirty, and one comes out clean, which one washes himself?”
“I don’t know, Rabbi. Depending on your point of view, it could be either one.”
Again the Rabbi says, “No. If two men climb up a chimney, how could one man remain clean? They both are dirty, and they both wash themselves.”
The confused man said, “Rabbi, you asked me the same question three times and you gave me three different answers. Is this some kind of a joke?”
“This is not a joke, my son. This is Talmud.”

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