Blue Labour goes global

by Jonathan Todd

Blue Labour seems less in fashion than previously. It was never the answer to every challenge facing Labour. But it does have contributions to make to Labour’s renewal. Whatever it is, blue Labour seems defiantly rooted in our country and the traditions which have shaped and continue to comfort and inspire its people. Global and jet-set it isn’t.

It feels odd, therefore, to see the core motivations of a creed as unabashedly Anglo-Saxon as Britpop reflected back in the protests convulsing India and Israel. These protests, like blue Labour, are, fundamentally, about rejecting contemporary materialism for the perceived morality and communality of exalted past eras: the dignity of Gandhi’s India; the solidarity of the Israeli kibbutz; and the warm embrace of the Labour party before the middle class dilettantes stole it from the working class. It’s easy to be cynical. There were, of course, no golden ages. But it’s what blue Labour and the protests say about the present that is most interesting.

Tobias Buck recently observed in the Financial Times that 250,000 Israelis have taken to the streets calling for social reform. He described them as ranging “from students to pensioners, and Holocaust survivors to taxi drivers” and as “perhaps the most serious challenge yet to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu”. He went on: “Many Israelis, regardless of their wealth and social status, say they still long for a return to the years when the country was less materialistic and more egalitarian. Even in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, the ideals of the kibbutz live on”.

Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption protests have evoked the spirit of the independence struggle. Jason Burke explained in the Observer that his “asceticism – he eats yoghurt for breakfast, chapatis and a single portion of vegetables for lunch and has just a glass of lemon juice for dinner – has a deep resonance in a time when unbridled materialism is the dominant social ethic”. The bigger question, according to Burke, that Hazare has posed is: “What is this new India that is being created with its 8% year-on-year economic growth rates”?

The financial crisis brutally forced Iceland to confront its national purpose. Sam Knight wrote of this in August’s Prospect. He was told by an Icelandic campaigner: “Everyone said, ‘Let’s go back to fishing’”. Another Icelander said: “It (fishing) is a strong part of our identity”. The ideals of the kibbutz and the asceticism of Gandhi also persist as powerful parts of Israeli and Indian identity. This is in spite, or perhaps because, of the pervasive materialism of these societies.

Globalisation is man-made but, as its pace ever quickens and all that is solid melts into the air, it feels beyond human control. This leaves ever more people in circumstances that seem perilous, arbitrary and unfair. This leads them to questions of belonging and identity. I’ve written previously that the rise of the English Defence League is not the only instance of the search for identity turning ugly. In different ways everything from the birther movement to the success of the True Finns and Thilo Sarrazins can be seen through the same prism.

There are two lessons for the left.

First, without retreating to an unhelpful protectionism, actions need to be taken that re-claim globalisation for what it is: less arbitrary and more man-made. Globalisation isn’t some indestructible genie unleashed from the bottle, leaving us only with its wreckage. If we don’t like this globalisation – tax havens for the few; squeeze for the many – we can have another, so long as we have the political will and imagination.

Second, while talk of another globalisation isn’t fanciful, it is technocratic. Tumultuous times demand more visceral consolations. This can produce the ugly fear of the other, as in the birther movement, True Finns and Thilo Sarrazins, or it can celebrate the past glories of the kibbutz, Gandhi and fishing villages. The left can be more comfortable with the latter than the former, but shouldn’t be uncritically so. Eagerness to return to the Icelandic fishing villages of yore is leading to misguided reform to the Icelandic fishing quota system, while the authoritarianism of Hazare is troubling.

The point remains that people now require reassurances in ways that were denied them by New Labour’s narrow and shrill emphasis on the chill winds of global change. If romanticising aspects of national folk stories provides this, then we should be romantics. At the community level, romance means preserving the things that people want to see preserved, while fighting for change where it’s needed. The romance of preserving that with collective meaning should be as much of Labour’s lexicon as the hard-headed rationalism of confronting change.

While his views on immigration are as batty as the Icelandic fishing quota reforms, Maurice Glasman is quite the romantic. Globalisation can be re-made by human agency, but humans must be at ease and up-lifted in their hearts if their heads are to achieve all that they can. Let us be romantic, so that we may be rational.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist.

Tags: , ,

9 Responses to “Blue Labour goes global”

  1. Robert the crip says:

    You have to love it, Blue labour with Purnell is about what, your bloody joking.

  2. Nick says:

    The bigger question, according to Burke, that Hazare has posed is: “What is this new India that is being created with its 8% year-on-year economic growth rates”?

    None of his business. It’s not for others to dictate what you do. Labour wants to dictate to people what to do. Just like the Tories. Even more so the Lib Dems.

    Tough, we’ve had enough of your central planning, your nannying, your dictating with no political control.

    We’ve had enough of your looting of our money. Likewise for your corruption.

    What you’ve failed to realise is that the consequences of this is government debts. You’ve run up debts that can’t be paid, just like Greece.

    So on one hand, its civil service pensions aren’t a debt and mustn’t appear on the books, because that blows the game. On the other hand, ask the follow up question, if its not a debt we don’t have to pay it, right? Then watch the steam and apoplexy strike, we have to pay the civil servants. It’s their right.

    So what’s going to happen is this.

    1. You’ll steal private pensions in full or in part. Just like socialist Hungary, Poland, Ireland, France, Argentina, …

    2. You’ll means test the state pension (so you can pay your mates in the civil service

    3. Payments for current civil servants will increase further, just to pay existing retirees. Then when that doesn’t work, they will have no choice, they will cut the payouts (its a default)

    4. You will get real dissent when people find that even more of the NI has been looted. For example, if the median worker (26K) had put their NI into the FTSE they would have a retirement income of 21K a year. Compared to 5K from the state. That’s the extent of the theft.

    Globalisation kicks in. Money can move. At the end of the day, you can only tax with consent or with violence. Loose consent, and its game over.

    Hence the question, if paliament rules by consent, how do I withdraw my consent?

    No doubt the answer is bugger off out of the UK and its good to be rid of you. Standard answer. However, when companies do the same, taking jobs and tax, you realise that you’re only after the money to feather your nests.

  3. Ralph Baldwin says:

    You’ve all gone completely mad. You are messing around with an untested model and trying desperatly to add some kind of emotive attachment for it.

    Real movements, real passion have MEANING to the people associated with it, this is like somebody taking a romatic photo of a turbulent past and pretending things were better then and god only kows what kind of economic agenda sits behind all this, more of the same trash i would guess.

    I strongly suggest you get off you backside and go and meet people and keep you attention on what they say, then after some time, work out why they said it and test your theory after meeting more of them.

    We have had some appallingly shallow conclusions arrived at by some so-called thinkers with very little practical or practicable ideas, in fact with nothing solid beyond an abstract legendary ideology with no basis at all.

    How do you think revolutions and movements occur, because of such nonesense. No because politicans raised the legitimte concerns of the people, understod their fears, understood their need for a secure future for themselves and their young and a move away from authoritarianism and towards Rule of Law and Representation knowing the politicans would be on their side.

    Lets try and just meet the first requirements that we are struggling with at the moment and fewer crazy ideas from a basement or celler, it was bad enough when we had an article promoting Nepotism while in the real world rioters were setting fire to the streets.

  4. swatantra says:

    Blue Labour is an oxymoron and Glasman is an idiot.

  5. Mike Homfray says:

    Globalisation is certainly something which is not to be blithely welcomed as ‘all-good’, but I cannot see exactly what is being said here.
    There is a danger in seeing very different responses in different societies as somehow all part of the same thing

  6. AmberStar says:

    You will get real dissent when people find that even more of the NI has been looted. For example, if the median worker (26K) had put their NI into the FTSE they would have a retirement income of 21K a year. Compared to 5K from the state. That’s the extent of the theft.
    Unfortunately, they’d have died before they could collect it… having put nothing into a healthcare policy.

    Deduct from NI contributions what an average earner would pay for family healthcare & they’d be very lucky to have a retirement income of £5k from what remains.

  7. AmberStar says:

    Again with the Blue Labour… you are flogging a dead horse which never even got out the gate.

  8. LadyJ says:

    Here is a message to Ed.

    Adopt Blue Labour, which is just an extension of ‘BLAIRISM’ and you destroy the Labour party.



  9. amarjit says:

    I can not see labour winning unless it fights from centre ground and embraces new Labour and takes it forward to the next level.Dont forget new labour was a election winning formula which won us 3 elections.Edd Milliband unfortunately will not win labour the next election he does not have the charisma or the leadership qualities. Most people i talk to and labour supporters among them wanted David Milliband.They feel he appeals to the wider public unlike Edd who seems to be just appealing to traditional labour heartlands. The public does not see Edd as a Prime Minister. Labour must get rid of him and replace him with a modern and forward looking leader who is not scared to admit we made mistakes on immigration and benefit cheats and the ecomomy and actually address these issues with new policies. We would have been 20 points ahead in the opinion polls if David Milliband was leader.the 3-4 lead we got now will vanish come near the election,mark my word.
    Unless we want to spend years in the wilderess Labour must get rid Edd if it has the guts,like it failed to do with Gordon Brown.
    Edd if you’re reading this step down and let your brother take over for the good of the party and the future of the country.

Leave a Reply