Cumbria was always New and Blue Labour

by Jonathan Todd

No less an authority than Lord Mandelson has declared New Labour dead. Dan Hodges has called time on blue Labour. But the revisionist principles driving New Labour long predate it and will surely outlast it. They stretch back to Eduard Bernstein via Tony Crosland and are timeless. As Lord Mandelson certainly knows, they cannot die. And the quest for belonging in a globalised age that underpins blue Labour shows no signs of losing its resonance as we continue to live through globalisation’s biggest economic crisis since the 1930s.

If the revisionist principles of New Labour are un-dead and blue Labour retains significance, perhaps Labour’s future, as both David Miliband and James Purnell have postulated, lies in some fusion of New and Blue Labour.

Labour’s future, in other words, is Cumbrian.

New Labour made Labour’s peace with business; reconciling Labour’s values of social justice with a pro-business attitude at ease with globalisation. Little could be more open for business than a national park which welcomes around 12 million visitors annually, the largest concentration of nuclear expertise in Europe and a vital production facility for BAE Systems, the third-largest defence manufacturer in the world. If New Labour means being pro-business, then New Labour is Cumbrian.

But as Cumbria has opened its doors to the world and traded upon the skill and ingenuity of its people, it has never lost that most precious commodity that blue Labour says New Labour misplaced along the way: a deep and defining sense of community. Cumbrians never need to ask: am I my brother’s keeper? This is instinctively known. If blue Labour means community, then blue Labour is Cumbrian.

Of course, Cumbria is as unique as it is special. It would be absurd to generalise too much from such a particular place. Withnail and I discovered that Penrith is not Camberwell. But nor is Cumbria so remote as to be without wider relevance. It would be closer with stopping HS2 trains, but it’s just up the M6. Cumbrians are inspired and frustrated by the same things as the rest of the country.

Cumbrians preserve what is good and change what is bad. The good includes the kind of community pubs that CAMRA exists to sustain, serving real Cumbrian ales like Jennings and Hawkshead; sports clubs that are beacons of pride and breeding grounds for competitors like Emlyn Hughes and Grant Holt; and a manufacturing base that has long allowed successful careers to begin with apprenticeships.

If bonds of community of Cumbrian strength are thought in the public interest, public policy should seek to deepen the roots of such pubs, clubs and manufacturing beyond the county. Such clubs include bowling clubs and Cumbrian MP John Woodcock recently became “sports Parliamentarian of the year” for his campaign to preserve them. Sometimes radicalism means facing up to necessary change. Sometimes it means resisting unnecessary change. Bowling clubs are a part of the fabric of our communities that should be retained.

There is no reason for such fabric to come at the expense of openness to the global economy. Either explicit or implicit in some recent debate has been the suggestion that we must choose between this openness and strong communities. But Cumbria exposes this fallacy.

Until New Labour came to power, the bad in Cumbria included a lack of higher education (HE), crumbling school buildings and questions over the viability of community hospitals. The university of Cumbria, building schools for the future (BSF) and innovative use of practice-based commissioning brought change. Conservative government has been regressive: access to HE limited, BSF cuts to six Cumbrian schools and an assault on the NHS that threatens to undo all gains made by Labour investment and reform.

This is undoubtedly bleak but the community spirit of Cumbria has been as indefatigable as ever. Thousands have signed a petition to maintain services at West Cumberland hospital. Government moves to privatise publicly owned forests resulted in demonstrations in Grizedale and Whinlatter that defiantly said: “We don’t want to buy what we already own”. When Question Time came to Workington earlier this year, an audience member drew applause by pointing out that Cumbria has always been a big society, but it’s being dismantled by this government.

In spite of David Cameron’s recklessness and Alex Salmon’s foolish petition for divorce, Britain remains a family, with the wrong members in charge. We await our first Cumbrian prime minister. This should be a man who grew up in the heart of New Labour, nurtured Blue Labour and in summer 2010 drew the biggest crowd to a Labour meeting in Carlisle since the days of Harold Wilson: Ed Miliband.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist.

Tags: , , ,

14 Responses to “Cumbria was always New and Blue Labour”

  1. John P Reid says:

    I’d hardly call hodges an expert on blue labour, which weas a mixture Of Beveridge’s original view of the welfare state of the 30’s Which said charities could work with the state in the NHS, or even Attlee’s view that welfare was A short term substitute for those without a job, no t A life style choice. good article rest of, though.

  2. John A Bateson says:

    It’s a myth – and a dangerous one – that unemployment is a lifestyle choice. As the post war consensus broke down after 1979 people adapted to family long term unemployment. Govt policy created the problem not the unemployed – who pay tax at a high rate ( VAT @ 20%)

  3. Rachel Stalker says:

    The best line in this is:

    “Cumbrians never need to ask: am I my brother’s keeper? This is instinctively known.”

    I shall be quoting that ad infinitim….

  4. Les Abbey says:

    Looks like Jonathan hit the sauce a bit early this Christmas.

    Season’s greetings to all including you John P Reid.

  5. Maurice Glasman says:

    This is an excellent article. Labour wil be renewed in Cumbria and it will surprise us all. Jonathan, best wishes for the new year and please be in touch if you wish. There is a great deal to talk about and do,


  6. Roger says:

    Are you angling to be the new PPC in Workington or summat?

  7. swatantra says:

    The Prince of Darkness should know a thing or two about the undead.
    But its thanks to Mandy that the Party began to come to terms with Business and hopefully it will continue.

  8. swatantra says:

    Attlee went from public school to Oxford to serve in the Army and in the MacDonald Labour Govt, then later became Leader of the Party and Coalition Minister. He was middle class. I think Ed has a lot more to be modest about.

  9. Jonathan Todd says:

    Mr Bateson – I agree. But not clear where I suggested otherwise … Oh, I see, I think you are reacting to Mr Reid… I’m not sure what the exact Blue Labour line is but I don’t think unemployment is a lifestyle choice.

    Rachel – Thank you.

    Les – The sauce tastes great, thank you. Merry Christmas to you also!

  10. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    Deeply worrying article more akin to a regional holiday brochure.

  11. John P Reid says:

    I was talking about At Attlee’s time that unemployment being a life style choice

  12. AmberStar says:


    Thank you for a Labour Uncut article that isn’t full of woe! I think Ed was simply ahead of the curve – & 2012 will be the year when things begin to align.

    Merry Christmas!

  13. John A Bateson says:

    Jonathan – you didn’t suggest that unemployment was a lifestyle choice, but the idea is becoming commonplace – James Purnell very guilty of this. Good Xmas reading for us all :”Chavs – the demonization of the working class”, by Owen Jones. Labour must be inclusive and reject no-one !

  14. Stuart Bruce says:

    Brilliant article Jonathan. The Cumbrian spirit is to succeed in the teeth of adversity. It’s great to see John Woodcock and Jamie Reed both following in the footsteps of their predecessors – John Hutton and Jack Cunningham. I owe a debt of gratitude to Jack as it was him that inspired me to join the Labour Party as I completed my A-levels at Wyndham School, Egremont. New Labour wasn’t really new, it was simply real Labour as we knew it in West Cumbria and to be fair much of the North East.

Leave a Reply