How does Miliband respond to UKIP? By embracing Blue Labour

by Kevin Meagher

Ed Miliband was probably right to junk his “One Nation” theme from his last Labour conference speech. We aren’t one nation in any meaningful sense. The disintegrative effects of devolution over the past 15 years – most recently the near miss in the Scottish referendum – have massive implications for British politics, which we’re only just beginning to process.

Most obviously, these include the declining share of the vote for the two big parties and the rise of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP. Indeed, as people begin to articulate differing – and sometimes contradictory – demands, the established parties struggle to provide a wrap-around offer that pleases everyone.

In this Brave New World, the elasticity of our two main parties is being sorely tested. It’s right there under our noses. Scottish Labour is looking left to reconnect with lost voters, with Jim Murphy promising to reinstate a 50p top tax rate. In stark contrast, the London party is moving right as MPs like Tessa Jowell – hoping to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor – refuse to back the Mansion Tax, in case it sends the wrong message to aspirational voters.

Then there’s the problem with the base. How does Labour stop its heartlands falling to UKIP? As Michael Merrick argued the other day, “in all too many places it [Labour] has failed to hold its voice at the heart of the communities from which it originally sprung”. He concludes the party is in “no position” to fight UKIP in many of its seats, or even “to speak with authenticity to that social and cultural angst from which UKIP is siphoning support.”

His solution is for Ed Miliband to embrace the Blue Labour agenda, or at least to find space for it in the overall approach. After all, it speaks to a broad constituency of both working-class and middle -voters who cleave to a small ‘c’ conservatism that the liberal-left doesn’t really understand, less still, want to engage with. It’s a politics that values tradition, respect, family, reciprocity, community and has a powerful sense of place.

In his ‘relaunch speech’ the other week, Ed Miliband hit a bum note by scorning UKIP for appealing to precisely these people. Indeed, for many young, liberal-left professionals – rootless, urban modernists with no children – this is all a bit puzzling, backward even.

But there are millions of people who yearn for the assurances of the recent past. And they’re drifting UKIP’s way in pretty large numbers. The “post-liberal” Blue Labour agenda chimes with those voters who are fed up with enduring social and economic changes they don’t like and didn’t vote for – offering the prospect of winning them back, or at the very least, speaking their language.

Take immigration. A Blue Labour response is to reject the mass movement of migrant workers out of fairness. Instead, it seeks to protect the pay and conditions of indigenous workers, rejecting the economic neo-liberal impulse to curtail labour costs and avoid investing in skills by hiring cheaper foreigners.

Three years after Maurice Glasman got in hot water for making this very argument, such sentiments are de rigour on the frontbench these days. Yet Blue Labour’s critique of immigration differs markedly from the chauvinistic, free market Nigel Farage, who sheds crocodile tears for British workers when he talks about curbing immigration.

But Blue Labour also questions the social liberalism that serves as the de facto thinking of the British left. This is important as the party usually has little to say about personal responsibility, while it has absolutely nothing positive to say about marriage or the social value generated by the traditional family structure.

It also has localism at its heart. Not in a Whitehall-gratefully-passes-down–a-few –powers-way, but in looking at the world from the other end of the telescope. Letting local people decide what’s best for them and giving them the tools to fashion a response and shape their communities, (especially if that encourages self-help through building intermediate agencies and not simply relying on the state).

What makes this agenda particularly compelling for Labour right now is that the appeal transcends the party’s disgruntled working class base, meaning there is no trade-off between targeting those key southern marginals, or the scores of seats across the Pennine belt that Labour must also win.

If we’re not going to be left with five or six party politics, then Labour and the Conservatives must reabsorb whole swathes of political territory they have lost to niche parties. If Ed Miliband wants to fend off UKIP, he could start by making room for Blue Labour.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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10 Responses to “How does Miliband respond to UKIP? By embracing Blue Labour”

  1. Don Gately says:

    “Blue Labour also questions the social liberalism that serves as the de facto thinking of the British left.”

    this is important and critical. I’m drawn to much that has come out of Blue Labour but many of these positions will be greeted by the guardian reading concerned middle classes with deep antipathy.

    This is the problem with the Miliband unification project. Blue labour will appeal to those swinging to UKIP but see the other element of Labour’s core swinging towards the Greens. In a proportional electoral system that might make some sense – I’d rather have a blue labour party in coalition with the Green party than have a liberal labour party see UKIP draw votes to the right.

    By trying to hold the working classes and the liberal metropolitan elite together though Miliband will struggle to hold either. We need to recognise that the challenges of globalisation will require radical political shifts and old alliances just won’t hold – labour has to let go of something and find a new coalition of voters.

  2. paul barker says:

    How do these “Rootless Urban Modernists” you speak of differ from The “Rootless Cosmopolitans” that The Nazis began by demonising & ended by murdering ?

  3. John P Reid says:


  4. Madasafish says:

    “If we’re not going to be left with five or six party politics, then Labour and the Conservatives must reabsorb whole swathes of political territory they have lost to niche parties

    I think it’s too late for that.

    When times are good and teh economy is doing well and people are becoming better off and fell it, politics is unimportant. So what if politicians appear to ignore us, they don’t matter as we feel better off.

    When times are hard and we are struggling and the Government can’t do much as it has little money, then history says people vote for minority parties. See the 1930s in the UK: Moseley and his blackshirts. In Germany, where economics were much worse, Hitler and the Nazis , In the 1980s, the SDP.

    We have the Greens offering policies of universal betterment, better pensions: all financially impossible but attractive to those with nothing to lose. UKIP who offer a magic bullet: leave the EC.

    Neither would appeal beyond a few frustrated activists if manistream politicians were more honest and told the truth. But David Cameron makes impossible to keep promises (deficit, immigration) and Ed Miliband -err- makes policy utterances which don’t really convince anyone.

    The fact is: any sensible would be voter looks at what is on offer from Labour or the Conservatives and really does not like the story of struggle and toil that is on offer..

    So people being human look for a softer and “better” vision. And there it is: the SNP promise a socialist state funded by oil (!! See the collapse in oil prices), the Greens a sociialst heaven and UKIP a patriotic independent UK.

    Human nature being what it is, people will grasp at straws offering hope. And when you get the stupidity of the Emilys of this world and the arrogance of many politicians , it’s a toxic mix.

    I can’t see a way of reconnecting with those who are looking for blue sky. It will take years and some disillusionment with the parties they have moved to to get them to a different frame of mind. And some leadership in the main parties.

    I cannot see any strong leadership contenders anywhere .. yet. But no doubt one will arrive.. (See how M Thatcher and Tony Blair filled voids). For which party is anyone’s guess.

    So I guess the answer is: find a sensible far sighted leader.. for either main party. And prepare for a long spell of hard decisions and hard work.

    The good news is oil prices are falling.. A modern economy always recovers quickly on the back of cheap energy.

    The bad news . EU economic policymakers make Ed Balls look an economic genius..and the EU lack of economic growth is dragging our economy down.

  5. Rober says:

    We are moving into an era of multi-party politics. Labour will, however, have a chance of being the leading party if it combines social democracy and left-wing liberalism.

  6. Mr Akira Origami says:

    He could increase his “One Nation” philosophy to a “Two Nations” philosophy.

    Blue Labour will probably defect to UKIP im England and Wales. In Scotland Blue and Red will defect to the SNP.

    To get in power Ed could think about a coalition with the SNP. Scotland would demand Devo-Max 33% Extra Free. Ed would though, save the Union and his popularity poll would increase (perhaps more in Scotland).

    It’s only a radical thought but British politics has become quite surreal, anything is possible.

    Qui audet adipiscitur.

  7. Madasafish says:

    Mr Akira Origami

    Who dares wins.. applies to those who choose brave directions. |And sensible ones.

    I hardly think letting English voters subsidise the Scots further and be ruled by Scottish MPs is going to win much support in England – except for UKIP who could wipe out Labour in Northern England as a result.

    Surreal? No . It could destroy Labour permanently..

    Sorry I rephrase that. It would destroy Labour ……..and the Union.

  8. John P Reid says:

    Amira Origami, blue labour will probably defect to
    Ukip, and if this happens who’s fault will this be,the snobbery of the likes of the Islington lot, who gave been parachuted into so called safe seats, and think they’ve got ot made

  9. Tafia says:

    The good news is oil prices are falling.. A modern economy always recovers quickly on the back of cheap energy.

    And with falling oil prices comes a fall in tax revenues that has to be made up by…..either increasing taxes elsewhere or more cuts. (or a bit of both). It also brings a lower cost of living which also means….lower pay rises for the public sector and lower rises in benefits.

    There are no winners in falling oil prices – especially not as it’s a cynical ploy by the cheaper producers fronted by Saudi Arabia, to bankrupt the USAs frackig industry and weaken world reliance on the US petro-dollar (and thus weaken the US itself.)

    And if you think that is bizarre, it’s no more bizarre than what Hezbollah are now doing – recruiting and training Christians.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    Blue Labour = Class traitor.

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