It is almost a year now since Lord Glasman’s remarks concerning immigration brought to an end Blue Labour, a movement whose demise was as sudden as its rise. Since then, Blue Labour thinking has left very little discernible legacy amongst the rubble left by its destruction. This lack of legacy, coupled with the movement’s rapid fall, for me showcase an issue that should concern the Labour Party, even whilst I disagree with Lord Glasman’s populist form of thinking.
The foundations of Blue Labour thinking was that, to reengage with voters lost to the Tories in the 2010 general election, Labour would have to make an ideological shift to the right. This involved the party advocating tougher policies concerning issues such as immigration and crime, essentially an ideological shift towards Tory territory.
I believe the Labour Party was correct to rebuke Glasman’s ideas, despite the initial hysteria that accompanied them. Firstly, the Labour Party is a party whose ideals stretch back a long distance and should not be easily changeable by movements that inspire mass hysteria (well, as big as hysteria could get in the world of political junkies). Lord Glasman suggested quite drastic shifts to the right and this much of Labour’s grasssroots would find unacceptable – as if New Labour’s rightward move wasn’t enough! Furthermore, what Glasman really wanted was for the Labour Party to become a populist party that preyed on the fears of working and middle-class voters and aligned their policies accordingly. I would argue that the Labour Party has ideals that should not be changed purely to secure more votes. Although Labour’s job first and foremost is to win elections, I believe that this is accompanied by a caveat exclaiming that the Labour Party’s job is to win elections so as to govern in a fair, liberal, social democratic manner, in line with Labour principles.
I am sure that many would disagree and claim that Labour should aim to win elections no matter what the cost and no matter how many principles are left behind in this pursuit, after all the British political system is all about delivering a government that most closely reflects the mood and desires of those who vote for it. However, surely a better method to achieving this than selling principles for votes is to engage the public in a conversation concerning important issues such as immigration and crime and using this conversation to convince the public that Labour principles are the most just, humane and sane ways to deal with these issues.
This renunciation of the Blue Labour movement may have many of you wondering why it is that I therefore grimace at the demise of Blue Labour? The answer involves two reasons: 1. that Lord Glasman addressed issues that Labour, and the mainstream of British politics, has for too long ignored and allowed extremists to address and set the agenda, 2. that the movement failed because of remarks made by Lord Glasman and for this reason only.
Regarding the first issue, it has been clear for a while now that some issues are regarded by politicians, dreaming ahead of a ministerial career, as untouchable. Politicians within the political mainstream have, for example, been fearful of frankly addressing the issue of immigration for far too long and this has allowed right-wing groups such as the BNP to set the agenda regarding these issues. For too long it has been too easy for politicians of all beliefs to simply label the BNP racist and sit back thinking their job done. This has allowed parties such as the BNP to portray themselves as victims as well as claiming that the mainstream has no answers to their policies. The truth is that politicians need to engage with these ideas, and the lack of movements such as Blue Labour that do have the confidence to address these issues, is to be bemoaned.
Secondly, the fall of the movement was brought about by remarks made by Lord Glasman concerning immigration that were considered to be unacceptable. However, we cannot allow for the remarks of one man, albeit the head of a movement, to bring down a whole idea and remove it from political discourse. The Labour Party has to be able to actively engage with all sorts of thinking from amongst its ranks if it is to be a more concrete and unified movement than the coalition parties are proving to be, as their backbenches rebel against the centre. It is critical that the Labour Party continually engages with itself and its supporters and converses about new ideas rather than rejecting them. It is a shame that we are able to allow ideas to fail cause of remarks we consider to be unacceptable when made by only one person.
Therefore, I believe that the fall of Blue Labour is not a particularly welcome one to reflect upon, even if I disagreed with much, if not all, of what Lord Glasman had to say. It is not a good thing for Labour, or politics in general, for movements such as Glasman’s to be able to drop off the radar so rapidly as a continual evolution of policy and engagement with ideas from all sides is a prerequisite to a healthy party.