Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Blue Labour - so disappointing

I was really prepared to like Blue Labour and to that end bought this book.

Amazon link

I read about half the essays before finally choking on the conceptual equivalent of mushy bran.

Here's the story from Wikipedia.
"Labour peer and London Metropolitan University academic Maurice Glasman launched Blue Labour in April 2009 at a meeting in Conway Hall, Bloomsbury. He called for "a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity", an alternative to the post 1945 centralising approach of the Labour Party.

"The movement grew through a series of seminars held in University College, Oxford and at London Metropolitan University in the aftermath of Labour's defeat in the 2010 general election.

"Labour figures sometimes associated with the trend have criticised the New Labour administration of Tony Blair for having an uncritical view of the market economy, and that of Gordon Brown for being uncritical of both the market and the state.

"Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and the party's policy review co-ordinator, argued that New Labour's focus on 'the progressive new' resulted in the party embracing "a dystopian, destructive neoliberalism, cut loose from the traditions and history of Labour".

"Chuka Umunna, the Labour Shadow Business Secretary believes Blue Labour "provides the seeds of national renewal".
Chuka Umunna, one of the high priests of metro-liberalism, a Blue Labour guru?

Give me a break.
"Blue Labour suggests that abstract concepts of equality and internationalism have held back the Labour Party from linking with the real concerns of many voters, the concept of equality leading to an 'obsession with the postcode lottery' and internationalism ignoring fears of low paid workers about immigration.

"Blue Labour, alternatively, emphasises the importance of democratic engagement and insists that the Labour Party should seek to reinvigorate its relationships with different communities across the nation, with an approach based on what historian Dominic Sandbrook describes as "family, faith, and flag".
The essays, highly overlapping and uniformly light on conceptual depth and rigour, feature:
  • An ethical/cultural critique of liberal individualism
  • An economic critique of rampant globalism
  • A religious critique of secular atomisation.
So what is to be done?

Way too many essays base themselves on Catholic Social Teaching (various Popes get extensive name checks), a naive idealisation of the increasingly dysfunctional German social and economic model (workers on boards, apprenticeships etc) and the communitarian history of the British labour and cooperative movements over the last couple of hundred years, going back to the Romantic tradition of John Clare (yes, he gets a name check too).

There is no analysis of just why metro-liberal politics, economics and culture have proved so hegemonic over the last few decades everywhere in the western world, and no plausible political programme for going forwards - nothing beyond tinkering at the edges (community organising, anyone?).

No, Blue Labour is a superficial nostalgia-fest built on sand.



I also bought this which I have yet to read:

Amazon link

I have no hopes.


Update (28th August 2016).

I've completed Rowenna Davis's book and it's an easier read than the essay collection above, as well as being way more insightful. It covers the 18 months stretching from the end of Gordon Brown's premiership to the Miliband brothers election and Ed's first year. During this time Blue Labour emerged and then became dominated by Maurice Glasman once he had been elevated (by Ed) to the Lords.

Glasman emerges as an argumentative, self-willed and naive radical activist who fell out with many of his co-thinkers. Interestingly, these were mostly Oxford academics. The other major support groups for Blue Labour were community activists (Citizens UK, led by a patrician bunch of Oxford graduates) and faith groups (Catholics and Muslims predominated).

When the book ends, in 2011, Blue Labour is imploding due to Glasman's egotistical gaffes. Plainly, it recovered later, but in the age of Corbyn its profile today is invisible.

I'm left with the lasting impression that, despite the academic credentials of its founders, the Blue Labour movement is distinctly lacking both in intellectual depth (in general) and in any analysis of 21st century capitalist dynamics (specifically).

It is possible that the Labour Party, as we know it, has no viable go-forward mission at all.

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