Thu Apr 28th, 2011 at 06:13:59 AM EST
Since last year's rejection at the polls, the British Labour Party have been in a gradual (glacially slow) process of re-invention and re-evalution. They have a new leader and now every policy stance is up for discussion, after all, with the coalition in popularity-freefall the future of the country is theirs to grab. Labour has broken its traditional habit of responding to defeat with introspection and division. Partly spurred on by the common purpose of its coalition opponents, a sort of unity has broken out in the party.
Paradoxically, while contributing to the party's current poll lead, this sense of unity may also be related to the perception of many voters that they don't quite know what Labour stands for. Although this carries obvious risks, in the short term party unity creates the space for constructive argument through which political definition can be forged. So now in furious bursts of activity various groups are coalescing around differeing themes for this argument, all neatly colour coded; there's Maurice Glasman's Blue Labour, there's Compass's Purple Book Labour and.. and.. well err, that's it.
Yes, one year on and there's only two significant groups discussing where Labour goes next and both seem to be, well a little bit backward looking.
front-paged by afew
This article on Labour List announcing the Purple book should cause a shudder to run down the spine of any progressive ;-
this seems to be an attempt not only to rebrand New Labour ideas without Blair attached to them, but also to reframe New Labour for the 21st century. The key passage of Sylvester's article (behind Murdoch paywall) is this:
""Purple was the colour of new Labour," says one of those involved. "It's what you get if you combine red and blue. It symbolises the need to stay on the centre ground."
So, if Purple Book Labour is an attempt to re-brand and update New Labour, does that necessarily mean it will descend into the apparatchnik machine politics of NuLab ? Maybe we should re-visit New Labour's positive aspect;-
Its emblematic concepts and themes were modernity, progress, globalisation, mobility, flexibility, individual rights and universal values. Its orientation was for Labour to modernise Britain through an accommodation with capitalism and the pursuit of social justice via the state.
The Purple Book isn't published until later this year, so it may seem premature to criticise but from the interviews I've seen this seems to be more an attempt to re-imagine the past as a still-glorious future than an attempt to consider how to move Britain from the shattered economy NuLab created into something likely to create a semblance of full gainful employment for the majority of the population. There is something of 30's Futurism about the earnest bright-shiny future these people are promising; it has a sepia-toned and cream coloured air to it. It smells a bit funny too, as if Blair peed behind the sofa and they can't get the stain out. Or maybe Harriet Harman just looks too air-brushed to be truthful.
Or, as Liberal Conpiracy wrote;-
A few years ago, these guys were the dominant faction in a party which won successive landslide elections. Now they are reduced to using handouts from multi millionaires (Lord Sainsbury) to try to follow in the footsteps of right wing Liberal Democrats. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh."
So does Blue Labour hold a different approach ? Again a capsule commentary could say their approach was;-
They want to resuscitate the Labour movement's concern for family, faith, flag, a sense of place, the dignity of work and the value of ordinary life and common institutions that make us human. They are critical of New Labour's naivety about capitalism and over-reliance on the state, arguing that these combined to undermine relationships and turn people into commodities. They want Labour's project to be about creating the conditions for ordinary people to lead decent lives together - by constraining capitalism, strengthening associations, and decentralising power.
And at first brush you could feel relieved that they recognise that Capital is a problem, that it does not serve the needs of the country nor of its population; it needs heavy regulation.
Such comments as these are indeed hopeful;-
'Blue can also remind new that it came to power emphasising individual responsibility and the dignity of labour but that these themes vanished in a blizzard of targets and controls. New Labour people were naive, say the blue Labour people, about the managerial proficiency of the State.
'Blue Labour has a solid economic critique. Concentrated market power can break the ties that bind communities. The 2008 crash was a crisis of corporate governance, in which power was concentrated in all the wrong places. Anyone sensitive to the volatility of capitalism would never have declared that boom and bust had been abolished. When you add in the blue criticism that new Labour regulated ineptly and spent freely, you have the basis of the confession without which Labour will struggle to be heard.
But, embarrassed by the collision of values when Gordon Brown met Gillian Duffy, Blue Labour seems to now be advocating that Labour should shed its allegedly "metropolitan elite liberal values" in favour of the more "robust" social conservatism of the white working class championed by the English Defence League
Maurice Glasman wiki
In April 2011, Glasman called on the Labour Party to establish a dialogue with the far-right English Defence League (EDL), in order "to build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL within our party
As Lynsey Hanley witheringly noted in The Guardian
From direct and felt experience I appreciate that the repeated experience of unwelcome change is important to understanding aspects of a collective working-class outlook - if we can pin down such a thing. But you can't treat the symptoms of dispossession as though they're inherently worthy of preservation. Class solidarity ought to mean standing with anyone in the same social and economic position as you, but, particularly in the last period of full employment, it has tended to mean anyone who looks and thinks like you.
In their various attempts to get down with the voters, all three party leaders talk about middle-class forms of social buffeting and exclusion: sharp elbows, tennis clubs and all that. But what about its working-class form - silently or violently rejecting anyone who is different, or who expresses a different opinion to that of the crowd? That's what social conservatism means to me, unfortunately: a conformism that is created and kept going within communities, not imposed from without.
Anyone who believes that racist sentiment among working-class people was non-existent until the most recent wave of immigration must remind themselves of the dockworkers' marches in support of Enoch Powell, of support for the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and for the National Front in the 70s. It's a form of dirty protest with a long history, and which, alas, has yet to die. To say it was created by New Labour gives the previous government too much credit.
As Peter Kellner, the pollster, has noted, Labour, as a unifying force for all those in society who are at the mercy of Capital, not just the dispossessed, but also the working and middle classes, even small business leaders, Labour cannot afford to pay lip-service to such tribal loyalties anymore. The petty racism, misogyny, homophobia and the sundry other small prejudices incubated in communities under pressure should find themselves challenged by any unity project led by a left-leaning Party intending National Government. Labour should be smashing the walls that divide us, not reinforcing them.
Blue Labour has a point when it talks of how Capital manipulates local conditions to enact low wages and insecurity, but it is the job of government to challenge this at National level, not capitulate at local.
So, if Purple Labour are trying to resurrect the 90s, Blue Labour are reaching back to the 70s or even earlier. So much for re-invention. Maybe we can have a different sort of Labour Party which combines the best of New, Blue and Purple, but without the soft surrenders to finance, religion or bigotry. Let's call it Red Labour : Of the people, for the People, by the people.