Blue Labour

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Blue Labour
Blue Labour Logo.png
Abbreviation BL
Motto Family, Faith and Flag
Formation 2010
Founder Maurice Glasman, Baron Glasman
Purpose The Labour Party pressure group that aims to put relationships and responsibility at the heart of British politics.
Affiliations Labour Party
Slogan The Voice of Labour's Radical Tradition.

Blue Labour is a political tendency in the British Labour Party.[1][2][3] Blue Labour advocates the belief that working class voters will be won back to Labour through socially conservative ideas on certain social and international issues. These include immigration, crime and the European Union,[4] and a rejection of neoliberal economics[5] in favour of ideas from guild socialism and continental corporatism.[6]. Blue Labour advocates a switch to local and democratic community management and provision of services,[7], rather than relying on a traditional welfare state that is seen as excessively bureaucratic.[8] The position has been articulated in books such as Tangled Up in Blue and Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics.


Labour peer and London Metropolitan University academic Maurice Glasman launched Blue Labour in April 2009 at a meeting in Conway Hall, Bloomsbury.[9] He called for "a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity",[9] 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.[10] 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".[11] Chuka Umunna, the Labour former Shadow Business Secretary, has said Blue Labour "provides the seeds of national renewal".[12][13]

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, its concern over equality leading to an 'obsession with the postcode lottery'[7] and its belief in internationalism leading to it ignoring the fears of low-paid workers about immigration. As an alternative to those ideas, Blue Labour 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".[14]

It has been suggested that the name 'Blue Labour' came from a reaction to an opposite trend in the Conservative Party called Red Tory, but was also chosen to suggest a hint of sadness, nostalgia and loss.[9] The philosophical basis of Blue Labour is a combination of Aristotelianism (especially the concept of virtue) with the critique of market society developed by the Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi.[15]

Blue Labour has been influenced by old Labour traditions of self-help and mutualisation, with proponents quoting R. H. Tawney, G. D. H. Cole, Keir Hardie, William Morris and even back to Thomas Paine. They would also argue that that old Labour tradition was sceptical of the market as well as the state and wanted to redistribute power and wealth to communities rather than expand the state to redistribute wealth which is where Blue Labour's criticism of the 1945 Labour Government comes from. Some have argued that certain figures in the Labour Party such as Frank Field have also been an inspiration for Blue Labour.[16][17]

Blue Labour lost some influence after newspaper comments by Glasman in July 2011 suggesting that immigration to the United Kingdom should be frozen, including the renegotiation of European Union immigration rules.[2][18] At a fringe meeting of the 2011 Labour Party Conference, Glasman reaffirmed some of his controversial statements on immigration, argued for half of Britain's universities to be converted to vocational colleges, and criticised the power of public-sector trade unions.[19]

On 30 October 2013 Glasman delivered a speech to an SPD event at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Berlin. Praising the role of Ernest Bevin in building the German economic model after the Second World War, he described the SPD as Labour's most important sister party outside the Commonwealth. He contrasted the British post-war consensus negatively with the German model, saying the latter was closer to the pre-war Labour ethos of solidarity than the collectivism of Clement Attlee, which was really just a continuation of wartime planning. Glasman concluded that pre-war Labour "improved the conditions of the working class precisely because it was not simply left wing, it was also patriotic, conservative in relation to the constitution of Parliament and the monarchy, very strong in support of family life and contribution with a strong sense of place".[15]


Billy Bragg argued in 2011 that the reason Labour was losing working-class voters was not because of social conservatism among working-class people, but because of Labour's continuing attachment to free market dogmas and globalisation.[20] Glasman rejects this, arguing that Blue Labour criticises the domination of capital and promotes democratic Labour Movement resistance to this domination based on a politics of the common good.[21]

According to Marc Stears, a member of the group, Blue Labour endorses one simple principle: "that our lives go well only when they are lived in sustainable relationship with others"; the idea people should come together to forge a common good; the idea that our common life improves when schools, hospitals and parks are open to all; the view that some on the left have a horror of cosiness in opposition to the more sensible 'politics of relationships'; and that it is the question of what we owe each other that should determine our moral lives.[22] Stears is unclear on exactly who these 'some on the left' might be, and exactly why they would be opposed to a local community getting together to help make a nice park, share in the development of their local school or support their local hospital; it gives no examples of 'hard-Left' sabotage of PTA summer fetes or hospital fundraising drives; nor does it address exactly why anyone would have to do these things under a 'Blue Labour' moniker. This illustrates the difficulty that those involved in abstract ideological movements have with understanding that some of their 'principles' are simply things that many people believe and already do quite independently of political movements, irrespective of their political affiliations or sympathies. Ed Rooksby questions this Blue Labour narrative, most strongly propounded by Maurice Glasman, of destructive forces within Labour that have overwhelmed an older "deeply conservative socialism": "Political ideologies are battlegrounds on which factions struggle for hegemony, seeking to articulate these ideological components in different combinations. This is the kind of struggle in which Glasman is engaged. For this reason I don't think that Glasman really believes for one second in the kind of historical story he's telling – a tale of corruption of "authentic", prelapsarian labour movement values. This is not really an objective description – it's a "performative" endeavour which seeks to reshape the ideological terrain and create its own truth."[23]

Other critics suggest that Blue Labour is reliant upon nostalgia that is not entirely accurate in its representation of Conservativism or of the 'traditional' Labour values its claims as its inspiration. Craig Berry wrote in 2011: "Progressives do not believe that new is always better than old. Equally, conservatives do not believe that old is always better than new – it depends on what the old consists of. The ancestors of today's Labour Party in the nineteenth century may have had a more holistic conception (and arguably experience) of the good life than their postwar descendants, and their campaigns may to some extent have been about defending a way of life. But their struggle was also about receiving their fair share of the fruits of modernity, and about having their right to this fair share guaranteed by the state. They are part of a labour tradition which Blue Labour is right to rediscover, but they do not represent tradition itself and should not be valorised as such. Home, identity and belonging are very precious things, but they are not simply given or discovered, even at the best of times. Always, they are forged through experience of the real world. The challenge for Labour is to work with the grain of ordinary life today to build the communities that can give rise to the good life for all. In fact, Blue Labour’s dalliance with nostalgia may be contributing to the denigration of the agents that are often charged by the right with destroying ‘our’ traditional way of life and undermining an exclusively English sense of ‘fair play’, that is, ‘benefit scroungers’ and immigrants."[24]

Further criticisms have centred upon the way in which Maurice Glasman in particular has portrayed the values of this "traditional conservative socialism", and how he has seemed to endorse a view of working-class culture as dominated by racism and bigotry in his attempts to find a way to engage with working-class voters. Glasman, who has discussed how "New Labour's embrace of market forces brought untrammelled "commodification" of human relationships, dissolving the ethical glue that binds communities together. One of the most destructive aspects of this, he argues, was that it led to an influx of immigrant labour that drove down wages and produced huge resentment amongst the "white working class". In addition, the discourse of "multiculturalism" that accompanied this process further corroded community cohesion", has then spoken about his interest in welcoming members and supporters of the English Defence League into the Labour movement. "[Progressives need to recognise their] responsibility for the generation of far-right populism. You consider yourself … so opposed that you don’t want to talk to them, you don’t want to engage with them, you don’t want anybody with views like that anywhere near the party. [This is to ignore] a massive hate and rage against us from working-class people who have always been true to Labour. [The solution is] to build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL within our party. Not dominant in the party, not setting the tone of the party, but just a reconnection with those people that we can represent a better life for them, because that’s what they want. [We must understand that] working-class men can’t really speak at Labour party meetings about what causes them grief, concerns about their family, concerns about immigration, love of country, without being falsely stereotyped as sexist, racist, nationalist’. [Labour’s challenge is to] open the space for people to be able to speak of their own experience and concerns and not walk out of the room." Glasman offers no awareness of nor solution for those millions of working-class men who do not hold such views or behave in such a fashion, nor any safeguarding for members of the community who have suffered violence and intimidation by such individuals. There is no explanation given as to how such meetings will suddenly result in a new consensus that isn't complicit with prejudice, discrimination and violence against minorities, just a faith that it will work out.[25]

Other criticisms lead on from this concern about embracing the negative aspects of working-class culture at the expense of its positive values and accomplishments, highlight a lack of rigour in thinking about the impact upon individuals in the community from a group that prides itself upon understanding the individual as part of the community. J.A. Smith argues that floating through the arguments of Blue Labour is the old philosophical idea of ‘the Good’: the ideal way of pursuing life that could bring everyone together. He sees a problem: "...while ‘families, localities and communities […] embedded in shared traditions, interests and faiths’ sounds like a fairly uncontroversial place to try to locate this, doing so immediately excludes the many people for whom family, or the place or faith of their upbringing, is very far from being such a transcendentally benevolent force in their lives. In fact, the conservative version of seeing people as ‘relational beings’ always ends up idealising certain forms of those relations, and those who don’t fit in with them be damned. Frank Field’s remark that Labour must shed its reputation as the party of ‘the newcomer and the social misfit’, suggests that such exclusions are not in this case unconscious."[26]

According to the book Tangled Up in Blue it has also been attacked by feminists within the party.


Between 2010 and 2015, some commentators suggested that Blue Labour could be a potential alternative to David Cameron's Big Society, the "big idea" that might even "define Miliband's leadership".[27] Glasman was once described as former Labour leader Ed Miliband's "Guru" by political commentator Matthew D'Ancona, who suggested that while the party may not adopt the full programme of Blue Labour (particularly its criticisms of consumerism and globalisation), the trend is helping "the Labour leader forge a language in which to express his championship of the NHS". This prediction proved to be quite the opposite of the reality, when it was precisely these elements that were brought to the fore in the speeches and early policies of the new party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. [28] It was from traditional supporters of the Labour movement, and from other newer grassroots movements such as Momentum, that the party found a direction.

In June 2016, Blue Labour proponents had to wrestle with the diametrically opposed aims within their ideology that had been split by the EU Referendum vote to Leave the European Union. As proponents of 'common sense' and of listening to the frustrations of "white working class voters" who felt "left behind" by "multiculturalism", some such as Maurice Glasman continued to propound support for reduced immigration and restrictions on benefits, while Blue Labour proponent and former MP for Dagenham and Redbridge Jon Cruddas tweeted on the eve of the referendum: “I’m no fan of the EU but #Brexit is too big a bet.” [29] He expounded in more detail on his views to his constituents in an open letter:

"This is a monumental decision and one that should not be made lightly – it is about the future of Britain and every citizen has a stake in that. It’s clear that any future for Britain in the European Union would need to be built on a foundation of serious reform. Cameron’s recent negotiations failed to do this and were fundamentally about appeasing his backbenchers – rather than delivering the reforms that would make the EU work better for working people.

Nationally the Labour Party is leading the Remain campaign on a platform which supports national security, job creation and trade – however, the counter arguments cannot just be discounted. There are positives and negatives on both sides of the argument. I have always been a bit of a Eurosceptic and was very much against joining the Euro. However, the question of leaving Europe altogether has huge implications for the economic prospects and security of all of our children and grandchildren. It is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. It is the biggest decision we as a country will face this year.

Although I tend to think overall that the risks of leaving are too great, as with other issues, I think it is important to consider a wide range of local views. That is why in April as the local Member of Parliament I will be sending a survey to every household in Dagenham, Rainham, South Hornchurch and Elm Park asking what residents think. The collective decision we make on 23rd June will have an impact at every level in society; which is what makes it so vital to ask people what they think."[30]

The result, and the ensuing demands by Leave voters for 'Brexit means Brexit' or a 'hard Brexit' without any of the nuance that Cruddas had assumed would follow, nor with the dose of 'common sense' that Glasman ascribed to this voter base, led to fractures and confusion within Blue Labour circles. Some, like Cruddas, decided to amend their views as they realised that their policies were not what their "traditional conservative socialist" base wanted - but were not what the rapidly growing new supporter base of the Labour Party wanted either, having voted overwhelmingly with the 48% who supported Remain. However, especially in the first few months after the referendum, there were signs of a renewal of interest in Blue Labour ideas amongst some MPs. In June 2016, Shadow Business secretary Chuka Ummuna, had campaigned for Remain in the EU Referendum and mocked the Leave campaign by launching a poster saying: "The Leave Campaign Wants Us to Quit The Single Market and Be Like ‘Albania’. Seriously." However, in September 2016, he made a speech in which he said that: "“If continuation of free movement we have is the price of single market membership then clearly we couldn’t remain the single market.” Former Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves went further that same week, stating that, "A failure to acknowledge voters’ legitimate concerns on immigration meant we didn’t earn the right to be heard on other issues.” and demanding that regaining control of immigration should be a 'red-line' in Britain's Brexit negotiations. Paradoxically, these same MPs had opposed and criticised Jeremy Corbyn, specifically on his own attempts to bridge the perceived barrier between metropolitan and traditional Labour heartland voters in a similar manner, without abandoning the principles of Europe or tolerance, but by emphasising their common interests.[31]

This analysis of the 'lessons' of the EU campaign (alongside a general line in the media and the PLP that Jeremy Corbyn had 'not done enough' or had been 'lukewarm' in his support of Remain) influenced the efforts within the Labour Party hierarchy to orchestrate another leadership election in the autumn of 2016. It was widely expected that Owen Smith, a supporter of the ideas of Blue Labour and a member of the Progress internal party movement, would win the contest. His defeat was then interpreted as confirmation that the party had been 'overrun' by hard-Left elements who had misread the public mood in the EU referendum. What Blue Labour supporters failed to note was that Owen Smith, while opposed to Jeremy Corbyn in many areas, was an ardent pro-European who advocated disregarding the Leave vote if possible - contrary to both the spirit and the instincts of Blue Labour. Even within the new opposition to the new leadership, the influence of Blue Labour thinking was becoming less coherent and more noticeable in the breech, as the desire to advocate for Remain and to use a pro-EU stance as a weapon to criticise the party leadership with became stronger and antithetical to the appeal of Blue Labour ideas.

The General Election of May 2017 saw a gain of seats for Labour under a strategy and in defence of policies quite different to Blue Labour's vision. It also saw that, quite contrary to claims that the new membership and support for Labour was radicalised and yet also ephemeral and fickle, it was instrumental in mobilising canvassers and in increasing voter turnouts to heights not seen in several elections. Some commentators wondered just exactly how universal this "traditional conservative socialist" set of immovable voters was, and exactly how a quite different message had seemed to impress them in the Labour heartlands despite open efforts to brief against the leadership. Others began to question how wise it had been to actively target and harass new party members and supporters over the previous two years, rather than investigate and embrace them as eagerly as an imagined "traditional" base. A phenomenal percentage of younger people, up from 43% to 58%, participated in the election, and 61.5% of those under 40 who voted voted for the new Labour manifesto.[32] A poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft gathered data from 14,000 people and concluded that (as well as a growth in the youth vote) it was significant that amongst 35 to 44 year olds, 50% had voted Labour while only 30% had voted Conservative, leading some to wonder whether Blue Labour was hankering after a dying electoral trope as the result suggested that voters in the middle of their careers and with families were not as socially conservative as Blue Labour theorists would claim.[33] After the election, a number of former Blue Labour and Progress supporters, while not renouncing their former affiliations, actions or ideas, made public statements in support of Jeremy Corbyn and for encouraging party unity on a wider basis, among them Tom Watson and Chuku Ummuna. Others, such as Dr Tristram Hunt, had already decided to leave Parliament. Others, such as David Blunkett, urged caution, saying that the Labour Party did well in the general election but that it had a way to go to victory.[34]

Key publications[edit]

The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox: The Oxford London Seminars, 2010–2011[35] is a collection of articles by Glasman, Stears, and Jonathan Rutherford, along with commentaries by many leading Labour figures including David Miliband, David Lammy, Hazel Blears, Jon Cruddas and James Purnell, which looks at the way an attachment to neoliberalism and globalisation cut Labour off from some of its community traditions and ignored the importance of human relations.[36]

The book has a supportive preface by former Labour Leader Ed Miliband, who states:

Even in the aftermath of a profound economic crisis, politicians of all parties need to realise that the quality of families' lives and the strength of the communities in which we live depends as much on placing limits to markets as much as restoring their efficiency. And for social democrats in particular, the discussion points to the need to ask how it can support a stronger civic culture below the level of Whitehall and Westminster."

The book Tangled Up in Blue by Rowenna Davis explores the extent of Blue Labour's influence within the Labour Party and how Glasman's ideas influenced the leadership campaigns of both Ed Miliband and his brother David Miliband. It talks of how Glasman was initially working for David Miliband's campaign and put forward ideas on much more community devolution and the Movement for Change. It alleges that the living wage campaign masterminded by Ed Miliband's supporters was as a result of Glasman's involvement in Ed Miliband's leadership campaign at the same time. It also suggests Glasman used ties with Stewart Wood and Patrick Diamond to put forward Blue Labour ideas in Labour's 2010 manifesto such as community land trusts and a living wage as well as writing Gordon Brown's speech. The book further reveals alleged links between Glasman and Phillip Blond and similarities between their politics, as well as how Glasman and Blond were cooperating together to promote their "radical conservatism" with both Labour and Conservative Parties.

Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics, edited by Ian Greary and Adrian Pabst, was published in 2015. The book is another collection of essays on topics ranging from political philosophy, to an analysis of European models of capitalism, to immigration in Britain, from a theoretical position that is for the most part indebted to Catholic Social Teaching. Contributors include David Lammy, John Milbank and David Goodhart.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wintour, Patrick (21 April 2011). "Miliband Speech To Engage With Blue Labour Ideals". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ a b Dan Hodges (20 July 2011). "Exclusive: the end of Blue Labour". New Statesman. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Stratton, Allegra (28 September 2011). "Ed Miliband Speech rehearses 'good society' guru's lines in conference speech". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ Goodhart, David (20 March 2011). "Labour can have its own coalition too". The Independent. 
  5. ^ Barrett, Matthew (20 May 2011). "Ten Things You Need to Know About Blue Labour". LeftWatch. 
  6. ^ "A nation of shoppers". The Economist. 19 May 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Grady, Helen (21 March 2011). "Blue Labour: Party's radical answer to the Big Society?". BBC News. 
  8. ^ Score, Steve (30 March 2011). "Review: Blue Labour". The Socialist. 
  9. ^ a b c Stratton, Allegra (24 April 2009). "Labour: Now it's kind of blue". The Guardian. London. 
  10. ^ Derbyshire, Jonathan (7 April 2011). "Voice of the Heartlands". New Statesman. London. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  11. ^ Cruddas, Jon (7 April 2011). "A country for old men". New Statesman. 
  12. ^ Mary Riddell (16 May 2011). "Does Blue Labour have what it takes to be a vote-winner after all?". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  13. ^ Chuka Umunna (15 May 2011). "One Nation Labour". Archived from the original on 3 January 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  14. ^ Sandbrook, Dominic (7 April 2011). "Family, faith and flag". New Statesman. 
  15. ^ a b "Should the left go Blue? Making sense of Maurice Glasman". openDemocracy. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  16. ^ "Labour: Lord Glasman and Jacqui Smith on Purple Book". BBC News. 23 September 2011. 
  17. ^ Edemariam, Aida (3 July 2010). "Frank Field: 'Labour has always been conservative'". The Guardian. London. 
  18. ^ Mary Riddell and Tom Whitehead (18 July 2011). "Immigration should be frozen, says Miliband adviser". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  19. ^ Stratton, Allegra (26 September 2011). "Blue Labour Peer Returns With Call To Look Again At European Immigration". The Guardian. 
  20. ^ Bragg, Billy (7 April 2011). "Labour is already too blue". The Guardian. 
  21. ^ Glasman, Maurice (8 April 2011). "I'm blue – and true to Labour's roots". The Guardian. 
  22. ^ Stears, Marc (29 June 2011). "These attacks on Blue Labour are hollow – Marc Stears". The Guardian. 
  23. ^ Rooksby, Ed (21 May 2011). "Don't underestimate toxic Blue Labour". The Guardian. 
  24. ^ Berry, Craig (23 June 2011). "Old, new, borrowed or blue... Has Blue Labour been duped by conservatism?". openDemocracy UK. Retrieved 29 July 2017. 
  25. ^ Philpot, Robert (19 April 2011). "Labour isn't working". Progress Online Labour's Progressives. Retrieved 29 July 2017. 
  26. ^ Smith, J.A. (26 September 2016). "The Long Read: Blue Labour in the Age of Corbyn, edited by Ian Geary and Adrian Pabst, reviewed by J.A. Smith". London School of Economics & Political Science Review of Books. Retrieved 29 July 2017. 
  27. ^ Helm, Toby (16 January 2011). "Maurice Glasman; The peer plotting Labour's new strategy from his flat". The Observer. London. 
  28. ^ D'Ancona, Matthew (9 April 2011). "The door is open for Ed Miliband to pose as the defender of our cherished institutions". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  29. ^ Proto, Laura (24 June 2016). "London EU Referendum results: The five London boroughs which bucked the trend and backed Brexit". The Evening Standard. London. 
  30. ^ Cruddas, Jon (26 February 2016). "Jon Cruddas MP - EU referendum". Retrieved 29 July 2017. 
  31. ^ Hawkes, Steve (23 September 2016). "Labour MP Chuka Umunna calls for Britain to tighten EU immigration controls following Brexit". The Sun. London. 
  32. ^ Therrien, Alex (16 June 2017). "General election 2017: What caused Labour's youth vote surge?". BBC News Online. London. 
  33. ^ Sommers, Jack (12 June 2017). "General Election 2017 Analysis Suggests Young Turnout Wasn't What Produced Shock Result". The Huffington Post UK. London. 
  34. ^ Blunkett, David (18 June 2017). "Labour did well, but it still has a long way to go". The Guardian. London. 
  35. ^ Glasman; et al. "The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox: The Oxford London Seminars, 2010–2011" (PDF). Lawrence & Wishart. 
  36. ^ Wintour, Patrick (17 May 2011). "Ed Miliband endorses blue labour thinking". The Guardian. 

External links[edit]