Why Turn Blue When Just ‘Labour’ Will Do?

As Ed Miliband gathers opinions and considers the future policy direction of the Labour party as part of the Policy Review, there has been much debate recently about whether or not to pursue ‘Blue Labour’, as proposed by the academic and Labour peer Maurice Glasman. Blue Labour, a response to ‘Red Toryism’, aims to put co-operatives and the community at the heart of the lives of ordinary British people, and is a rebuttal of New Labour’s strangling embrace of neo-liberalism, which left swathes of grassroots Labour supporters feeling alienated and ignored by the party leadership.

Glasman has a point, for throughout the history of the ‘people’s party’ there has been a split between liberals, state socialists and those who favour co-operatives and more local organisation – many Labour MPs today are also members of the Co-operative Party, and since its inception at the turn of the twentieth century the Labour movement has been associated with local organisation and mobilisation.

Martin Pugh in his 2009 book “Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party” argues persuasively that the real dilemma for Labour through its history has not been attracting liberal support, but attracting hard-working but low-paid voters from the temptations of the Conservatives: many ordinary working class communities share the Tories’ patriotism; love of the armed forces (many of them have close relatives or friends serving in Afghanistan); desire for home ownership and a tough stance on law and order – why did so many vote for Margaret Thatcher in 1979, read the Daily Mail, and in a few cases drift to more extreme parties through fear of their jobs because of immigration and globalisation? Pugh stresses that when Labour came into being many voters were torn between it and the Tories because of these economic concerns, plus social beliefs like temperance or the role of the Church in schools.

Where Glasman takes the wrong path, in my view, is in his attempt to respond to Cameron’s Big Society by mimicking it and advocating a further retrenchment of the state, along with a return to a 1950s-style focus on the family, the flag, and feminism being almost unheard-of. That’s not ‘Blue Labour’, that’s just conservatism. If we as social democrats want to see equality of provision across the board, we need to expose the Big Society for what it is: a cover for cuts dreamt up by Steve Hilton when the Tories needed to be seen to be shedding the aura of Thatcherism.

If Labour is to win elections again without ditching our principles – to do so would be an insult to people like the families of those killed in Norway – we need to ‘re-connect with the grassroots,’ to use the spin-doctors jargon, by addressing, or at the very least appreciating, the legitimate concerns of the hard-working folk who keep the economy growing and keep money coming into the Exchequer. Instead of Big Society initiatives, we need to take the lead on key issues like housing, providing ample employment for deprived communities and young people generally, and not simply dismissing people’s concerns about migration and welfare dependency. That does not mean leaving the EU, saying we should only have British jobs for British workers, or undertaking humiliating fit-for-work tests like those currently going on under Iain Duncan Smith. It just means listening to those too well-off to be on benefits but on low wages, as well as staying true to  proud values like tolerance. If we go some way to pointing out these worries in opposition, whilst criticising the Con-Dems’ unfair cuts, the sought-after swing voters will follow, and we may just wake up to find ourselves in government again.

Unite Behind The Unions

This week, the ominously-titled Business Secretary, Vince Cable, quickstepped down to Brighton to address the conference of the GMB Union, and calmly warned delegates, in no uncertain terms, that they can either lay back and take the savage cuts from the coalition government or face the consequences, which will take the form of more draconian anti-union legislation than even Maggie could dream of.

The coalition’s plans to pre-empt any upcoming Seasons of Discontent include only allowing official strike action to be valid where over 50 percent of members vote to withdraw their labour. This despite the fact that turnout in May’s AV referendum was only 42 percent; if the rules being drawn up for the unions were applied to that particular plebiscite we would now be going through that shambles of a campaign all over again. Perish the thought.

However over the last twelve months we have come to expect this sort of hypocritical posturing from the government, aimed at punishing the ordinary working man and woman for the 30-year poker game that took place in the City of London. We have even got used to the fact the the Liberal Democrats are happy to do all the dirty work while the Tories get on with the more important matters of screwing up the NHS, the Royal Mail, higher education and so on.

What is most worrying is the deafening silence coming from the Labour party over the last week.

It seems Ed Miliband, frightened by the response of the reactionary media after his speech at the March for the Alternative in Hyde Park earlier this year, has taken cover in the vain hope that all will blow over and the coalition will make itself so unpopular by 2015 that he will be swept to number 10 to save the day. It is not going to blow over. The Con-Dems will continue on their crusade against the public sector in the coming years, and can be forgiven for believing they have no effective opposition – when the only public figure speaking up for public sector workers is the Archbishop of Canterbury, you know Labour is in a bit of a pickle.

It’s time we got over the 1983, defeatist attitude and spoke up for ordinary working people who face falling wages, living standards and an uncertain future. This does not mean retreating into an unelectable, hard-left cocoon; it means not forgetting those who founded the Labour party in the first place over a century ago.

Wolverhampton Labour

It was only very recently brought to my attention that the West Midlands Labour Students region has the honour of welcoming another Labour Students Club to its ranks. The University of Wolverhampton (or Wolverhampton University, not sure which) Labour Students. This brand spanking new society has already received under a 100(!) new members even though only being set up in December. That is nothing less that phenomenal work.

WULS (like BULS, a shortened name) like us has set up their own website (http://wolveslabourstudents.wordpress.com/) which we as the only Labour Students blog to reach the Top 100 Total Politics Labour blogs of 2010 will encourage and nurture. Ultimately, recent ties we have made will help create the great ‘West Midlands Network’ Chair-elect, Dan Harrison, is so keen to create with the already advertising event of an International Women’s day event in early March (me thinks) at Wolverhampton University.

We wish them best of luck and hope to work closely alongside our comrades in Wolverhampton.

Max

Divided we fall

I admire Laurie Penny. I really do. But her latest blog on the New Statesman is counterproductive. Labour are NOT taking this lying down. Labour is the natural home for those who have been left out in the cold by the cuts, but more generally everyone who hasn’t been taken in by the talk of necessity must unite to oppose the spending review.

As the official opposition ours must be the loudest and most credible voice, the most potent ideas in creating alternatives, the bravest actions defending those who need to be defended. We must work together with the Lib Dem rebels when they emerge, with the unions, with the sensible media, the organisations facing decimation and the local councils. Because the Tories’ real mantra is not “we’re all in this together” but “Divide and Rule”.

It’s a clever strategy because stricken groups have started thinking “it’s us or them”. So the owners of art galleries might argue their case at the expense of theatres or museums. The NHS can campaign as being more essential that higher education. Those struggling to get onto the housing ladder can blame all those “benefit cheats” they’ve been hearing about.

Meanwhile we’ve been “benefitting” from a little Lib-Dem devolution in which local councils can decide exactly which services to cut from their budgets. This may lead to competition, but is more likely to lead to poor management and bankruptcy.

From division by group in society to division by area of the country the coalition has got us covered. But the protests are just beginning…

Suzy

That was it and now this will be it…

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Ed Miliband, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and MP for Doncaster North has been elected leader of the Labour Party and is now also leader of the Official (and truly only) Opposition. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the media mobbing Ed and also seeing him make his victory speech was rather surreal and even a bit odd (though not in any bad way). His victory was won by the narrowest of margins, 1.3%(!) over his brother, but whatever the system and whatever the margin, a victory is still a victory and is now vital that despite whoever you wanted leader, we all  back him.

Special commiserations for his brother, for being tipped for the last three years as the obvious successor to Brown and then to come so close must be almost heart breaking, but he was mature (and loving) enough to claim that “this is Ed’s day”, so I do hope he can keep his role as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

One thing I did notice, was the apparent glee from the Tory ranks. Apparently, Ed is somehow a return to the 1980s, a “Red Ed” and handing the Coalition electoral success on a platter. Really? For one Ed served Gordon Brown for 13 years as a policy adviser, he’s certainly a far flung from the militancy from that era. And also, they underestimate him at their own peril, hell; 3 years ago barely anyone had even heard of Ed, to turn everything around against all expectations (and his own brother) are something to be taken seriously.

It’s safe to say “New” Labour is truly at end, it is time for Labour to move on from the Blair-Brown era and let the new progressive era dawn very soon. Now bring on the real change and 2015!

Max

This is it…

At 4.15pm on Saturday the 25th September 2010, the Labour party will have a new leader. They will be someone who will have to take on the Con-Dem coalition and lead the party back to government. Irrelevant to whoever you wanted to be Labour leader out of Abbott, Burnham, Balls, Miliband and Miliband, it is vital that we all rally behind whoever wins (though the bookies are now favouring Miliband the Younger), as what ever differences you may have with them, they can be nothing compared to those with DC, Gideon and Cleggy. And if you’re really sad, they’ve even set up at countdown for announcement of the results http://www2.labour.org.uk/leadership-countdown …..as you do.

Max

The future is in your hands

Yesterday saw the sending out ballot papers to all Labour MPs, MEPs, Party Members and affiliated Society Members. Who will it be as Labour’s next leader, Abbott, Balls, Burnham, Miliband the Elder or Miliband the Younger? This blog is not here to suggest who you should vote for *cough* Ed Miliband *cough*, but rather to think long and hard, as we are now the sole progressive party with any chance of power in Britain (the Lib Dems are now a bigger sell out than “New” Labour with the coalition agreement and the Tories….well, just ask the IFS) and your vote will count to shaping the future of true British progressiveness (if that’s even a word).

Max