The hole at the heart of Blue Labour and Red Toryism

1:17 pm - April 26th 2011

by Adam Lent    

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Red Tory Philip Blond is an acknowledged influence on David Cameron while Ed Miliband, The Guardian revealed on Friday, will soon make a speech responding to the ideas of Blue Labour guru Maurice Glasman.

Beyond this shared influence on their respective party leaders, there is also considerable overlap in their outlooks. But they also share one glaring problem.

Both regard the financial crisis of 2008 as the just deserts of a neo-liberal era that allowed big business to erode the fundamental values of social solidarity and ethical (or even spiritual) self-improvement.

Both share an abiding interest in the way mutualism and community activism can invest private and public sectors with a combination of John Lewis-like efficiency and co-operative style humanity. And while Red Tories may have more interest in the benign power of the free market neither Blond nor Glasman have much time for the Labour tendency to see state action as a solution to numerous social ills.

In short Blond and Glasman represent a new breed of party intellectual who do not share the mainstream party consensus on the importance of embracing material aspiration and individual freedom but instead favour ethical virtue and community action.

To this extent both Blond and Glasman offer a stimulating and potentially important break from politics as usual.

Unfortunately, Red Toryism and Blue Labour also share a failure to say much about the biggest challenge currently facing the UK: the search for sustainable economic growth.

The lacuna is maybe inevitable. Both Red Toryism and Blue Labour are deeply idealistic outlooks. They start their analysis not with an assessment of the economic trends and imperatives shaping the UK and wider world but with a set of principles they believe are central to the ‘good life’ and which they then hope to implement through policy and voluntary action.

Hence a recent paper from Blond’s think-tank Respublica on the future of the retail sector in the UK lacked any analysis of the impact of the internet.

Economic challenges
The core problem that Blond and Glasman have yet to acknowledge is that the UK operates in a harsher, tougher economic world than that which existed even before the Crash. We live in a country that has a history of low business investment, a weak skills base, a patchy SME sector and a limited presence in emerging markets just at the time when eastern companies have access to huge capital, increasingly skilled workforces and a striking willingness to innovate and exploit new technologies.

In short, the space for idealism has arguably been narrowed not widened since the Crash.

Blond and Glasman may be right to lament the way the rapid change wrought by business innovation has damaged communities and livelihoods. But the truth is that change will continue to be driven at ever greater speeds by the eastern powerhouses and the spread of the interactive web over coming years.

Whether the UK chooses to be part of that change or not will make little difference to India and China but it will make a huge difference to us and our capacity to generate growth and jobs in the decades to come.

The only developed economic answers provided by Red Toryism and Blue Labour of more mutual and community-led business are not a serious roadmap out of this dilemma.

None of this is to say that we need to abandon our ideals in the face of economic reality but, whether on right or left, we do need to come up with a vision that shows how our ideals can either promote or, at the very least, sit alongside a UK economy that has the necessary investment, skills and productivity to compete with the highly effective commercial forces now reshaping the world.

This is the sort of thinking being done, for example, by the IPPR’s New Era Economics programme. Red Toryism and Blue Labour alike would do well to engage with such thinking if they are to reach their potential as serious intellectual forces as the harsh realities of our new economic world begin to bite.

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About the author
Adam is an occasional contributor, former Head of Economics TUC, Associate Fellow at IPPR and co-author of 'In The Black Labour'.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,The Left ,Think-tanks

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Reader comments

Blue Labour is BLAIR.

Blair is a right wing ,Christian fundie , neo con, fuck wit.

Case closed.

Blond, I believe was dropped a while back

(I hate to use the s[h]ite as a resource, but see )

Glasman, in direct opposition to the bollocks that sally #1 threw up on this comment thread, is not a Blairite, but an academic with an aim of returning Labour to its old labour roots, dropping the cosmpolitan elite image it has picked up on the way via New Labour and Blair.

I’ve tried to address elsewhere – hopefully someone will listen.

I dont get all this colour swapping. Exactly what demographic are they trying to attract with this Blue Labour nonsense? Most white working-class small-c conservatives would vote for a pig if it wore a red rosette anyway, and offering Torylite policies to the south east will get you laughed out of the cul-de-sacs.

And with Red Toryism; its pretty clear that Camerons soppy progressive dribbling during the election cut his lead and lost him his majority, people had just had 13 years of that and were sick of it, it completely went against the public mood.

I know the benchmark is probably Blair, who ripped off the tories and got elected, but im not even sure that was necessary. All Labour or the Tories need to do to get into power is keep true to their policies and ethos and wait, the cyclical tide of public opinion will eventually turn your way. Attempting to be like your opposition just smacks of desperation.

Dirk; “Most white working-class small-c conservatives would vote for a pig if it wore a red rosette anyway” – 1974 called, they want their polling data back. If you could drop Sally off in 2003 on your way, that would be dandy.

On the substantive, I’m not sure Adam’s charge is entirely fair. Sure, Blue Labour is a project of political philosophy and electoral theory rather than a policy platform at this stage, but Glasman does talk about economic policy more than might be expected – support for productive investment, higher wages at the bottom, a reduction in the power of the City.

I don’t think it’s incumbent on Glasman right now to explain how Blue Labour engages with India and China, or what it offers high-tech companies that other philosophies don’t. It probably is incumbent on Labour at some point between now and the next election, but do it too soon and we risk getting trapped into ideas that are overtaken by a fast-changing reality.

5. Defias Pirate

@1 Are you a lawyer by any chance? If so, I suggest you confine yourself to the prosecution role at Stalinist show trials, because your summing-up is somewhat inadequate. I suspect even the Witchfinder General could make a better argument.

FWIW, Blairism has nothing in common with this Blue Labour idea, which is all about going back to the roots and disassociating Labour from the left-wing elite (which includes Cameron, by the way). Far from being a continuation of Blairism it’s actually a reversal of it, and long overdue. I wish them every success with it. In our haste to pour hatred on the Conservatives, we forget that being conservative is not the exclusive province of rich and/or unpleasant people. Many working people are conservative to an extent that makes Cameron look like a hippy.

“1974 called, they want their polling data back.”

It was crudely put, but that doesnt mean its inaccurate. The self assigned working class are still the largest voting block for Labour by far, and ‘Blue Labour’ is presumably an attempt to tempt them back isnt it?
But they havnt gone anywhere, they just cant be bothered to vote.
How is Labour copying a Tory idea that everybody thinks is rubbish supposed to tempt the core vote to get down the polling station?

“It was crudely put, but that doesnt mean its inaccurate. The self assigned working class are still the largest voting block for Labour by far”

Not really. Of course people’s self-definition is related to their political identity, so there are likely to be more Labour voters among middle-class people who self-identify as working class than other voters, but 2010 is widely cited as the election at which Labour got more middle-class than working-class votes.

According to MORI, of those who turned out to vote, Labour got 33% of male C2s, and 25% of female C2s. There was inverse class voting among women (probably caused by public sector employment patterns), with Labour doing better among AB women than C2.

Which “Tory idea that everyone thinks is rubbish” do you think Blue Labour are copying?

– “2010 is widely cited as the election at which Labour got more middle-class than working-class votes.”

Well yes, surely because the working class stayed at home.

– “Which “Tory idea that everyone thinks is rubbish” do you think Blue Labour are copying?”

The OP links Camerons ‘Big society’ in all but name to Blond (incorrectly i think), and in turn Glasman and Blue Labour. Ive never seen anyone who isnt a card carrying Tory say a good word about the Big Society, yet it seems to be the question to which Blue Labour is the answer. Thats what i take from the vague concepts beings bandied about anyway. Im just wondering where the logic is in all of that?

9. Big Bills Left Tonsil

“”Well yes, surely because the working class stayed at home.””

And who could blame them?!
The white working class (and indeed lower middle class) have been utterly ignored, if not indeed walked over, for years.

Too White, too English, not Islamic enough.
Hell OTHER minorities have been ignored simply because they were not Islamic enough and didn’t blow up buses and trains to ensure they were listened to.

Blue labour, Billy braggs agiasnt it, Jon Cruddas for it, Good enough for me,

AND as for Red tories, we should be gratefull tehy didn’t win the election despite Sunny hundal backing them, and the Guardian backing their mates the Libdems.

Wrt class and voting habits, it’s worth remembering a couple of points:

1. Aggregate poll internals (which have been used to ‘measure’ this kind of thing for decades) are, hilariously enough, absolutely and utterly useless for serious sociological and/or psephological purposes. Not only do you have the issue with margins of error and so on (which aren’t quite what most people think they are, but let’s ignore that) but there is simply no reason to believe that sub-samples (the only practical purpose of which is to make sure that the balance of the headline figures is about right) are ever representative samples in their own right. Which is a big problem.

2. The abstraction used by polling companies to represent class (the familiar line up of AB, C1, C2, DE) is dangerously out of date. It is based on assumptions about class and occupation that made a degree of sense in an economy still based around manufacturing (and with manufacturing employment still concentrated in the old – and most solidly proletarian – industrial districts), but which have no particular relevance to an economy based (regrettably) on the service sector and where the distribution of manufacturing jobs is only loosely related to traditional class patterns. There are other issues related to this one that are troubling; is it possible to seriously argue that nursing (C1) is an inherently middle class occupation? Of course I’d argue that it’s a massive mistake to think in terms of massive blocks that we can label ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’; class exists, but it’s much more complicated than that, especially since the decline of traditional manual employment and the residualisation of council housing.

There’s other stuff as well, but that’s more than enough, unreadable enough and full of far more jargon than I am entirely comfortable with. As a historical point, I’d add that the elections of 1974 were far more class-polarised than any election since, but that it was also very unusual; the Tories were far stronger in many traditional working class communities before 1974 than is generally remembered – it wasn’t just Liverpool.

Still, it’s clear enough from the raw data that Labour lost millions of working class voters from 2001 onwards, and that most (but not all) of them were added to the abstentions pile. And it’s clear enough that any practical critique of Labour after Smith has to be based around that fact. The only question is how to do this.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The hole at the heart of Blue Labour and Red Toryism

  2. War Blog DK germany

    RT @libcon: The hole at the heart of Blue Labour and Red Toryism

  3. Adam Lent

    The economic hole at the heart of Red Tory and Blue Labour thinking (by me @libcon)

  4. sunny hundal

    This is the best criticism I've read of both: "The hole at the heart of Blue Labour and Red Toryism" by @adamjlent

  5. Duncan Weldon

    RT @adamjlent: The economic hole at the heart of Red Tory and Blue Labour thinking (by me @libcon)

  6. News From Nowhere

    The difference between an electoral and economic strategy RT @libcon: The hole at the heart of Blue Labour & Red Toryism

  7. Daniel Pitt

    RT @libcon: The hole at the heart of Blue Labour and Red Toryism

  8. Adam Lent

    Yet to hear Blue Labour or Red Tory say anything compelling on the economy. I blogged here: #newsnight

  9. The Dragon Fairy

    Yet to hear Blue Labour or Red Tory say anything compelling on the economy. I blogged here: #newsnight

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