Blue Labour and England

I wrote in my last entry that the key problem with British politics at the moment is voter disillusionment with politicians and political parties that no longer accurately reflect their views, opinions, hopes and fears. This is not a problem isolated to one political party or to a single ‘wing’ of the political spectrum- the Conservatives are as worried about falling numbers as Labour probably should be.

In an effort to counteract this, individuals (most of whom are either ironically or fittingly outside of the political sphere) have tried to either revert or adapt their ideologies to ‘traditional values’ in an effort to try to woo disillusioned ‘small-c’ conservatives and social conservatives back to the fold. The first of these was Phillip Blond’s ‘Red Tory‘ ideal – a sort of renewed Conservatism for the post-Thatcherist. But what has been the most intriguing, certainly from the perspective of an English nationalist is the ‘Blue Labour’ permutation.

First mooted early last year, this ideology, championed by Maurice Glasman in a recent Guardian interview, seeks to break Labour’s strong recent association with neoliberalism and globalisation, recognises that this approach left what New Labour called ‘communities’ feeling like strangers in their own home thanks to the rampant march of international capital and the false idol of ‘progress’ and recognising the inherent value of institutions both of and to our nation.

Toque, among others, was quick to pick up on the inherent Englishness of this belief structure, noting that all that was absent was a mention of the word ‘England’. Mr Glasman has since been explicit in his references to what he perceives as the Englishness of Blue Labour:

“‘The blue refers to the centrality of family life, a recognition of the importance of faith, a real commitment to the work ethic, a very casual but nonetheless profound patriotism that people feel about England,’ he suggests.”

It is most uncommon for those on the left to ever openly admit that there is a widespread ‘profound patriotism’ about specifically England. Indeed, a plethora of articles of late have sought to suggest that we are an entirely invented group of people – see the tangibly desperate leading article from the New Statesman or remarks that try to diversify us out of existence from noted self-loather Jack Straw. Glasman himself does actually fall prey to suggesting that

“The English nation, above all, is deeply synthetic in form, constituted by large waves of immigration that generated an unprecedented form of common law, common language and an inheritance of a commonwealth.”

While he may subscribe to this historically inaccurate perspective, Glasman is in fact unique in being the only leftist to openly accept the true crises of the English in the modern age – not over identity, but over governance and denied nationhood.

“Labour’s unfinished constitutional reforms, which delivered devolved government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have, as the political theorist Maurice Glasman points out… left a “political void where England should be”. The English, Glasman argues, “do not govern themselves”.”

A good start indeed.

He sees the manifestations of the problems of governance and denied nationhood as being the scenarios in which English people are denied their rights to their cultural inheritance through a lack of English-specific representation. The Guardian notes that

“… Blue Labour folk such as Maurice Glasman have made… a fuss over coalition plans to privatise forests. They’re also not keen on selling off Dover port and taking away the ancient licences of porters at Billingsgate fish market in London.”

It is truly pleasant to hear someone else mention the scandals of Dover and Billingsgate; I had thought that my words had fallen upon deaf ears. Glasman carries on in his vein of emulating Paul Kingsnorth…

“If [being experimental] means private sector operators working in collaboration with the providers and the recipients of services in a more relational, more democratic way, then we have to be prepared to say that that’s the right move forwards.”

A further examination of his ideals reveals his perception of England as a nation:

“he believes… there are two sides to England: ‘the monarchist, reactionary, Anglican supremacist ruling-class England’ and ‘the Labour movement England’. The story of the latter is ‘resistance to the domination of the rich and powerful’ and the attempt to have ‘working people recognised’.

This is perhaps a superimposition of contemporary class delineations on what are essentially ideological conflicts from a vastly different era to our own. I do not believe, for example, that any supposed ‘class war’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century can be conflated with the feudal system of the early Norman era in which even the military aristocracy and nobles were denied a voice by their King. Hence the Magna Carta.

There is in fact an allusion to this ideal shortly after the aforementioned direct quotation:

“It’s that story – stretching back to 1066 when people resisted the king and the Normans, through the assertion of the rights of the Commons against the king in parliament, and the resistance to the enclosures – that Glasman believes Labour should honour and reconnect with.”

I would argue that Mr Glasman knows considerably more about the peoples which he affiliates himself with; this analysis wholly disregards the inconvenient tribal rather than class-based conflict from which true English hero Alfred the Great emerged as a beacon of English nationhood.

Indeed, as a dutiful leftist, he decides instead to take on the ‘great right-wing topics’ of immigration and the English Defence League. On immigration he opines that:

“He has…‘no concerns that the future of the country’s going to be pluralist’ and is himself from a family of immigrants but believes there has also ‘got to simultaneously be solidarity, and there has been an erosion of solidarity’. “

He goes on to state that:

” ‘There have to be ways of honouring the common life of people who come [as immigrants],’ he believes, but it also not the case that ‘everyone who comes is equal and has an equal status with people who are here’.”

It is here that his over-riding instincts as a leftist become apparent: words such as ‘honouring’ and ‘equal status’ sound remarkably similar to asinine platitudes such as ‘celebrating’ and ‘equality’ in their sterility of meaning. They also offer no realistic suggestions. He continues on the EDL by stating that

“The solution, he says, 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.'”

Glasman here misses the point almost entirely, which is surprising given his previous analyses of England’s plight. The members of the EDL are almost certainly interested in a ‘better life’, but this is another overly simplistic oversight of what their key concerns are: the erosion and official abandonment of English Christianity and its laws, customs, architecture, culture, literature and distinct identity. And the danger of its being supplanted by the state religion of multiculturalism.

To conclude, Glasman has a good grasp of what is wrong with England. He has a comprehensive understanding of the realities and consequences of a lack of political representation and the subjugation of discussion about the English question. However, whilst we should be grateful for, and take up with vigour any opportunity to engage with the political hierarchy about the necessity of freedom and fairness for England, I struggle to see how these ends can be achieved through the medium of political parties that seek only re-election and mandates of vacuous ‘change’ above anything meaningful.

If only one thing can be said with certainty, it is that we are still clearly in the grip of New Labour’s ‘adjective politics’ where the single words are no longer sufficient to describe a party’s core beliefs. Desperation indeed and evidence of a need to find multiple identities to try to conflate with ideals of ordinary people that are of a growing complexity. Perhaps, as English people, we should beware these Janus-like figures. We have seen their sort before.

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About Byrnsweord

I am an Englishman. Constantly striving for the truth and to conserve what is good about England. You can find my on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/people/byrnsweord/ my blog over at byrnsweord.wordpress.com/ and my Twitter account at twitter.com/byrnsweord Byrnsweord is min nama.
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3 Responses to Blue Labour and England

  1. In all of these efforts by Labour to ‘reconnect’ with England, they always feel it necessary to define an ‘English radical tradition’ (often going back to resistance to the Normans) that stands in opposition to the conservative image of England that leftists have despised. In other words, Labour can only re-imagine England as a positive concept if they can adopt a narrative that says that England was, in a sense, always already Labour: that Labour itself has grown out of England’s native radicalism in an organic, continuous manner.

    In other words, they try to appropriate England to the left-of-centre / progressive cause, and you can’t help feeling this is mainly out of political expediency: they have to get English people to buy in to the Labour project, or else Labour will never be re-elected. But that project itself is not inherently England-focused: they remain British Labour, not English Labour, and there’s no project for English self-government or positive vision for England as an aim in itself. For instance, in their ‘Soundings’ e-book, there’s not a single mention of an English parliament.

    So while the mere fact that they are engaging with England in any shape or form is to be welcomed, I think you’re right to be suspicious of Blue Labour’s core motivations and ultimate goals. Is Blue Labour just another avatar of New Labour?

    • Byrnsweord says:

      I couldn’t agree more on the first point. It is to appease the self-styled ‘radicals’ and ‘trail-blazers’ (themselves only grasping at the coat-tails of greatness) such as Billy Bragg and his ilk. It is largely a fabrication, and what is ironic is that they never discuss the specific examples of English radicalism or leftist ingenuity, of which there are many examples. It is no coincidence that Blue Labour are subtly alluding to guild socialism, for example.

      Thankyou for your eloquent and articulate response!

  2. Pingback: Blue Labour and England (via The Flaming Sword) « English Warrior

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