Both Labour and the Conservatives have pledged to “strengthen communities.” But does the state help or hinder that? Maurice Glasman, father of “blue Labour,” takes on “red Tory” Phillip Blondby Phillip Blond / April 30, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
12th April 2010
Congratulations on your recent book, Red Tory. Your attempt to defeat Thatcherism within the Conservative party is one of the most courageous stories in modern politics. There is much that unites us: the importance of strengthening civil society and local communities, and the centrality of virtue in politics. The need to remoralise the economy, after a market storm climaxing with the City of London becoming the greatest welfare dependent in our country’s history, is also common ground between us.
I call my politics blue Labour, because I want Labour to place work, locality, and solidarity back in a central role in the pursuit of a good society. So if I now stress what divides us, I do appreciate the strength of your argument. Your book is at its strongest when examining modernity: the emergence of the sovereign state and the price-setting market, with the institutions of society squeezed out. This began, as you say, with the Tudor enclosure movement. Here, the practices embedded in our common lands were trumped by freehold ownership and the market. The church did not oppose this, as it did elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, after Archbishop Laud was beheaded in 1645 it ceased to oppose the commodification of land at all. From that point the labour movement alone defended reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity.
Ultimately, the labour movement built the co-operatives, building societies, and trade unions that resisted the rise of the market. The Tories opposed them, as did the Liberals. A corrupt squierarchy rather than a just hierarchy defined the Tory tradition you now defend. In its craven attitude to capital, its paternalistic conception of welfare and its exclusive conception of the state, it is a far from virtuous lineage.
I mention this because I consider you an important Labour thinker, and one who has no serious intellectual or political support within the Conservative party. Further, your attempt to revive a progressive conservatism undermines the best of your argument. Many of your best ideas, such as your call for the “empowerment of frontline workers” in our public services, form no part of historical Conservative practice.
For the past decade I’ve been involved with London Citizens, a group of community organisers. We emphasise action between local institutions, particularly faith communities, to pursue a common good. We’ve launched a “living wage” campaign: £7.60 an hour, including holidays, sick pay and pensions. This does much more to support family life than Cameron’s £150 marriage bribe: it allows parents to spend time with their children, guards against debt and fosters greater status at work.