Ed Miliband has scored a meagre triumph in keeping his party united but failed to develop a coherent vision. He should marry the best of Blue Labour and New Labourby Philip Collins / March 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
Blue Labour: Forging A New Politics, edited by Ian Geary and Adrian Pabst (IB Tauris, £14.99)
Five Year Mission: The Labour Party Under Ed Miliband, by Tim Bale (OUP, £10.99)
Ed Miliband was raised to the Labour leadership by all that was Old and Red in his party and it was always unlikely that he would be the messenger for anything that was either New or Blue. Miliband defined himself rather clumsily against his New Labour predecessors, deftly apologising for lots of things those governments had got right. Meanwhile, the advocates of Blue Labour gathered round him, hoping he would turn their way. He never really did. In Five Year Mission, Tim Bale tells the story of how it never happened. Ian Geary and Adrian Pabst’s Blue Labour describes, intellectually, why it never could.
The Blue account of the Labour Party, to borrow a metaphor from one of its founders, Maurice Glasman, is that it is a marriage that failed. The party was born from both the trade union and cooperative movements and the Fabian tradition of gradual, inevitable scientific improvement. The central Blue Labour claim is that the technocrats won a fatal victory that led directly to the dead end of nationalisation followed by the softer illusion of state planning.
Blue Labour is rooted in a suspicion that social democrats are too ready to believe that justice is best aimed at by using a central state. It seeks to return Labour to an earlier, pre-Fabian tradition of voluntary association and ethical socialism. The Blue Labour proponents think the Labour governments between 1997 and 2010 were naively enthusiastic about the managerial proficiency of the state and too ready to spend taxpayers’ money.
The Blue Labour crowd also accuses the Labour governments, not without reason, of being credulous about market power and blind to the obvious fact that economic globalisation, on balance a net victory for Britain, also brings defeat in its wake. The Blue Labour critique starts with the crisis of 2008 which exposed the excessive power of finance capital. It proceeds to lament the impact of mobile capital on working-class communities and on a venerable and highly conservative set of Labour traditions. Where the rather…