As hung parliament talks approach “crunch time”, ideological differences between the parties are finally being brought into play. It’s an area of discussion that four and a half hours of televised debate hardly touched.
In the May issue of Prospect, Phillip Blond and Maurice Glasman hinted at some of the possibilities for common ground in a coalition government, even if the slogans end up as oxymoronic as “progressive conservatism”. Debating the sometimes overlapping, sometimes jarring agendas of “red Tories” and “blue Labour” respectively, they showed how it was possible to have a great deal in common but remain divided on the crucial question of ideology:
You believe that increasing debt and the erosion of civic associations—from the congregation to the family, and even the union—has made people depend too much on both the market and the state. But the labour movement was a radical reaction to exactly this problem. It built institutions and organised people, so that they might lessen their reliance on the market. In this sense you are right that blue Labour is less “transformational” than your red Toryism. If I am blue it is because the history of the left is a constant reminder of the power and dynamism of capital. My movement was born in defence of ordinary people at work and on the land, people constantly displaced by a revolutionary system that evicted people from their homes and denied them status at work. Is it any surprise that my conservatism is more deeply rooted than yours?
I’m afraid the blue Labour you describe isn’t actually all that radical. Indeed, your ideas risk replicating the old, ineffective politics of the left. Ultimately, you are pessimistic about markets and money. You want to “challenge” the interests of capital with the interests of labour. But how is this different from the traditional politics of the 20th-century left, which accepted the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, and used the unions (and then the state) to win higher welfare and wage payments in exchange? Hidden in your thinking, it seems to me, there remains an unacknowledged welfarism and statism—and an admission that the extension of capital to working people is not something that can ever be achieved or hoped…