Philip Blond’s Red Toryism and Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour contain essentially the same sentiments: nostalgic communitarianism. These new narratives are understandable attempts to show empathy with those who feel left behind and short-changed by the Thatcherite revolution, to reconnect with those who shunned politics and stopped voting some time ago. Hungry to hoover up potential electoral support, the ideas have gained currency among Westminster strategists.
But these philosophies risk lionising some dated and illiberal assumptions which do nothing to help the most vulnerable flourish in today’s society. Peter Mandelson, in The Guardian yesterday, was right to say: “Blue Labour’s…romantic ideas about working class people turning back the clock is misplaced.” Though certain elements have appeal, the overarching narratives of Red Toryism and Blue Labour are not progressive. They may even be dangerous.
Both celebrate the white, working-class communities of a “golden age.” Back then, apparently, neighbourliness and civic society were vibrant. Employment was full and stable. Families stayed together. Blond states: “Our parents will tell us that things truly were better before: that children really were polite, that people really did know their neighbours, and that, yes, whole families really did stay together and form lasting bonds with their relations.”
Specific dates for this special era, however, are not given. It was before the advent of “new left” social liberalism in the 1960s—which then morphed into economic liberalism in the 1980s—both of which, it is argued, fatally undermined morals and fractured communities. And it was definitely before the “remote, bossy and managerial” welfare state in 1945, which undermined responsibility and solidarity. So we are left to decipher that this blessed age was sometime in the pre-war period, with both philosophies even implying it was before industrialization—before the enclosure of lands and “proletarianisation of the peasantry.”
Such nostalgia has appeal, especially to Westminster folk who like to show they are listening. I think of my granddad: he looks back with glee to when he played trumpet for the local miners association brass band. Now, he lives an atomised life centered around the nuclear family but not the local neighborhood, bewildered and resentful of new arrivals from different countries. He blames the Tories for closing the pits, and thinks Labour just opened the floodgates…