I had a tough decision to make around this time last month. On the 5th July, I could either be watching Hinckley AFC play their first ever game as a fan owned club or I could be successfully annoying Maurice Glasman and his small band of Blue Labour advocates in Nottingham. As it was, I chose the second option and here it is in all its glory. Don’t worry, after I write up this and my trip to Belfast for the 12th July, we will be back to football (all the time, never-ending football) but I grow tired of reading pieces by very well off middle class journalists, about how Labour need to be in favour of things that very well off middle class people like and I’ve had enough of it.
The short version is: Maurice will you please let us go and kill off the Labour Party before UKIP do it first?
Before we begin, a (very) brief outline of Blue Labour and Maurice is probably required. I met Maurice at Labour Conference last year as a steward. I’d already heard about the bloke and was hoping to bump into him after he had got hounded by saying he wasn’t in favour of mass immigration by, in his own words “saying things that I’d said and were really not greeted as controversial by people that I call ‘normal’.”
Anyway, my respect for him was confirmed when I was earning extra money by doing the door for the main grovelling session to loosen up all people Labour was desperate to get cash from. All those MP’s who railed against big business were still happy to beg for money but Maurice was in the next room, talking to a group about (you guessed it) fan owned football clubs.
Blue Labour is basically the old Labour tradition of working class organisation. It is in favour of mutual welfare, housing co-operatives and trusts, community ownership of most assets and wants workers on the boards of companies. It also embraces the working class conservative beliefs which values the place you’re from and relationships, it’s anti EU and against mass immigration. Most importantly, it is about family. For a more in depth view, this is Maurice speaking about Blue Labour here. All you really need to know though is that Maurice is a top bloke.
I won’t be giving a running commentary but an overview of the event and seminars I went to. The first event I sadly missed as I was on the train running late, so alas I missed a talk from someone from Greenpeace (not exactly what I expected to be on the agenda at a Blue Labour event).
Still on arrival at the break, it was notable how many ‘big figures’ who are found in the political events in London had made the trip. David Goodhart who is Chair of Demos and he wrote a thoroughly sensible book called “The British Dream”. It charts his conversion where he moves away from being in favour of mass immigration, to a view shared by the majority of the country. This broke from the consensus which dominates the kind of bubble David was a part of and for his sins, he was banned from the Hay Festival in 2013, showing just how puritanical the Guardian mob is when it comes across views it doesn’t like.
Also making an appearance was Phillip Blond, one time David Cameron adviser whose book ‘Red Tory’ can be seen as the sister to Blue Labour and although he took slight offense at my describing of him as a refugee from the Tory Party, I think it’s a fair one. Maurice was of course there himself along with Ian Geary, who organised the excellent event. Still, as was noted by David Goodhart it was a rather small cabal of people and perhaps some of the reasons for that we’ll come back to later.
My first event was titled “Challenging Labour Orthodoxy”, whose main highlights came from two people. Starting with the David Goodhart on the battle between those who run the party: Liberals vs the working class who vote (or used to vote) for it: Communitarians. Simply put, Communitarians put the language of duty before rights and are not Universalists, whereas the Liberals do not see any distinction between those who have lived in an area for generations and newly arrived. Our problem on the Blue Labour communitarian side is the expansion of higher education, which is dominated by the kind of ultra-liberal dross which only gets published because of its state funding.
Take an example from my own University; I’ve had the pleasure of being in a class where a lecturer advised the whole class to watch Al Jazeera TV for good, balanced coverage. Al Jazeera TV is owned by the Qatari government, which is a non-democratic country where people have died as migrant workers for the World Cup, in a nation run by strict Islamic principles who take some less than enlightened views on gay people for example. That folks is the kind of nonsense that passes for left wing views by lecturers these days.
Plus the expansion of University places has only increased the gap of middle class pupils going compared to working class pupils, those middle class kids then do courses which they can never pay off, so are subsidised by those working class people who don’t go to University. To cap it all off, working class people then find themselves never being able to afford a house or even rent thanks to buy to let landlords hovering up houses until they are finally hounded out of their own towns. That is ‘progressive’ politics for you.
As David Goodhart summed up on this, we clearly now have an over-supply of graduates, with vocational education still an afterthought and the poor quality of courses reflecting those in powers contempt of those who have technical or vocational skills. They are seen as lesser beings compared for example to those who do Sociology at University of Surrey, despite the fact that Sociology graduates are most likely to be employed in a bar six months after graduating, which doesn’t need 3 years and £30,000 training to do.
Also David commented on how this has enforced labour segregation between those who can move higher and progress due to a piece of paper and those who do not. David stated that we all had the idea that low skilled jobs would cease to exist but they are still with us, with the economy still retaining around 7 or 8 million low skilled jobs. The question David posed was how do we value them? A real life example of this can be seen with the spread of unpaid internships with the most recent example being a “Cider and Apple Intern” at the National Trust (here). Tasks involve pressing apples and selling products, so it is just like me working in a pub or bookies.
Previously what would have been a paid job for your normal bloke who didn’t go to University is now completely (and illegally) seen as not worth paying. The job isn’t valued in itself, it is now seen as a “stepping stone” to a better middle class job and that is the justification used not to pay people. This is only because of University expansion that people have been able to get away with this.
The second speaker who made the greatest impression was Jenny Sinclair, who is a member of the organisation ‘Together for the Common Good’. Jenny is not a Labour member (thank heavens for that) and her contribution was all the more powerful because of this. Two crucial points were made by Jenny, with the first being the need to step away from the alienating language which is so used in political circles now.
It is easy see how the hijacking of politics by academia into something to be taught, deconstructed and over analysed has meant normal language has been removed. Politics has closed the door to people who may not know what the terms ‘discourse’ or ‘transcending existing political narratives’ mean (very little) but do have a lot more to offer in making real change happen then most of the people who spew out dissertations.
Secondly and this is a great point, stay away from legislation. This is something that has infected left wing politics but again comes back to the type of people who control it. The endless desire to pass legislation instead of ground up change does two main things. It excludes those who are not part of the magic circle and says: You need not apply as your opinions and views are, for all the talk of consultation whether you are in a party or not, totally meaningless. The result of this is to mean there is no real ‘movement’ to speak of, people do not learn how to come together and organise themselves but outsource it to others. So instead of previous generations of working classes who built train unions, libraries and mutual societies we are left with a passive poor.
What is the point of a minimum wage when people do not organise to protect themselves and enforce it? Legislation will not save them, in the words of The Hold Steady, we are our only saviours. 1874 Northwich or AFC Wimbledon were not legislated into existence, they did it their bloody selves. Just imagine how much better Shelter (a housing charity) would be if it spent the majority of the money they get from the government to buy houses or help vulnerable renters set up housing co-operatives, instead of asking people to sign a petition to pass a law? The kingdom of heaven is not just one new law away.
A discussion followed and after that we broke for a quick break before the second seminar on “Education Family and Community”. The talk of note (here) was by Michael Merrick but I’m just going to highlight the way he pulled apart what has become the cult of social mobility.
Now although I agree with Peter Saunders (Sociologist) who has identified that there is social mobility from those of a working class background to a middle class one is quite common, that isn’t what most people think social mobility means. When I hear social mobility, I think from the bottom to the top, which is virtually non-existent. The amount of MP’s, actors, musicians and leading business figures who are from well off backgrounds now is pretty depressing.
Plus, since living standards and access to housing have been going down for most people I don’t think people scrambling into the lower middle class is mobility. Example, twenty- fifteen years ago a cleaner and a binman could have bought a decent two bed house together in a nice place like Shrewsbury. Now, there is no chance of that happening and even on a lower middle class salary it would be difficult. So a working class lad moving into a middle class job, just to get the same as their parents is not ‘social mobility’ and if it is, then social mobility is a meaningless term.
With that said, Michael Merrick attacked social mobility on a much more moral and human level. His words were “For social mobility effectively means, in contemporary parlance, the ability to move away from those you know and love. With the heavy implication that failure to do so somehow represents a mournful loss of potential and indeed choosing to do so is itself a signifier of success.”
Michael hits the nail on the head. The cult of social mobility makes a virtue of abandoning where you are from. How on earth are movements built if those with skills or talents run off to London at the first chance, what is morally superior about that compared to someone who takes a lower paying job to care for their elderly parents? Or as Michael summed it up, “we cannot scratch our heads and wonder at atomisation whilst we have spent a generation and more telling anyone with talent that the reason we educate ourselves is to walk away from who we are, or at the very least from where we are from.”
The most poisonous aspect of this is it’s meant people who have got where they are by the Mummy and Daddy’s pay packets now seem to think they got their through their own hard work. Their lack of humility is now nauseating and it makes you long for the days of Harold Macmillan, who knowing his immense privilege didn’t demand we all become just like him.
Plus no-one is really in favour of social mobility, which is why it is an impossible goal. Yes you may say you think those who work hardest deserve the most but if it’s your own children on the line, do you stand by that? Because if the answer is no, you aren’t in favour of social mobility. That for me is one of the big differences between Blue Labour and the rest: it’s a genuine commitment to minimum standards. We aren’t trying to give everyone the chance to become all millionaires and say to those who don’t make it “get stuffed”; instead we’re trying to make sure the couple working at Tesco can afford the two bed house.
After another quick break it was on to the final session where Maurice Glasman (who had been speaking in other talks and I had been trying to not stalk the bloke) squared off against Phillip Blond, sort of.
Phillip Blond did say (fairly) that if there was no ‘Red Tory’ we would probably not have a Blue Labour and that Blue Labour needs to be about what we’ve lost. That sense of the post-office going, the village pub disappearing and the kids of the folks who lived here being forced to leave. Crucially, it can’t be enough to lament their passing but has to be about resurrecting them and community ownership being a vehicle to do that.
The discussion moved on to who are going to be the leaders of the movement and this is where Maurice is totally right and Phillip was wrong. Essentially, it boiled down to whether those leaders would be academics and philosophers or your supermarket worker.
Here is why Phillip for me is wrong. The whole core of Blue Labour for me is it is going back to a tradition of working class self-determination. It’s about housing co-ops, workers getting together to buy a stake in the businesses they work for and of course, community owned clubs. The problem with the Labour party is it’s dominated by the very sorts of people, well-educated graduates, who have driven it to ruin. As Maurice has said himself “I’m tired of people saying we need to be a voice for the voiceless, the poor have voices of their own.” Besides we have enough academics involved in it already, what we need is for Blue Labour to be run by and in the interests of, the bloke on the street.
Which is why despite meeting some great people, I still left saying to Maurice “I’m even more depressed after today.” The reason for this is the fact that within the event, despite my (admittedly belligerent) calls for the need for Blue Labour to run for election at a local level, there was no takers and despite my continuing efforts to get Maurice to allow some of us to run for local elections as Blue Labour candidates, he still resists.
David Goodhart was right when he said the Blue Labour ‘cabal’ is still too small. Well it’s going to stay small because as David pointed out earlier, the Labour Party is dominated and run by the very type of well off liberal middle class professionals Blue Labour is opposed to. The membership of the Labour Party is also dominated by these people meaning any change from within is impossible.
Plus the Labour Party is just as toxic to a lot of walking class people as the Tories are, with their pro-immigration stance combined with the ivory tower ignorance of the damage it’s done in communities and the way it’s collapsed living standards. More than ever, the type of people Labour elect show it to be nothing more than a party of privileged and political royalty.
I won’t go through the list because it’s too nauseating and easy for you to find but here are some. Will Straw, son of Jack is being lined up as an MP, as is Emily Benn, granddaughter to Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, 2nd Viscount Stansgate and niece of Hilary Benn. Neil Kinnocks son is trying to get elected on top of all the insiders and private school clique we have already: Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and of course our dear leader Edward Miliband, who may not have gone to a private school but I don’t remember Tony Benn coming around onto my council estate and helping me with homework.
And before anyone says they were the best candidates: The fact that you think the best candidates, for the Labour Party, are the well-off and not cleaners or people working in call centres, tells me all I need to know about you.
Blue Labour has so much potential and all the stuff that Blue Labour aspires to achieve can be accomplished at local level. Fan ownership of your local county cricket side and rugby league teams, regional banks where capital can only be invested into the area, housing co-operatives and saving community assets like pubs with mutual ownership. All of that can be done by getting councillors and letting others prance about at Westminster.
So Maurice, if you are nudged along to this then put down your fag for a second and just do it, let our people go. That way you wouldn’t have to write a great article in the FT on how crap Labour is, then back track on it later. We have something special here, where we could finally have working class people speaking and standing up for themselves. We can get support across the board from people who would never vote Labour. Look even Peter Hitchens did a nice piece about us awhile back (here).
You were right when you said the only way we can learn is through catastrophic defeats, which is why I hope UKIP annihilate the Labour party in their northern fiefdoms. Your faith that the Labour Party can be save is misguided.
If you don’t let us break sometime in the future, then we will remain a small cabal talking amongst ourselves whilst others get on with the business of changing their communities for the better. If that’s all we will ever be, then I’d rather go watch the football.
Blue Labour on Twitter
Maurice Glasman – CSJ in Brighton 2013
Michael Merrick – Blue Labour 2014 Talk
Together For The Common Good Foundation