Founder of Blue Labour, Maurice GlasmanMaurice Glasman

As I meet Maurice Glasman, Labour peer and key figure in ‘Blue Labour’, he greets a passing Labour MP for a northern industrial town. “They came in with liberal-progressive ideas”, he says to me afterwards, but quickly found that their constituency “just isn’t”.

Baron Glasman, as is his full title, speaks with an East London accent and smokes roll-ups as we talk on the terrace at the House of Lords. I almost forget where I am for a second. An academic who did his BA at St Catharine’s College, Glasman was involved in community organising before his elevation to the Lords (which he describes as a “complete shock”). Indeed, it was this, along with the 2008 financial crisis that gave him the impetus to develop Blue Labour, a group which believes the party needs to return to its working-class roots.

“Labour had a near-death experience, we shouldn’t underestimate that”

Maurice Glasman

In the aftermath of 2008, Glasman realised that “the actual representation of working class interest had died over the New Labour period”. This is the core issue Blue Labour seeks to tackle. “It cannot be that Labour becomes a Whig-liberal party which is just committed to individualism without any notion of solidarity.”

In trying to remedy this, Glasman came out against the European Union and was involved in the Labour Leave campaign. “The EU essentially became procedural, legalistic, anti-democratic and entirely in favour of capital so for me it was fundamental that Labour, as a democratic, working-class party, resisted that.

“The working class were anti-EU so it was absolutely fundamental that Labour should at least try to represent that interest.”

Whilst this is at odds with Labour voters and members in metropolitan cities and university towns like Cambridge, it has bought him closer to northern Labour MPs whose constituencies voted Leave. “Manchester was one thing, Liverpool was one thing, but Burnley, Preston, Wigan, the suburbs, the outlying areas”, these are the places Glasman sees as neglected.

Therefore, Blue Labour seeks to promote an alternative based on “institutions which support place, family, work in the places that people live”. This includes localism and a focus on providing funds for regions that have been “denuded of any capital”.

It’s often said that the reason Theresa May initially seemed so popular was that she articulated a Blue Labour vision. Glasman agrees that such a vision has electoral potency but he disputes any idea that the Conservatives can truly represent what he calls the “Blue Labour vote”.

“They’ve got a parliamentary party which is neo-liberal, very globalist, very capitalist. Theresa May made those noises about the ‘just about managing’, she talked about vocation, she talked about workers on boards and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it.

“In the end, the Conservatives revealed themselves as a capitalist globalising party. But that initial period showed what could be done if they held to a more Blue Labour agenda.”

“We think there’s a difference between internationalism and globalisation”

Maurice Glasman

We talk about the allegation that Blue Labour simply panders to anti-immigrant sentiment with its support for Brexit. He points out the inception of Blue Labour came from his work seeking to gain recognition and a living wage for immigrant workers.

“But the demands of the common good are that there has to be a voice for people who are more uneasy about immigration and for that conversation to be had within Labour.

“But we’ve found that within the militantly pro-immigration, pro-EU progressive view, any questioning of the orthodoxies was found to be pandering. We completely refute that.

“We think there’s a difference between internationalism and globalisation. We defined the EU as an agent of financial, capitalist, globalisation which needed to be rejected. We do see ourselves as having a leadership view to bring communities together and to recognise the divisions that exist within our society and the tensions that involves. That requires working-class leadership and immigrant leadership and not the exclusive dominance of the middle class in setting the terms of that debate.”

“We view Corbynism as still very New Labour in the sense of accepting a cosmopolitan, global order”

Maurice Clasman

Glasman uses the word “reconcile” frequently when talking about these debates within the left. Ultimately, “the coalition must be built” between metropolitan areas of the country and more working-class areas, but he emphasises that compromise needs to come from both sides.

I ask whether the ascension of Corbyn to the leadership has created a more receptive atmosphere for Blue Labour ideas. “What Corbyn represents to us is the breaking of the New Labour grip, the re-appropriation of the radical political economy and the questioning of previous orthodoxies. However, what we feel has been lost is the representation of working-class culture as well as working-class interests, the understanding of place, of tradition.

“So yes, it’s a much more conducive atmosphere for our politics but there’s a real political argument to come. We view Corbynism as still very New Labour in the sense of accepting a cosmopolitan, global order.”

Most recently, Glasman has written in The Guardian about House of Lords reform. He rejects the idea the Lords should be elected in a similar manner to the Commons: “Things work very well under the existing system because of the primacy of the Commons, if you do a democratic reform of the Lords that’s identical to the Commons you’ll just have conflict.” Alongside his vision of a House of Lords representing the expertise of labour, he’s keen for religious representation to be incorporated as well. “Particularly for immigrant communities and poor communities, faith is a source of dignity and hope rather than just patriarchal oppression.”

Alongside the Anglican bishops currently in the Lords, Glasman would like to see the representation of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and secular communities. “They’re part of the country too”, he notes.

Without much organisation or funding the ideas of Blue Labour have “resonated within the country”. Even back when Ed Miliband was Labour leader they were gaining traction, “He knew that things had to change, that Labour was losing the working class, he knew that there was a loss of meaning.”


Mountain View

‘It’s wrong to think the EU has a monopoly on what it means to be European’

Whilst not everyone in the party wants to hear it, Glasman presents a challenge Labour can ill-afford to ignore. The surge in membership under Corbyn has been disproportionately affluent and metropolitan in its make-up. The general election showed the growth of the Conservative vote among working-class voters, with Labour even losing some heartland seats like Stoke-on-Trent South and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. All this confirms the trends Blue Labour identified during the Ed Miliband years and which have made Labour a “predominately middle-class party”.

“It looks like 40% of the UKIP vote went back to Labour, but 60% of the UKIP vote went to the Conservatives. That’s the neglected, key contested battleground of the next election.”

Many in Labour seem to be in a jubilant mood after the general election but Glasman emphasises the work that still needs to be done. “Labour had a near-death experience. We shouldn’t underestimate that”

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