It is abundantly clear that many in the party and in the wider labour movement do not understand what Blue Labour is. This is the case despite the second edition of a collection of essays being published last September after the first edition sold out. Naturally many committed to Labour don’t have the time to read such things, so I thought a short blog series might be both helpful and of interest.
Simply put Blue Labour is Labour, seeking to recover and realise all the best radical traditions of the Labour Party and the movement that preceded it. The Labour movement came into being to bring serious power to and strong representation of labour as against the power of capital, or putting it another way to enable workers to negotiate from a position of strength with the power of management and owners. This is the foundational basis of the Trade Unions, the Labour Party, the Cooperative Party, the non-conformist Christian Socialist Movement, and indeed the Fabian Society.
Blue Labour is not the merging of every-and-all the Labour traditions. For example the creation of Blue Labour was in part born of a critique of new Labour, whilst recognising the value of certain early key tenets, the need to balance rights with responsibilities being a good example, mostly the Blair-Brown years became a socially democratic rampart for a hyper-materialist and increasingly indulgent consumerist casino style capitalism. Thus Blue Labour tries to rediscover all that is best about Old Labour traditions, especially the guild socialism and mutualism that were dispensed with, or at least sidelined, in the second half of the twentieth century. However there is also a critique of the outdated habits of the British left. Blue Labour sees in both the Mandelsonian legacy and in the neo-Marxist wing an over reliance on the centralised bureaucratic state. Blue Labour thus radically opposes any form of so called Democratic Centralism whether in its more ideological Lenninist, or Blairite pragmatic Fabian form. Blue Labour is therefore unapologetically localist in its vision of democratic renewal.
By way of explanation we can look to the many well run Labour councils in the country. Why should local government face disproportionate funding cuts at the ideological whim of a politically expedient right wing Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, or for that matter have its budget expanded only because of the largess of a centrist Labour Chancellor? Should not competent Labour councils be able to manage their own finances and support civic society in a sustainable fashion regardless of the occupant of Number 11 Downing Street?
Look also to Labour’s recent by-election victory in Oldham West and Royton, our newest MP grew up in the local area. The son of a truck driver, he left school at 16 and worked firstly as an apprentice and then senior technician, before entering politics and becoming a borough councillor, winning back control of Oldham Council for Labour 3 years after becoming leader. He was selected to be Labour’s PPC by a hefty margin and won 62% of the vote in the constituency, an increase of 7%.
Jim MacMahon was certainly not the Corbynite or Blairite candidate, he wasn’t endorsed by any party faction including a Blue Labour one. He is simply the local working class lad made good who is both well liked and with a strong track record of running the local Council. In this sense he is ‘blue’ Labour representing almost all of Labour’s best traditions and especially those which enable working people to feel that Labour represents them!
Therefore in seeking to renew the best of our movement’s traditions, the clue is in the name, we are the Labour Party and if the Labour Party does not represent well, labour then we’re in serious trouble comrades.
Ed Rennie is currently the Chair of Islington Fabians and tweest @edrennie77