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Back in 2011 it looked as if Maurice Glasman could become highly influential in the Labour Party. Ed Miliband had become leader in 2010 and, casting around for a cause to distinguish himself from New Labour, it looked as if Glasman's 'Blue Labour' could fit the bill. The basic idea of Blue Labour was that Labour had lost contact with its supposed constituency - 'labour', the working class. The colour 'blue' evoked sadness at this fact, the blue as opposed to white collar associated with manual labour, and also an innate conservatism attributed to the working class in terms of elementary moral and social values. Blue Labour values stability, a settled place to live and work, craft knowledge and ability, in contrast to the values of Blair and Mandelson associated with flexibility, adaptability and a disregard for a settled place to live and work.  Glasman uses the terms, taken from Yuri Slevkine's The Jewish Century - 'Apollonian' to characterise the first of these, and 'Mercurian' to characterise the second. (1)

(1)  Yuri Slezkine: The Jewish Century, Princeton University Press, 2004. Slezkine argues that 'Mercurian' virtues traditionally ascribed to Jews, have become universally dominant in the twentieth century.


Within the Parliamentary Labour Party, the MP who came closest to Blue Labour was Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham. In an interview given in 2008, as the Great Financial Crash was unfolding, Cruddas outlined the problem as he saw it:

'Why is the issue of class politics so contaminated now? The answer lies back in the intellectual moves made by Blair - particularly the debates around the knowledge economy - which assumed that the working class was withering away. As Blair transformed Labour into New Labour he legitimised the change by importing an intellectual framework that described old labour as being in empirical decline. The working class was no longer of relevance as a political and economic category …

'I’m arguing that we anchor the experiences of different groups in a materialist politics. That is not necessarily reductive. It allows you to contextualise materially the shared experience of different people. The approach we have at the moment is a semiotic game of emphasising difference, be it through symbols of race or of religious difference. It’s unable to understand or navigate its way through the politics of migration and demography. For the last ten years New Labour has used patterns of migration as a twenty-first century incomes policy, holding down the wages in semi-skilled and unskilled work. Now the government is reaping the consequences. And they can’t deal with it by regulating the labour market because they’ve set themselves against this approach. Instead they have retreated into an identity politics which includes a simplistic idea of a white working class that is illiberal, intolerant and degenerate. Without a materialist politics one is unable to transcend the things that break people apart - one cannot find the shared experiences that bridge cultural, religious and racial differences …

'I do think there was a deeper philosophical movement in New Labour that was worked through during the long period of opposition. You can trace it through an arc beginning with the 1983 Manifesto, then the defeat in 1987, up to the supply side socialism of 1992, with Brown as the architect. Then there is the radicalism of Blair from 1994 onwards. Throughout this period there is a systematic withdrawal of the state. Post-1983 the negatives are defined as trade unionism, ‘tax and spend’, and the politics of nationalisation. I think there was a grouping of right-wing Labour figures who saw that, generationally, the only way to gain power was to confront these polling negatives. Initially this was done with reference to a body of ideas that were quite brazenly used as justification for short-term political moves in pursuit of electoral purposes.

'The intellectual work of New Labour intensified from 1994 on, when a number of intellectuals, for example [Anthony] Giddens and [Charlie] Leadbeater, rose to the challenge and codified the political retreat. The genius of Blair when he became party leader was his ability to tell a story that legitimised all the political retreats since 1979 - "there is a rupture occurring in terms of industrial organisation caused by new technology and globalisation. Only I can understand it with reference to the knowledge economy’." The intellectual work helped to mobilise and organise the electoral cohorts that mattered in terms of gaining political power. It also wrote off the working class and other groups who had no political traction. It used a sociology that assumed they had no empirical significance in the future. It was a brilliant political movement to gain and retain political power.'


'The world was not like their stylised construction of it. The central contradiction of the knowledge economy thesis and the higher education debate is the belief that there is a massive expansion in the demand for graduates. If there isn’t this demand and you’re equipping people with this utilitarian way to tap into something that doesn’t exist, they end up doing jobs for which they’re overqualified. You’ve got generational immobility in the jobs market and in housing.' (2)

(2) 'A new politics of class - Interview with Jon Cruddas MP', Soundings, No.38, Spring 2008.


The interview was conducted by Jonathan Rutherford, at the time editor of Soundings, who himself was soon to become a major spokesman for Blue Labour. In 2009, with Labour still in power coping with the Great Financial Crisis, Cruddas and Rutherford wrote (in an article entitled 'The time has come for a new socialism'):

'The recession has dealt a serious blow to the neo-liberal orthodoxy. It was the sale of council housing that helped to secure its popular support. In the name of a property-owning democracy, the modest economic interests of individuals were aligned with the profit-seeking of financialised capitalism. It was a new kind of popular compact between the market and the individual.

'A similar compact between the business elite and shareholder value created a tiny super-rich elite – and became the unquestioned business model of the era. Its values of self-reliance and entrepreneurialism legitimised market-based welfare and pension reform, the drive to a flexible labour market and the transfer of risk from the state and business to the individual. New Labour entered government in 1997 having accommodated itself to the neo-liberal orthodoxy and with plans to deepen and extend its compact.

'Growth in the UK depended on this compact. It was driven by mass consumption which required consumers buying cheap credit. The housing market turned homes into assets for leveraging ever-increasing levels of borrowing. The credit economy created an indentured form of consumption as it laid claim to great tranches of future earnings. The lives of millions were integrated into the financial markets as their personal and mortgage-backed debt became the economic raw material for global capital. This commodification of society engineered a massive transfer of wealth to the rich.

'The neo-liberal model of capitalism generated unprecedented affluence for many. But it corroded the civic culture of democracy. Commodification and huge inequalities helped create a social recession with widespread mental illness, systemic levels of loneliness, growing numbers of psychologically damaged children, and an increase in eating disorders, obesity, drug addiction and alcoholism. It created monopoly forms of capitalism and an increasingly authoritarian, technocratic and centralising state. A ruling class accrued a dangerous amount of power and became a financial law unto itself. The gulf between the political elites and the population widened as economic restructuring destroyed traditional working-class cultures and communities.' (3)

(3) Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford: 'The time has come for a new socialism', The Independent, 1st April, 2009.

But in 2011 this had become 'Labour must fashion a new patriotism':

'Labour in government contributed to the problem. It championed a flexible labour market that undermined people's jobs and wages. Its belief in globalisation blinded it to its destructive force. It celebrated a form of capitalist modernisation that became nihilistic. It abandoned people to the market.

'Globalisation has devastated people's ways of life. People fear the loss of their culture and their identity, which provide their lives with meaning. Who are we? Where do we belong? A disorientated culture like our own throws up these questions but it cannot answer them. People are left to cope with uncertainty.

'Labour recoils from the visceral politics of loss and belonging. It has been deaf to the pain. It fears people's bigotry and xenophobia and has been contemptuous of those nostalgic for a past that they imagine was better. But Labour has to make the journey through the loss, the rage against newcomers, the fear of strangers, and the nostalgia for an old way of life. We have supported a multiculturalism that hides the pain of this reality. It has been a practice of avoiding our differences. It has been permission to pass each other on opposite sides of the road.

'We are an immigrant nation. There is no going back and we must find ways of living together and creating a new vision of England. We demand that migrants must be like us. But who actually are we? They must share our British values. But what are they? Newcomers must answer correctly the citizens test. But could we?' (4)

(4) Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford: 'Labour must fashion a new patriotism', The Guardian, 1st July, 2011.

Exactly the questions that encouraged me to initiate a website under the title 'British values'. (5)