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'Uncomfortable reading': Jon Cruddas reviews 'Blue Labour'

3 min read

An imaginative attempt at transcending binary politics, Lord Glasman’s book will make for an unsettling read for many Labour supporters

Keir Starmer’s strategy appears simple. Create a “small target” and ensure the coming election is a referendum on the government. It makes sense, borrowing heavily from Labor’s recent success in Australia.

Importing such a strategy is not risk-free, however. It might come at the expense of demotivating our traditional voters – a different proposition down under, where you have compulsory voting. Despite such caveats, it is a rational strategy, paying dividends in regular poll leads when only three years ago we trailed by 25 points. Given an 80-strong Tory majority, and the fallout from Brexit and the Jeremy Corbyn years, Starmer is playing a blinder in short-circuiting a Labour route back to power – something unimaginable in December 2019. But. But. But.

How soft is the vote lead? Is this politics by default? What are the consequences of a “small target” strategy in creating a mandate for change and a robust agenda for government in a country consumed by multiple crises?

An alternative interpretation of this strategy is that it remains not the rational choice but the only choice. After four wretched defeats in less than a decade, Labour has lost the intellectual resources and agility to move beyond an ever-present trap game of political binaries – of young versus old, Remain versus Leave, urban versus rural, between those with and without a degree – that truncates the left and that remains a bulwark for the present government. The only option is to shrink the target.

If it makes us feel uncomfortable is that such a bad thing?

One way to counteract this tendency might be to excavate history; to revisit and reclaim radical traditions absent from the modern conversation. We could start with Maurice Glasman’s new book Blue Labour, an imaginative attempt to transcend these binaries and re-enact a politics of the common good. This will be an unsettling read for many Labour supporters. He celebrates, for instance, “the decisive role of the working class in asserting national sovereignty… to renew the ancient institutions of Parliament and the common law” through Brexit which, he asserts, remains “incomprehensible to the left”. This is tough stuff. Yet we might all agree Brexit was itself symptomatic of some deeper malaise. 

At a time when the capacity of the political class appears inversely related to the scale of the challenges we face, Glasman doesn’t hide. Unfashionably he heads straight for the deep end, and returns to ethics and political fundamentals. He recites the degradations intrinsic to capitalism, the excesses of the market and the state, and the need for a new “covenant” to rescue both humanity and nature. He also traverses from the abstract and the ancient to the concrete and the specific. Numerous practical policies flow from his return to the first principles of politics, including a new industrial policy, vocational education and training, rebuilding the architecture of the firm and the dignity of labour, enhanced devolution and local government and our stewardship of nature. 

If it makes us feel uncomfortable, is that such a bad thing? Given where the country is, and where we are heading, nothing this important is going to be easy. 

Jon Cruddas is Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham

Blue Labour: The Politics of the Common Good
Written by: Maurice Glasman
Publisher: Polity


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