Blue Labour: What is to be done?

The Young Fabian Book Club met this week to discuss Adrian Geary and Adrian Pabst’s “Blue Labour”. The Book is a collection of essays from prominent thinkers in the Blue Labour movement and seeks to set out what the movement stands for.

 

Maurice Glasman begins his essay, one of the most enlightening in the book, by saying that before we can ask Lenin’s question of ‘What is to be done?” we must first ask Marvin Gaye’s question “What’s going on”. A rather glib statement, but one that sticks:

Blue Labour seems to have a knack for these, like the one message Milibandism took from Blue Labour, “One Nation Labour”. It also goes straight to the core of the issues touched upon by the book, as discussed by the YF Book Club.

One of the major strengths of the book, and arguably the Blue Labour movement as a whole, is that is provides an insight into some of the problems Labour has speaking to modern society. We in the UK have moved on from working class men going down the mine and women minding the hearth. Society is becoming increasingly diverse, and new communities are adding new narratives. We discussed that the Tories have pushed economic liberalisation, and Labour pushed social liberalisation. The result is a much more atomized society. Labour’s policies traditionally spoke to collective communities which no longer exist.

In reading Blue Labour, it is refreshing to see people grapple with understanding the fears and concerns about modern society, particularly amongst the ‘working class white’. It clearly identifies a vacuum left by the disappearance of society as we once knew it.

Where the book fails however, is in proposing how to fill that vacuum. Few of the essays give any solutions, and those that do are often unpalatable to the modern Labour Party, suggesting restoring patriarchy or closing borders to immigration. Whilst we discussed that Blue Labour is not in itself a racist or sexist movement, it can leave a space for those views to grasp at legitimacy.

Another main theme that runs through the book is the loss of ‘Faith, Family and Flag’. Here, the Book Club discussion was particularly interesting, as many in the group differed over the relevance of each section. Without analyzing our whole debate, we concluded that we all felt the lack of something, but understood that the concepts are no longer what they once were; what is ‘faith’ in a multi-faith, increasingly secular society? What is family in a world where the traditional nuclear family is no longer the norm? And what does ‘flag’ mean in a Britain with emergent competing national identities?

Unfortunately, the book does not provide any answer to these questions, and where it does, it verges close, again, to ideas that could be regarded as racist or sexist at worst, and imagined tradition at best.

A quick vote at the end revealed that no one could identify with Blue Labour as espoused in the book, although all but one identified with Blue Labour as a wider concept. (I feel I must interject that I was the one who did not identify, and the only woman present, perhaps giving credence to the complaint that Blue Labour is for white men.)

We were all agreed, however, that Blue Labour is not a repugnant racist, sexist movement as many would have you believe. It raises some uncomfortable questions about how progress has hurt many people – questions to which the left must give answers. Sadly, the book did not come close to providing any, leaving room for some unsavoury ideas to take root.

The Young Fabian Book Club meets regularly throughout the year. To get involved, look out for upcoming events, or email info@youngfabians.org.uk

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