In 2010 the theologian Phillip Blond published his influential book Red Tory which criticised both left and right wing’s failures to solving Britain’s problems. From within the Labour Party, the Jewish academic, Maurice Glasman, has led a movement called ‘Blue Labour’. It’s a collection of ideas which emphasises the centrality of faith institutions, the importance of relationships and critiques the power of the market. As Glasman writes:
‘The Labour tradition and the Christian tradition are completely linked, and it’s about protecting the status of the person from commodification and the idea that our bodies and our natural environment are just to be bought and sold. In the politics of the common good, there has never been a greater need for the gifts that the Christian tradition brings, of which the greatest is love.’ (Third Way magazine, February 2012)
I am passionate about Blue Labour. It seeks to renew the more ‘conservative’ aspects of Labour’s tradition, by placing family, faith and relationships at the centre of a different way of doing politics. It believes that the best of Labour’s traditions involves ordinary people organising together to resist the power of the market or the state for the common good. The campaign for the Living Wage is a great example.
Blue Labour thinking speaks to my personal experience. Two years ago I was out of work for a short while. This was a difficult period of my life and my confidence was sapped.
What got me through this testing period?
It was my family, my close friends and the support of my church. It wasn’t my trade union, a state led initiative, or any Labour politicians. Rather, it was strong relationships – my marriage, my family and the practical Christianity embodied in my church which kept me going.
This personal crisis made me reflect on how my faith relates to my political activism. As a Christian on the left, I had begun to feel increasingly alienated by the more secular, libertarian and Metropolitan direction of the New Labour years. For example, I failed to get on the shortlist to stand for Labour in my local area as I said I would not vote against my Christian principles.
The answers for me came through digging deeper into the Christian Socialist tradition. I came to appreciate the conservative values at the heart of the Labour tradition.
Rooted in the ordinary
Politics should be rooted in the ordinary, and the real and not the abstract. Relationships need to be at the heart of the renewal of our society. We need to take seriously the centrality of the institutions, such as local churches, who nurture and help sustain healthy relationships. We need institutions which teach responsibility and care for our fellow man.
Blue Labour has articulated policies such as the Living Wage, worker representation on company boards and the development of community land trusts. It is concerned with supporting and upholding institutions and practices which build the ‘common good’.
I believe that Blue Labour offers a real opportunity for Labour to re-connect with ordinary people. It offers a vision for Labour to make a difference at a community level, year in and year out and not just operate as a soulless election machine.
Stimulating the conversation
A Blue Labour approach made sense to me as it harmonised a lot of the instincts and values that I held dear but have been marginalised too often on the left. Essentially it is a call to return to Labour’s conservative roots and traditions with the aim of renewing the party to face the contemporary challenges in the UK today.
Blue Labour is best seen as a stimulant to a much needed conversation. The role of faith, the centrality of relationships and the ownership that ordinary people can feel for their community are things worth conserving. And they are not only positive values, they are vital for the future of our country. They are also at the heart of the Labour tradition.
The title of this blog, Resistance & Renewal encapsulates a secret of the kingdom of God: that Christians are to challenge the powers of the world and nurture what is good and of God. I believe that Blue Labour offers a chance to ‘resist’ the rejection of positive values and to nourish and ‘renew’ what is best on the left.
Interested to know more about ‘Blue Labour’?
On 6 July in Nottingham, Maurice Glasman, theologian John Milbank and Reverend John Hughes and others will be speaking at a Blue Labour event at Nottingham University. Why not come and join in this conversation?
For more details: ‘Blue Labour Seminar’ on 6th July Nottingham University
Ian Geary works in Public Affairs, is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement and lives in South East London with his wife and their two young children.
4 thoughts on “Into the Blue: Labour’s re-discovery of its conservative roots – by Ian Geary”
Firstly, I’ve been wanting to read up on the principles and Biblical basis of Christian Socialism for a while now, but haven’t found anything that looks like the kind of thing I’m after. Can you recommend me some books or other resources?
Secondly, I’m confused by your comment that New Labour moved the party in a libertarian direction. Many of their major policies (things like ID Cards or 40 days detention without trial) are the complete opposite of libertarian. Could you expand on what you meant by that?
Hi Stephen – just to nip in with some of my recommendations on that subject.
Possible Dreams by Chris Bryant is good on the history of the Christian Socialist Movement and Graham Dale’s God’s Politicians is a good narrative of the parliamentary Labout party from a Christian perspective.
The best book though on the theology of Christian Socialism is (I think) is this one by Alan Wilkinson – I have not still got a copy but its a quality read from what I remember – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christian-Socialism-Scott-Holland-Blair/dp/0334027497
All the best,
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post.
I enclose below my recommendations, some of which Jon has flagged up. I would recommend you start by reading Paul Bickley’s publication for Theos ‘Building Jerusalem’ http://www.lulu.com/shop/paul-bickley/partisan-labour/paperback/product-12657562.html;jsessionid=9AB4551C192FBAFA88E6F72ED9FA3EC2 I also think there is a free download that can be accessed.
Then a good balanced insight would be gained from the following.
George Lansbury – At the Heart of Old Labour by John Shepherd
Arthur Henderson by Chris Wrigley – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Arthur-Henderson-Political-portraits-Wrigley/dp/0708310850/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334177770&sr=1-1
God’s politicians – Graham Dale http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gods-Politicians-Christian-Contribution-Labour/dp/0007100655/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334177703&sr=1-3
Christian Socialism – Scott Holland to Tony Blair – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Arthur-Henderson-Political-portraits-Wrigley/dp/0708310850/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334177770&sr=1-1
In terms of your direct question, I understand the paradox you mean, in that certain Labour policies may have appeared authoritarian to some and you cite the prime examples. However, I would also refer to areas like liberalising the licensing laws, liberalising gambling and a more implicit than explicit social liberal approach to family and sexual ethics. In fact what I reflect in my article is a tendency of some in the Labour Party towards a secular, liberal and metropolitan worldview which I do not share and I think does not reflect the disposition of those voters who have traditionally self-identitified as Labour voters. In my experience this outlook is dominant in the upper echelons of the party and is illiberal in its views of many things outwith its definition of orthodoxy.
In can be quite limiting to communicate via the internet and would be happy to meet for a coffee and chat further.