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The Blue Baron bounces back

This article is over 10 years, 3 months old
Tom Walker takes a look at a book that reveals Maurice Glasman’s influence at the top of the Labour Party
Issue 2273

Blue Labour is not dead. That is the message of a new book that lifts the lid on just how influential Baron Maurice Glasman is inside the Labour Party.

Glasman was made a peer by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who liked his “Blue Labour” ideas. But he was widely written off after provoking a media storm by calling on Labour to involve “people who support the English Defence League within our party” and for an end to all immigration.

But in a new book, Tangled Up in Blue: Blue Labour and the Struggle for Labour’s Soul, author and Labour councillor Rowenna Davis reveals how the project lives on.

Miliband—speaking after Glasman’s immigration outburst—tells her that Blue Labour is “ahead of its time” and credits it for his speeches’ focus on “responsibility”.

And he defends Glasman’s disgusting immigration comments by saying, “You have to give some intellectual space for some people”.

Davis reaffirms that Blue Labour still “believes in bringing all interests to the table, even those we might find unsavoury such as the far-right EDL”.

Miliband and his senior advisers are still meeting Glasman, the book reveals—and he even “still contributes his speechwriting skills”.

Blue Labour appeals to those who prefer to blame Labour’s electoral defeat on being “out of touch” with a right wing, anti-immigrant version of the working class—instead of blaming Tony Blair’s wars and privatisation.

Davis is sympathetic to Blue Labour. But as she reveals how much the party is still “tangled up” with Glasman, she blows open a scandal.

Blue Labour’s version of history shows just how right wing Glasman is. He is all for Labour up to 1945—but then, he says, “There was a wrong turn in philosophy.” What was that? The founding of the welfare state.

“Welfare state, social state… I’m not happy with any of them,” he says. “Anything that does things for people without asking anything of them is humiliating.”

He adds that he thinks the founding of the NHS led “to a massive erosion of solidarity”. “Blue Labour doesn’t like benefits,” Davis explains.

“Rather than opening more Sure Start centres, Glasman would like to see the state facilitating introductions between neighbours who take it in turns to look after each others’ children.”

Of course Glasman thinks he is an exception. Since becoming a peer, he claims £300 a day just for turning up at the House of Lords. He built “an entire new level” on his flat with the cash, the book adds.

Blue Labour is like a cynical game—think of a horrifically reactionary idea and then do academic somersaults to try to make it sound appealing.

So Glasman says he opposes both the market and the welfare state because he believes in “community”. He says he is talking about “responsibility” at the top and bottom of society. He slams people on benefits, then rants against “finance capitalism”.

It is well known that Glasman set up Blue Labour as an equivalent of Phillip Blond’s “Red Tory” ideas—now better known as David Cameron’s “Big Society” rhetoric.

The book reveals a more direct link. Blond calls Glasman a “dear friend”, and says he promoted him as a “sister movement” to Red Toryism.

Blond “took to coming around to Glasman’s crowded flat”, writes Davis. “This was an intimate space where the family lit candles and ate together.”

Glasman’s lucky break came when he was able to use his involvement in Citizens UK to make friends in high places, thanks to the hype around Barack Obama’s so-called “community organising”.

It is hardly surprising that allies like Blairite politician James Purnell have jumped on the Blue Labour bandwagon. But TUC economist Duncan Weldon is also on board. He meets Glasman regularly on Thursdays—“curry night in the Lords”.

Glasman quickly rose “straight to the top of the party through little more than meaningful friendships,” the book says.

One of his staunchest allies is Labour MP Jon Cruddas. A few weeks after the immigration row, Cruddas made peace with Glasman and said he was “still prepared to be associated with the [Blue Labour] label”.

It was Cruddas who came up with Blue Labour’s slogan “family, faith and flag”. This book reveals where he stole the phrase from—that great champion of the US working class, Sarah Palin.

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