Simply wonderful hour long talk from Maurice Glasman here recorded from the evening of the Labour conference discussing Blue Labour amongst other things. Love the bit in which Lord Glasman discusses delivering a talk to an audience including the Pope where an American audience member half-wittedly denounces Glasman’s approach in rather hysterical fashion- ”Mr Lord or Baron or whatever you are! What you’re saying is pure unadulterated Communism!” at which point a Cardinal unbelievably named ‘Cardinal Marx’ (isn’t life wonderful?) intervenes ”No. There *is* a problem with the commodification of the person under Capitalism,” and the Pope himself also gets up to praise the Labour peer and awards him with a medal for services to Catholic Social Teaching. Remarkable stuff, do watch the whole speech the segment to do with the Pope comes in at around 40 minutes in:
In the wider sphere a very well crafted response to the conference overall came from Jonathon Freedland, it reads:
”An iron law of politics has been broken. The rulebook states clearly that if traditional Labour red meat is gobbled up inside the conference hall, the electorate watching from afar will start to gag. For at least three decades that has been the received wisdom, accepted by Labour luminaries along with the rest of the political class: if it tickles Labour’s erogenous zone, then it’s too leftwing for the country.
But that was before Ed Miliband’s proposed 20-month freeze on energy bills. It sent the Brighton conference hall into convulsions of ecstasy, of course, but it also received an “off the charts” welcome from the public. Indeed, it’s had the Conservatives and their allies reeling in rare confusion as they head to their own clan gathering in Manchester. Usually the Tories can cheerfully brand any Labour move leftward as a doomed journey into electoral Siberia: what should they say now, when Ed’s hint of red is unarguably popular?
It prompts an intriguing thought: if using the state to rein in the energy behemoths finds favour with the voters, what other left ideas might be popular? Can Miliband repeat his success and craft a populism of the left?
If populism often comes down to channelling public anger against a perceived elite, there is plenty of rich terrain for Labour to explore, much of it in the same area exploited so adroitly this week. The party’s former pollster, Deborah Mattinson, says that any action against the banks, widely loathed since the crash of 2008, remains an automatic vote-winner. It seems there is not a spending measure yet invented that cannot be sold to the public, so long as it is funded by a levy on bankers. Meanwhile, the corporate giants exposed for paying next to no tax – Starbucks, Amazon, Google and the like – have also made “hitting big business very popular”.
The polling suggests that Miliband could go much further and still keep the public onside. Forget a mere freeze on bills followed by a “reset” of the broken energy market: 69% of the public want to see the energy companies renationalised. A similar number would like the railways back in public hands. Any action on petrol prices would enjoy huge approval: along with home heating, it’s the daily cost voters complain of most. While he’s at it, Miliband can draw comfort from the knowledge that a 50p top rate of tax commands 68% support, with equal enthusiasm for Labour’s proposed mansion tax on £2m-plus properties.
All of this would be both in Labour’s comfort zone and popular. What, though, of those areas where Labour’s instincts apparently diverge from the public’s – tough matters such as welfare or immigration? Surely on those, it is only Ukip and the Tories who can play the populist card? Not necessarily.
Start with welfare – or, as Labour would need to rebrand it, social security. The Conservatives see this as Labour’s prime weakness: why not play Tory bingo in Manchester, counting up how often Labour is dubbed “the welfare party”. It’s a George Osborne-Lynton Crosby favourite, knowing it fits with a focus-group perception of Labour as the layabouts’ champion. Yet Labour need not resign itself to this fate. There could be a way to make its own views connect, even here, with the public’s. Presentation makes a difference: emphasising children who need help is always powerful, as is highlighting the plight of people with disabilities, central to the effective campaign against the bedroom tax. But it’s not enough.
Nick Pearce, the one-time head of the Downing Street policy unit who now runs the IPPR thinktank, offers a reminder that state provision of, say, education, health and pensions remains hugely popular: “The collective approach still resonates with people.” Britons still recoil from a world in which it’s every man for himself: the challenge is to extend that impulse to those who have fallen on hard times, those currently branded “skivers”. Pearce suggests a crucial step is giving welfare provision an institutional embodiment. People do not resent paying for education and health because they can see schools and hospitals with their own eyes. Income transfers that show up as digits on a bank account don’t have the same emotional power. Labour got it right this week, says Pearce, by ensuring its increase in childcare provision will come through neighbourhood children’s centres rather than by giving parents more in tax credits. Tangible services run by people you get to know – local institutions – trump mere benefits every time. The public will grow attached to, even come to love, the former, but can eventually despise the latter.
Still, that does not get to the heart of the matter. Public frustration with welfare mostly centres on unfairness, the sense that some people are getting something for nothing. The remedy here surely lies in what Labour’s thinkers call reciprocity, or the contributory principle: reasserting the ethos that underpinned the long-gone mutual and co-operative societies that paved the way for Labour – ensuring that what you get out relates to what you put in. This way, when a woman over 50 gets laid off, she can expect more help, reflecting the fact that she’s been paying into the kitty for longer than most. Jon Cruddas, Liam Byrne and others around Labour’s top table are keen on just such an approach: Miliband himself, it seems, is wary, believing that it’s someone’s need, not their past contribution history, that should determine how much they get.
Immigration is similar, starting with, among other feelings, that same fear of unfairness: why are these people able to come here and enjoy a health service I have been paying into all my life? Labour needs to acknowledge that anger, but then speak to other instincts that are just as popular. The Blue Labour grouping recently did some provisional “paradoxical polling” which produced fascinating results, suggesting exactly where a left populist sweet spot might lie. Large numbers were ready to describe themselves as, for example, “pro-business but anti-bank” or “pro-European but anti-EU”, to say nothing of “pro-worker but anti-union”. Importantly, they also said they were “pro-immigrant, but anti-immigration”.
That could be the cue for a campaign arguing that “the NHS would collapse without immigration: we need the doctors and nurses who have come here to work for it”, a proposition that enjoys 52% support. Next would come the attempt, there in Miliband’s Tuesday speech, to reframe the immigration issue as one chiefly about a labour market so deregulated it’s become ripe for exploitation, channelling people’s anger away from migrants themselves towards the “shady gangmasters” who make their lives a misery and keep wages down.
There are similar moves possible on patriotism or crime. It doesn’t mean parroting the mantras of the right, but rather finding that place where Labour beliefs and public attitudes meet. For years, left populism would have seemed like an oxymoron in Britain. The Tory-supporting press still want that to be true. But this was the week they began to worry they might be wrong.” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/27/ed-milband-new-populism-energy-prices)
Also find here a rather good ILP article discussing Glasman’s contributions:
http://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/2013/07/15/%E2%80%98the-best-asset-we-have-is-each-other%E2%80%99/ and Stephen Beer’s earlier contributions on Labourlist (http://labourlist.org/2013/08/taking-another-look-at-blue-labour/).