Let us start with one point of agreement with Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour. He is right to focus on regaining Labour’s lost working class vote rather than, as with the Blairites, preposterously concentrating on the tipping points of the swing marginals. Labour lost 5 million votes since 1997, 4 million of them in the 8 Blair years to 2005. The great majority were working class votes, about 3 times more than the middle class votes lost. The need to target the potential working class vote is even more important when in successive general elections 4 out of 10 people on the election register (and perhaps 3.5 million not on it) do not vote, and overwhelmingly they are likely to be working class and potential Labour voters. The question then is: why did they desert Labour and what is necessary to win them back. Glasman’s approach on that seems unimpressive.
Glasman and his three musketeers seem to be keen on ‘Labour coming together to forge a common good in their communities, workplaces and across the nation’ – shades of former Labour-leaning commentator like the communitarian Etzion and third way Giddens. But in the absence of delivery mechanisms and without explaining how the huge institutional blockages of neo-liberal capitalism are to be tackled, this is little more than waffle.
Working class voters are fed up because they felt betrayed by a Blairite government continuing the Thatcherit agenda of unfettered markets, siding with Big Business, keeping trade unions marginalised, consolidating the power of City finance at the expense of industry, the explosion of inequality, and the punishment of ‘hard-working ordinary families’ because of the sins of the bankers, not to mention the Iraq War which was the last straw. ‘Getting together in communities’ as the answer? You cannot be serious.
The real, ugly truth is that Britain has been in long-term decline, almost irrespective of government, for a century. Britain’s GDP per capita was double that of our European competitors in 1913, just before the First World War; we are now behind several EU countries. The City of London is bloated and abusive (and has not been punished or reformed, only cosseted), our manufacturing base is seriously run down and uncompetitive, our educational standards are far below those of Germany and France, the sense of social solidarity has been seriouly depleted by Thatcher’s selfish individualism, private borrowing is ballooning (the OBR expects it to reach £2.13 trillion by 2015!), and there is a loss of national direction, vision and purpose.
Any recipe for Britain that doesn’t answer the depth and profundity of these problems is scarcely worth the paper it’s written on – Blue Labour please note.