Beyond motherhood, apple pie and the frequent use of a dog whistle it offers little to the party moving forward.
‘Blue Labour’, a new way of doing Labour politics based around ‘family, faith and the flag’ is in many ways the inverse of what made New Labour strong. Based on fantasy, not grounded in reality. Frightened of change, not accepting of it. Embracing our own conservatism, not challenging it. And, most importantly, offering not a better tomorrow but a defence of yesterday.
The great achievement of New Labour was in presenting and creating a Labour party that accepted modern Britain, not one that harked back to the Britain of the 1960s and 1970s. The great trap of ‘Blue Labour’ is in a fantastical vision of a Britain that never was and we cannot defend. While we might wish to defend traditional working class communities and patterns of living from demographic change, technological innovation and a globalised economy, we can’t, short of adopting an ultra-Luddite, ultra-protectionist agenda, with all the awful consequences that would entail. We can build new communities for the twenty-first century, but communities based around high-tech industry and green jobs will be fundamentally different from the old communities they replace.
More importantly, New Labour not only accepted the realities of inevitable political and economic change, but it accepted and harnessed them to create a new and better world, whether through redistribution or the teaching of new skills. Sending the majority of British people to university will fundamentally change the communities that people live in, but we shouldn’t mourn the old world but should instead look forward to the new one. The ‘Blue Labour’ alternative would see the party offer the ‘managed change’ that this month’s editorial; a slightly worse version of yesterday, not a better version of today.
A political promise that offers a defence of yesterday, not a better tomorrow, is the biggest flaw of ‘Blue Labour’. Whether in backing the white heat of Wilson, the shock treatment of Thatcherism or the ‘young country’ of Tony Blair, the British people have, in every election since 1945, supported the party that has offered the most optimistic vision of tomorrow. ‘Blue Labour’ is, avowedly and unashamedly, based upon conservatism; a pessimistic philosophy based on the idea that the best any government can offer is a defence of yesterday. When Blair railed against the ‘forces of conservatism’, he was attacking the notion – from any side of the political spectrum – that our best days were behind us, or that the best hope of government is to return to a mythical yesteryear. New Labour at its best is based upon the conviction that our best days lie ahead; that we can improve teacher quality through schemes like Teach First, that we can modernise our economy using high-speed rail, that we can reduce crime and increase employment. This belief is what we lost in 2010 and must recover and use as our guide to victory in 2015, not a grim determination to cling onto yesterday.
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