Glasman calls for a break from ‘viagra or vivisection’ (that’s growth or cuts, to you)


 

Lord (Maurice) Glasman promised us a more academic talk than one fit for policy, when he addressed a small audience in Westminster and academic it was, writes Carl Packman.

Not academic, however, like data-heavy, laden with field reports and case studies, but academic in the nouveau sense, flitting between history, economics, geography and political philosophy; unstructured and unkempt.

The subject of the talk, unsurprisingly, was about Blue Labour, and how it reconstructs and revisits the local, big society, responsible capitalism and community growth streams.

Glasman, in his inimitably tart fashion – looking like Buster Keaton’s GP cousin – explored the deficit of real democratic politics today, the grossly vague answers we have on political economy, the sum total of our political problems, and his timely solutions.

He noted that for the Blue Labourite, seemingly a new creature in town – the answers to what constitute democratic politics comes straight from the rulebook of Aristotle. Once history and geography are removed from the political, he reminds us, democratic politics is reduced to nothing, thus necessitating the traditional and the local in today’s political sphere.

Moreover, a concern of Glasman’s is that citizenship has ceased to be a political category. It is less clear when it ever was in the history of conservative and/or Conservative party politics, but in the Labour tradition, as Glasman would observe, the civic and the relational were cornerstones, and politics today is at risk of losing this to the financial and multinational.

Though Glasman is not pursuing an anti-capitalist politics, not even a conservative anti-capitalism, predicated on fear of the modern, and loathing of change (for the sake of it). His is a dry conservatism comfortable with free trade as a means of keeping check on autocratic hubris.

Something that should keep the left up tossing and turning is that Glasman is conservative in the sense that tradition is preferable because it has sustained the test of time (this is good old-fashioned anti-liberalism), whereas his appeal to radical politics extends only to allow for free trade economics to stop leaders from getting above their stations. He is no disavowed Fabian socialist to be sure.

The problems of politics today, as he sees them, is that policymakers don’t seem to be able to translate the politics of “reciprocity” into something that promotes “prosperity and growth”.

This is a tough point to unpack, but one can only imagine Glasman means that government and local authorities are ill at ease promoting the kind of mutual politics that accepts that state intervention and market solutions are dead ducks.

Of all the ways in which it has been explained how stale politics is today, and how immature politicians and policymakers are at finding solutions, seldom has anyone tried to use such obscure figures for illustration as the ones Glasman uses. He notes that before we can ask Lenin’s question “what is to be done,” we must first grapple with Marvin Gaye’s question “what’s going on?”

In an analogy that breaks it to us gently that neither the state, nor the market, can help us now, opening up a nauseating, almost Sartrean, sense of freedom, Glasman points out that the “problem is not that we’re neither here nor there, but that we’re all at sea”. In other words, we need to embrace being communities and not state subjects or market players.

What does this mean? For Glasman it is trying to break free from today’s limiting politics of “viagra or vivisection,” that is to say growth or cuts. This political limitation is holding back radicalism. It is about promoting regional diversity, where the East Midlands becomes a hub for transport, and where the South West becomes a hub for fishing (and, as Glasman noted, to comic effect, cheese).

In a sense he is calling for regional divisions of labour, rather than too much focus on one financial centre point in the East of London for our prosperity.

Glasman wants us to look back at London’s inheritance, when the City of London was born as a commune in 1191, and not as a “well-endowed lobbyist for the financial sector”. He wants us to learn from this time and renew the vocational economy, institute leadership academies to challenge managerialism, and replace 50 per cent of all existing universities with vocational colleges.

Glasman is nothing if not insanely idealistic.

The outcome of his talk was to demonstrate that community politics, for all the vacuous talk of it for years, from David Miliband’s double
devolution of power to “earned autonomy”, is really coming. And government can even help it along the way. But first policymakers have to think beyond simple binary politics (cuts versus no cuts, Labour versus Tories, states versus markets).

However the headlines, if any at all for this speech, will be on Glasman’s reassurance that he is a committed Ed Miliband supporter.

During the question and answer session an ITN reporter, clearly planning her question rather than listening to what Maurice had just been speaking about, asked whether he felt Ed had broken through yet and proven his leadership and action for 2012 (referring to Glasman’s contentious New Statesman article in January).

He responded by saying he was “really pleased with how it’s going” and that actually he was “a bit surprised by how much leadership Ed has shown”. So there you have it. Political theorists can advance radical ideas until they’re blue (pun intended) in the face, but journalists just want gossip. Will this speech amount to much? Probably not.

See also:

Glasman is battling over postage stamps, but growth is the priorityCormac Hollingsworth, January 9th 2012

Blue Labour exclusive: David, Ed, Glasman and community organisingRowenna Davis, September 25th 2011

Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice GlasmanDaniel Elton, September 22nd 2011

Glasman: Businesses want Labour and the unions to be “partners in growth”Shamik Das, September 7th 2011

It may soon be time ‘to draw the line’ on GlasmanDaniel Elton, July 18th 2011

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  • Anonymous

    The problem is that you are lost.

    You don’t know where you are.

    In particular any talk of growth or cuts cannot be had without a full and frank disclose of government debts.

    It’s started. The whole of government accounts has listed a figure for government borrowing (accurately stated) and civil service pension debts. The latter still being fiddled by assuming they hold assets (there are none) and that the assets never default.

    Given that even this figure is far bigger than the borrowing, its already in the nightmare realm.

    Now the unions are constantly going on about average of 4K per civil servant pension. If the debt is that large for a small pension, now work out the debt for the state pension.

    All talk about protecting this, cutting that is willy waving unless you know if you are in the mire up to your ankles, knees, waste or 20 meters down.

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  • Leon

    Interesting topic. Shame about the writing. Too many long sentences, overuse of punctuation, confused structure, randomness throughout. Sort it.

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