Labour frontbencher Helen Goodman: My fears about Blue Labour

On Monday's Newsnight, shadow prisons minister Helen Goodman MP debated Lord Glasman on the 'Blue Labour' concept; here, she further critiques the idea.

On Monday’s Newsnight, shadow prisons minister Helen Goodman MP debated Lord Glasman on the ‘Blue Labour’ concept; here, she further critiques the idea

Blue Labour’s thesis is that a return to the ideas and practices prevalent at the foundation of the Labour Party – solidarity and reciprocity – can form the basis of significant social change. In my essay “Tradition and Change: Four People – A Response to the Politics of Paradox” (pdf), I view the thesis from the perspective of two communities.

First, the hill farmers of Teesdale, a paradigmatic community whose rights and way of life on the Commons have existed for more than 600 years; then, I look at the Durham Miner’s Gala and the needs of the former coalfields.

The first impression might be that these are very traditional communities and would benefit from the Blue Labour approach. But if we look more deeply, it becomes clear that while voluntarism and co-operation have a part to play, the forces and structure in the modern world require far more than this for them to flourish.

In both cases, only government can take the national and international action they need.

Secondly, I look at the stories of a mother and a priest, where the importance of the welfare state in providing security and opportunities becomes clear. My grandmother collected insurance subs for the ambulance; after the advent of the NHS this wasn’t necessary.

You could of course argue that this community building activity was lost, but most people would prefer to dial 999 in an emergency. I am worried that Blue Labour will be hijacked by those whose real agenda is to destroy the welfare state on which so many people depend.

In my essay, I also show how David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ approach fails to understand that the modern voluntary sector is a partner of government.

Secure communities with strong ties are important, but Labour’s tradition is richer than this- equality, justice, democracy and liberty need to be woven into the fabric. I have written this response to inspire debate within the Labour Party and to create discourse about future direction of policy.

Labour lost the election in 2010, and I am pleased that we are now having the chance to debate the Party’s next moves. I hope that my critique of Politics of Paradox will provoke a discussion about the ideas I have presented and encourage others to add their views.

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