Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman

Maurice Glasman has led the Labour movement to attempt to understand itself again, and for that he deserves nomination for Most Influential Left-Winger 2010/11.

If there was a new school of thought born in the Labour party in the last year it was Blue Labour. It is an amorphous idea, but at least in Lord Glasman’s paper in the The Labour tradition and the Politics of Paradox, the tendency’s standard-bearer seems to define it as a recognition Labour has lost touch – on so many levels.

Labour has lost touch with its history; a post-Crosland Labour party’s obsession with ends has led to losing touch with the importance of means; Labour’s middle-class wing has lost touch with its working-class base…

But perhaps most of all, in an unrestrained capitalist economy, we’ve lost touch with each other.

No job is sacred, no one holds loyalty to an employer and no duty to a common good exists. Labour’s great mistake (and this is incredibly crudely abbreviated) was to put its faith in a remote state, and then when that failed, in the market. For Glasman, 1945 is when it all started to go wrong.

For Glasman’s problem with the UK in 2011 is that we do not value our relationships, and you do not build those relationships up through remote central state institutions like, for example, the benefits office.

He writes most passionately when writing about these relationships being based in an ancient tradition and being concerned with:

“The preservation of status, limits on the market, an attachment to place, starting with the common sense of people rather than with external values, and a strong commitment to a common life.”

The paper is an intellectual joy, something you could imagine Stephen Fry writing having completed a seven-year PhD in Labour Thought and History. But Glasman’s rollercoaster of Labour history is simply not accurate in places.

So, for example, he writes that Labour in England managed to unite the working class across religious and sectarian divides unlike leftist forces in other countries:

“In cities like Glasgow and Liverpool, as well as London and Birmingham, this was an extraordinary achievement, and one that Labour failed to draw upon in its search for ‘social cohesion’ during the last government.”

But that simply is not the case: in the 1945 Labour landslide, the Conservatives held Glasgow Central; in 1951, when Labour carried its greatest proportion of the vote five out of nine Liverpool seats were carried by Winston Churchill’s party.

This conservative support was based  to some degree on Protestant, unionist, sectarian instincts of the electorate. Labour only managed to heal the sectarian divide after, in Glasman’s terms, the middle-class Fabian mummies had taken over.

More seriously, when he asserts that the 1945 settlement was a middle class power grab, he obviously has not done his reading.

It’s quite clear, for example, from David Kynaston’s brilliant Austerity Britain, that in industries like mining, it was trade unionists who were the most fervent supporters of nationalisation, and wanted nothing to do with workers’ control.

But that is to miss the point of Glasman. His intellectual history is economical in certain areas. Away from the intellectual seminar, what his conservatism actually means is either unclear (there is a lasting mystery over what Blue Labour says on gender) or becomes offensive (referring to a present immigration policy as turning the UK into “an outpost of the UN”).

But he has tapped into a feeling in the Labour movement that it doesn’t understand itself. From the Gillian Duffy moment during the 2010 election, to the revelation that Tony Blair was the Godfather of one of Rupert Murdoch’s children, there is a sense across the organisation that each part – leadership, activists, members, voters and trade unionists – do not know each other, or what they share.

Glasman distilled that sense, gave it a name and harnessed it to an intellectual project. And for that, he must be considered for the title of most influential left-winger in 2010/11.

See also:

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

The wisdom of Labour’s dalliance with conservatism remains to be seenCraig Berry, June 19th 2011

Britain faces a crisis of state and market legitimacyWill Straw, May 11th 2011

Is Maurice Glasman more radical than the nation’s youth?Vincenzo Rampulla, January 18th 2011

17 Responses to “Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman”

  1. eleanor

    Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman: http://t.co/nY7cg3fO by @DanielElton #TheLefties

  2. sdv_duras

    RT @leftfootfwd: Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman: http://t.co/UWkypywX by @DanielElton

  3. Political Planet

    Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman: Maurice Glasman has led the Labou… http://t.co/d2gSbDZu

  4. Shamik Das

    Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman: http://t.co/nY7cg3fO by @DanielElton #TheLefties

  5. Catherine Brunton

    Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11: Maurice Glasman: http://t.co/nY7cg3fO by @DanielElton #TheLefties

  6. Will Davies

    “no job is sacred…”

    If Blue Labour faces one significant banana skin, it’s with remarks like that it steps straight on to it. Can you provide an example of a job that is, could be or should be ‘sacred’?

  7. Daniel Elton

    My take on Glasman – at least he's asking the questions: http://t.co/5Yxtbgpz @sundersays @anthonypainter @tommiller @johnmcternan

  8. Mike Killingworth

    Well, before you can nominate Stoke Newington’s finest (or anyone else) you have to decide what “left wing” is. Glasman for my money wants nothing to do with it, and is merely lamenting the decline of the right-wing working-class tradition within the Labour movement – a tradition that belonged to craft unions, chapels and the Co-op. It was dead a generation ago: for example, when Joyce Butler retired as MP for Wood Green in 1979, she had no political heir to beueath the seat to. It may be worth considering why that should be so: one obvious answer is education. Labour’s Old Right had almost all left school at 14; their children and grandchildren are pretty much all university graduates. And there was no one in the Academy promoting Glasmanite politics in the Old Right’s lifetime – no one would’ve had the neck. There were Croslandite Social Democrats, of course, but they were a horse of a different colour, and a horse, moreover, that bolted in 1981.

    Glasman’s crack about the United Nations refers accurately to the reason that left-wing politics are in such decay in the 21st century. The sources of political cleavage are race, religion and class; of these three, class is the weakest – as Daniel rightly points out – and it is only possible to organise around class where the population is ethnically homogenous and religious differences are minimal. The wonder is not that Labour is doing so badly, but that it is not doing a whole lot worse. Much of its remaining support is a “payroll vote” and this Government is not unaware of the political ramifications of outsourcing as much Government spending as humanly possible, whether this provides savings to the taxpayer or no.

    Finally, there is a greater problem which neither Glasman nor any other theorist has properly addressed. Left politics claims to promote fairness and equality. This claim has been at the heart of its political styles over the last 150 years, whether you think of “Trade Union consciousness”, “democratic centralism”, or even anarcho-syndicalism. Yet if the claim can be cashed at all, it can only be cashed inside a national boundary – the purpose of politics is to control the State apparatus, after all. In to-day’s global village, where an ever increasing proportion of the prolatariat in Britain has strong family ties to various parts of Asia, Africa or eastern Europe, such a programme has limited appeal. And that is before we try to address the objection that no one wants to be treated equally or fairly – everyone wants power and privilege. Why else is Islam so popular?

  9. Paul Jeater

    Personally I’m not at all impressed with Blue Labour, if its influential then it shows how far from democratic socialism the Labour party has drifted since I joined it in 1979.

    As for the most interesting read this year I’d recommend Good Society/Green Society The Red Green Debate , download it from Compass.

    If I was to nominate anyone as the thinker who has influenced debate/discussion I nominate Tim Jackson. His work “Prosperity without Growth” shows the flaws and myopic approach of mainstream politics, and of course Ed Miliband took it on holiday with him,(I hope he read it.

  10. Paul Jeater

    RT @leftfootfwd: Most influential left-wing thinker of 2010/11 – Glasman http://t.co/X2SkxRjb. Seriously thought it was a bad joke at first

  11. Leon Wolfson

    Most influential RIGHT-wing thinker, perhaps.

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