Glasman sticks up for Blue Labour

The Labour peer continues to promote his particular brand of anti-managerial politics.

You'd think Maurice Glasman would be all apologised out. The mea culpa seems to be a theme of this year's conference, and Glasman has one all of his own. After his comments on immigration earlier this year (when he suggested that Labour should listen to the EDL and engage with its supporters), the Labour peer and close friend to Ed Miliband was heavily criticised. Since then, Glasman has ladled out remorse, including in the pages of the New Statesman and now in conversation with Channel 4's Gary Gibbon at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool's ornate town hall.

Though many have called time on Glasman's "Blue Labour" project, he continues to promote his particular brand of populist, anti-managerial politics. Today, he offered yet another definition: Blue Labour is "the way people come together to protect people and places they love from exploitation". One of the chief exploiters, says Glasman, is the market, and he's clear that his is a view shared by the Labour leader who believes that "the market humiliates people". Ed Miliband is a "socialist, an intellectual" and loves to talk" about all these ideas in depth. (Glasman quickly regrets the "socialist" line - during questioning from the clutch of lobby journalists present, he clarifies that Miliband is "really a social democrat".)

On the subject of the leadership, he admits that it is taking time for Miliband to find his feet and that recovering from the bruising, family contest for the top job has been a long process. When asked if Miliband had been grieving for his elder brother, Glasman is cagey but concedes that it has "taken a year to find his energy". Glasman, who is friends with both brothers, says that Ed coped "a lot better than I did" with the fall-out. But still, it is only now, thanks to the Murdoch hacking scandal, that he thinks we are starting to see the leader's true abilities, and the "angry insurgent side" of his politics.

Glasman's own position in politics is ambiguous - he is a Labour peer, an academic and evidently still close to the leadership although he says that he maintains a distance and independence from Miliband ("I don't want to overstate my role," he insists). He points to issues, such as higher education (Glasman would like to halve the number of universities, and boost vocational institutions), where his own views differ dramatically from those of the leader. Perhaps he is keen to avoid the fate of Red Tory thinker Philip Blond, who as Gary Gibbon points out, was "lost on journey" by the Conservatives. "I am no pet intellectual," Glasman says, and in any case the ongoing conversation between him and Miliband has been "characterised by argument, so we're unlikely to fall out". At least they're talking: he laughingly mentions that he'd be keen to discuss policy with Ed Balls "who keeps telling me he's going to give me a ring, but it never happens".

As for the House of Lords, Glasman says it can be "lonely at times" - he has not grown up in the political system so doesn't have long friendships with his colleagues. His friends are the staff who work in the library and canteen. And while he loves the place, he wants it to change - believing that the Lords should represent the work of the population in the same way that the Commons represents us geographically. In a classic bit of Glasmanese, he describes his idea as the "vocational House" alongside the "locational House". Perhaps that's another one which Miliband will gently ignore.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era