Exclusive: the end of Blue Labour

"Maurice Glasman's actions have made supporting the project untenable."

Blue Labour, the informal Labour policy group established by Ed Miliband advisor Maurice Glasman, is to be effectively disbanded.

Labour MP Jon Cruddas and Middlesex University academic Jonathan Rutherford have both informed Lord Glasman they no longer wish to be associated with the project following an interview given by the controversial peer in which he expressed a belief that immigration to the UK should be completely halted.

A third influential supporter, Dr Marc Stears, is said by friends to be "deeply distressed" by Glasman's comments, and is also considering his future engagement with Blue Labour.

Asked by the Daily Telegraph's Mary Riddell whether he would support a total ban on immigration, even if just for a temporary period, Lord Glasman replied, "Yes. I would add that we should be more generous and friendly in receiving those [few] who are needed. To be more generous, we have to draw the line."

In response to a further question on whether he supported Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith's call for British jobs for British workers, he responded, ""Completely. The people who live here are the highest priority. We've got to listen and be with them. They're in the right place -- it's us who are not."

The Telegraph profile is the latest in a series of increasingly eccentric interviews and public appearances given by the Labour Peer, in which he has attacked David Miliband, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, and claimed his agenda is influenced by Aristotle, Miles Davis, Aldo Moro, Lionel Messi and the Pope.

Last month Labour Justice spokeswoman Helen Goodman circulated a critique of Blue Labour to all members of the Parliamentary Labour Party in which she claimed, "[Glasman] characterises as female all the aspects of New Labour he dislikes, whereas all the characteristics he applauds he draws as male. It looks more like something suitable for the psychotherapists' couch than a political tract."

"If Glasman thinks we will all greet this with an ironic post-feminist smile, he is wrong. How can we in a country where 1,000 women are raped each week? He seems to be harking back to a Janet and John Fifties era".

Lord Glasman had been warned by both Cruddas and Rutherford that his media appearances were alienating potential supporters, and had asked him to lower his profile. Both men told friends they believed they had been give guarantees that he would do so, with Rutherford reportedly describing his latest intervention as "a breach of faith".

One source close to Blue Labour said, "Both Cruddas and Rutherford repeatedly told Maurice to tone it down, but he ignored them. Their view is the Blue Labour brand is now too contaminated to continue with the project in its present form. They still hope it will be possible to salvage some of the ideas and themes, but Maurice's actions have made supporting Blue Labour in its present incarnation untenable."

Lord Glasman has formed part of what has been described as Ed Miliband's "long-term strategy group" which meets regularly with the Labour leader on Sunday afternoons. Other members of the group reportedly include Guardian journalist John Harris, Jonathan Rutherford, Chuka Umunna, IPPR director Nick Pearce and Compass chair Neal Lawson.

However, Glasman's most recent comments have alarmed Miliband and his team. "Ed values a lot of things Maurice has raised, such as his focus on strong communities," said a source, "but there are a lot of elements of Maurice's agenda he doesn't agree with, and it's a myth that he has become Ed's main policy person."

UPDATE, 12.26 20 July: Maurice Glasman has now sent me a response via email. Here it is in full:

I overstated the position [on immigration]. I was not talking about what should happen.

I want most importantly to reiterate my full and total support for immigrant communities in Britain. I have worked long and hard with people of all backgrounds, trying to build a common life, and have spent many years campaigning for a living wage for all workers in London, including for those from the most vulnerable migrant communities.

We all make mistakes. And this is mine. I just hope that it does not detract from the energy and real goodness of the work. I will do all I can too to strengthen frayed relationships.


Rex Features
Show Hide image

Keir Starmer: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting Brexit wrong”

The former director of public prosecutions is now heading up Labour’s response to Brexit. But can he succeed in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire?

Early in his new role as shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer was accused of being a “second-rate lawyer”. The gibe, in a Commons debate, came from none other than Iain Duncan Smith. Starmer was director of public prosecutions for five years and later stood for parliament in 2015. No novice, then. Within a few days, Duncan Smith stood again in the House, this time to offer his apologies.

A fortnight later, I met Starmer at his quiet office in Westminster. He was sitting at a table piled with papers, in an office that, a discreet family photo aside, was unadorned. He had just got back from a whirlwind trip to Brussels, with many more such visits planned in the weeks ahead.

Starmer returned to the shadow cabinet after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election victory last month. “The series of agreements we will have to reach in the next few years is probably the most important and complex we’ve had to reach since the Second World War,” he told me.

Starmer, who is 54, took his time entering politics. Born in 1962, he grew up in a Labour-supporting household in Surrey – his father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse – and was named after Keir Hardie. After studying law at Leeds University, he practised as a human rights barrister and became a QC in 2002. In 2008, after varied legal work that included defending environmental campaigners in the McLibel case, he became the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales as well as director of public prosecutions, positions he held until 2013.

When in 2015 Starmer ran for a seat in parliament to represent Holborn and St Pancras in London, it was assumed he would soon be putting his expertise to use in government. Instead, after Labour’s election defeat under Ed Miliband, he served as one of Corbyn’s junior shadow ministers, but resigned after the EU referendum in June.

Now, he is back on the opposition front bench and his forensic scrutiny of government policy is already unsettling the Conservatives. Philippe Sands, the law professor who worked with him on Croatia’s genocide lawsuit against Serbia, says he couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the Brexiteers in parliament. “It’s apparent that the government is rather scared of him,” Sands said. This is because Starmer is much more capable of teasing out the legal consequences of Brexit than the average Brexit-supporting Tory MP. Sands added: “It would be fun to watch if the stakes weren’t so very high.”

Starmer is a serious man and refused to be drawn on the character of his opponents. Instead, speaking slowly, as if weighing every word, he spelled out to me the damage they could cause. “The worst scenario is the government being unable to reach any meaningful agreement with the EU and [the UK] crashing out in March 2019 on no terms, with no transitional arrangement.” The result could be an economic downturn and job losses: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting this wrong.”

If Starmer seems pessimistic, it is because he believes time is short and progress has been slow. Since the referendum, disgruntled MPs have focused their attention on the final Brexit settlement. Yet if, as he argues, the starting position for our negotiations with the EU is wrong, the damage will have been done. MPs faced with a bad deal must either approve it or “risk the UK exiting the EU without a deal at all”.

It is this conviction that is driving his frantic schedule now. Starmer’s first month in the job is packed with meetings - with the representatives of the devolved nations, business leaders and his European counterparts.

He has also become a familiar face at the dispatch box. Having secured a commitment from David Davis, the minister for Brexit, that there will be transparent debate – “the words matter” – he is now demanding that plans to be published in January 2017 at the earliest, and that MPs will have a vote at this stage.

In his eyes, it will be hard for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resist, because devolved parliaments and the European parliament will almost certainly be having a say: “The idea there will be a vote in the devolved administrations but not in Westminster only needs to be stated to see it’s unacceptable.”

In Europe, Starmer said, the view is already that Britain is heading for the cliff edge. It was May’s pledge, that after Brexit the UK would not “return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, which raised alarm. And among voters, there is “increasing anxiety” about the direction in which the UK is moving, he said. Even Tory voters are writing to him.

In the Labour Party, which is putting itself back together again after the summer’s failed coup, immigration remains the most vexed issue. Starmer told me that Labour had “earned a reputation for not listening” on the issue. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show shortly after becoming shadow Brexit secretary, he said immigration was too high and ought to be reduced. But later that same day, Diane Abbott, a shadow cabinet colleague, contradicted him, publicly criticising immigration targets.

Starmer believes there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Take national security, where he warns that there are “significant risks” if communications break down between the UK and the EU. “Part of the negotiations must be ensuring we have the same level of co-operation on criminal justice, counterterrorism, data-sharing,” he said.

Crucially, in a Labour Party where many experienced politicians are backbench dissenters, he wants to reach out to MPs outside the shadow cabinet. “We have to work as Team Labour,” he stressed.

It’s a convincing rallying cry. But for some MPs, he represents more than that: a lone moderate in what can be seen as a far-left leadership cabal. Does he have any ambitions to lead Labour? “Having had two leadership elections in the space of 12 months, the last thing we need at the moment is discussion of the leadership of the Labour Party.” He has agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet, and is determined to stay there.

Starmer has found his purpose in opposition. “If we think things aren’t going right, we’ve got to call it out early and loudly. The worst situation is that we arrive at March 2019 with the wrong outcome. By then, it will be too late.”

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage