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.


David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide