Is Blue Labour anti-women?

A senior Labour MP criticises the project for "harking back to a Janet and John era".

Today's Mail on Sunday suggests there is a row developing among senior Labour MPs over the Blue Labour project. It quotes Helen Goodman, the party's Justice spokeswoman as having criticised the "all male clique", which includes the academic Maurice Glasman, currently arguing for Labour to adopt a programme of (small-c) conservative values centred on "flag, faith and family".

Specifically, Goodman criticises a passage in the recent Politics of Paradox, a collection edited by Glasman and his fellow academic Jonathan Rutherford, that praises a "patriarchal social order" and alleges this has been disrupted by "the growing independence of women". In her response, a pamphlet titled "Tradition and Change" (PDF), Goodman writes:

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.

The MoS is keen to spin this as an ill-tempered political squabble and describes Goodman as an ally of the "arch-feminist" Harriet Harman. However, Goodman has produced a more sustained and thoughtful critique of Blue Labour than this would suggest. By taking case studies from her own constituency of Bishop Auckland, Goodman argues that too strong an emphasis on localism and community values overlooks the need for government to act on a national and international scale.

The MP told Liberal Conspiracy of her fears that Blue Labour "will be hijacked by those whose real agenda is to destroy the welfare state on which so many people depend".

Crucially, Goodman also comments on Blue Labour's appeal to nationalist sentiment, and highlights a passage by Rutherford that claims:

Individual self control, hard work and willingness to delay or forego reward and gratification provided social glue and the purposefulness of a national, imperial destiny!

Goodman describes this as "drum and trumpet jingoism". She argues we must understand the full implications of four centuries of Empire - and how it has led to our present multicultural society - if we are to ensure social, economic and political rights for all citizens of this country.

It's worth reading Goodman's pamphlet in full. Are her criticisms valid? Do they go too far - or not far enough?

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.