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.