Maurice Glasman, Ed Miliband And The Rapid Rise And Faster Fall Of Blue Labour’s Immigration Patriotism

Immigration’s sacred cow status makes it a central stumbling block to intellectual progress. This was illustrated again last week with the implosion of the U.K. Labour Party’s ground-breaking Blue Labour policy group.

The new idea man of the Labour Party, Baron Glasman, was widely denounced for making some allegedly shocking (but actually sensible) remarks about Britain’s need to restrict immigration, such as “Britain is not an outpost of the UN. We have to put the people in this country first.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s chances of becoming Prime Minister have risen this month with his skillful whipping up of the Murdoch phone hacking brouhaha. So it’s useful to inquire into the thinking of those to whom he listens.

Last November, Miliband had the Queen elevate to the House of Lords Maurice Glasman, an obscure London academic and community organizer who had coined the term “Blue Labour” in 2009. Miliband’s hope was that Glasman could come up with a coherent ideology to replace the grand strategy of the old New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: invite-the-world, invade-the-world, and in-hock-to-the-world. (Sound familiar?)

That Miliband respects Glasman, a strikingly heterodox thinker who advocates a sort of patriotic-family-values leftism, a conservative socialism that would have appealed to George Orwell, is encouraging.

Unfortunately, however, the outraged response by Britain’s keepers of the conventional wisdom to Glasman’s pointing out that “itinerant finance” (of which he’s deeply suspicious) profits more from “itinerant labor” than do British workers demonstrates once again that the old left-right paradigm is obsolescent.

Lord Glasman has found himself on the less privileged side of the central ideological divide of the 21st Century—a gap that sprawls across the more familiar ideological chasms of the 20th Century. The crucial question is no longer capitalism vs. communism, but globalism v. localism, imperial centralization v. self-rule, cosmopolitanism v. patriotism, elitism v. populism, diversity v. particularism, homogeneity v. heterogeneity, and high-low v. middle.

Barack Obama, for example, epitomizes the first side of these dichotomies, especially the high-low coalition. By being half-black, he enjoys the totemic aura of the low, but has all the advantages of the high. He has never, as far as anyone can tell, had a thought cross his mind that would raise an eyebrow at a Davos Conference.

In contrast to the President, Glasman is certainly an original thinker. But anybody on his side of these new dichotomies faces a tactical disadvantage.

Because globalists want the whole world to be all the same, they share common talking points, strategies, conferences, media, and so forth.

In contrast, because the localists want the freedom to rule themselves, they often don’t even realize who else is on the same side of this divide.

For example, to most Americans, “socialism” is a very foreign-sounding word. To a lot of Brits, however, socialism is what their grandfathers looked forward to while they fought WWII and then came home to create the National Health Service.

So let me review for Americans the background to Glasman’s unsurprisingly brief run as the intellectual guru of the Labour Party.

The Labour Party was created in the early 20th Century to represent trade unions in Parliament. Its triumph in the 1945 General Election allowed it to nationalize the “commanding heights” of the British economy. But by the 1970s, a fundamental conflict of interest had become obvious: in wage negotiations at nationalized firms, Labour governments were supposed to represent both the unions and the management. This led to chaos and, ultimately, Conservative (“Tory”) rule from 1979-1997.

British conventional wisdom, unfortunately, absorbed the wrong lesson from the 1970s: not that double-dealing was bad—but that low wages were good.

In the mid-1990s, Tony Blair “rebranded” the party as New Labour. With his globalist grand strategy of invite-the-world, invade-the-world, and in-hock-to-the-world, the City of London prospered and New Labour won general elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005.

But in 2010, Blair’s successor Gordon Brown put the last nail in New Labour’s coffin when he was caught on tape denouncing to his aides his own working class Labour supporter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman” for daring to question him about why New Labour had allowed in so many immigrants.

As Glasman pointed out in Progress Magazine, New Labour behaved in a

“‘very supercilious, high-handed way: there was no public discussion of immigration and its benefits. There was no election that was fought on that basis. In fact there was a very, very hard [enforcement] rhetoric combined with a very loose policy going on. Labour lied to people about the extent of immigration and the extent of illegal immigration and there`s been a massive rupture of trust.” [Labour isn’t working, April 19, 2011]

Following Labour’s 2010 defeat, the Tories and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government. When Brown resigned as Labour leader, young Ed Miliband narrowly defeated (oddly enough) his own older brother David to become Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Only 41, Ed Miliband cast about for a new brand for his Party, and a coherent new ideology.

Glassman’s term “Blue Labour” appealed to him, perhaps because by rhyming with “New Labour,” it made clearer the break with Blair and Brown. Moreover, the term plays off of Tory theologian Philip Blond’s Chestertonian Red Tory philosophy that Prime Minister David Cameron sponsored. Finally, Glasman, a former professional jazz musician, wants to emphasize that even if his ideas work, they aren’t going to cure everybody’s blues.

Colors have powerful political connotations in British that are difficult for Americans to grasp. In the U.S., both major parties use red, white, and blue lavishly. (The current custom of portraying Republican states as red and Democratic states as blue dates only from the 2000 Florida recount. Before 2000, the networks switched the party’s colors with each election.)

In contrast, in most of the world, red is the traditional color of international socialism. Since its founding, the Labour Party’s anthem has been The Red Flag, a song whose second verse praises the solidarity of workers in France, Germany, Moscow, and Chicago. Blue came to be seen in Britain, by way of contrast, as the color of conservatism and nationalism.

Yet, as George Orwell repeatedly pointed out, Labour’s base of voters, the actual laborers themselves, have never been terribly cosmopolitan. In fact, they’ve never thought that much of Johnny Foreigner.

It has always driven yuppie leftists mad with rage that they are expected to share their Labour Party with a bunch of working class laborers. For example, Lynsey Hanley denounced Glasman in The Guardian in a column entitled Labour must bury working-class conservatism, not praise it. [April 19, 2011]

That headline suggests exactly why Miliband hired Glasman to shake things up: because Glasman is that rare English intellectual who actually likes working class Englishmen and worries about how to promote their interests.

Glasman recently described Orwell as “a conservative patriot working in a socialist tradition,” and much the same could be said for Glasman himself.

Glasman is not the lucid prose stylist that Orwell was. (Who is?) As Cambridge don David Runciman writes in the July 28, 2011 issue of the London Review of Books:

“But Glasman is that increasingly rare thing in contemporary politics, an authentic, and authentically strange, voice. He is not a pretty writer, but he is an arresting one. He calls his goal ‘socialism in one county’, and you feel he is only half-joking. “

It’s not a joke. The survival of the Northern European welfare state is dependent upon a fair degree of national solidarity. Welfare states can’t afford to attract grifters and goldbrickers from all over the world.

Glasman’s Orwell-like small-c conservatism is apparent in his April 24, 2011 essay for The Guardian:

“Democratic politics, according to this view, is the way citizens come together to protect the people and places that they love from danger. … This always generates a rich and complex politics that is as much about cherishing what you know and love as about the pursuit of progressive ends.”

Glasman’s decade of working for a living wage for housecleaners and the like made him deeply skeptical of immigration’s impact on wages. Progress noted:

“Mass immigration under Labour, he believes, served to ‘act as an unofficial wages policy.’ The party`s position, Glasman contends, occupied a ‘weird space where we thought that a real assault on the wage levels of English workers was a positive good.’”

Glassman went on:

“Globalization, he argues, may be a fact, but it is not a fate. ‘There are different strategies of … mediation and the one that appeals to me most is the one pursued by Germany.`”

Glasman went into more detail in his Guardian essay:

“The German economy with its worker representation on the management board, works councils, pension co-determination, regional banks and vocational regulation, in other words with high levels of democratic interference in the economy, emerged with a more efficient workforce, greater growth and with a genuinely modern industrial sector.”

As I pointed out last year in a review of Thomas Geoghegan’s Were You Born on the Wrong Continent, the strength of the German economy suggests that, no matter what The Economist would have you believe, the Germans, with their union-friendly laws, aren’t complete idiots. Glasman echoes Geoghegan’s point that when comes to, say, building BMWs:

“What the laws manage to do in Germany is to keep people together and to hold onto their skills in groups … especially in engineering and quality control. … It’s the kind of group knowledge that our efficient ‘flexible’ labor markets so readily break up and disperse.”

That Glasman and his boss Miliband are ethnically Jewish would perhaps seem anomalous to many American Jews, who, with increasing frequency, mythologize mass immigration as central to America or to Jewishness or to both.

But in general, British Jews appear to be somewhat less leftist than American Jews, especially relative to the general culture. In particular, British Jews seem relatively less fixated than American Jews on enforcing the orthodoxy that mass immigration is an unquestionable good, perhaps because their ancestors trickled into Britain over many generations, rather than into America in one four decade-long mass surge.

Still, while Glasman’s moment in the spotlight was fun while it lasted, it couldn’t last long. His new interview in the leftwing Fabian Review was too frank on immigration:

“Labour, in his view, should not abolish the Tory immigration cap if it wins the next election. ‘There’s no sense of abolition,’ he says. … ‘We’ve got to re-interrogate our relationship with the EU on the movement of labour. So I think we’ve got to renegotiate with the EU.’ His call is to restrict immigration to a few necessary entrants, such as highly-skilled leaders, especially in vocational skills. ‘We might, for example, bring in German masters, as we did in the 15th and 16th centuries to renew guilds.’”

Glasman then didn’t shoot down the interviewer’s suggestion of an immigration moratorium:

“And if that means stopping immigration virtually completely for a period, then so be it? ’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.` “

That was too far.

Dan Hodges reported on July 20 in the New Statesman:

“Blue Labour, the informal Labour policy group established by Ed Miliband advisor Maurice Glasman, is to be effectively disbanded … following an interview given by the controversial peer in which he expressed a belief that immigration to the UK should be completely halted.”

(My emphasis).

Well, everybody knows, you can’t say that.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA’S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA’S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]