Above: His Lordship
What a pre-Christmas treat the Morning Star gave us! More than a whole page given over to an anti – EU tirade under the snappy headline ‘Brexit offers the possibility for socialists to lead a political transformation – The immediate task before us is to leave the EU and break the constraints on democracy that it represents’.
And if that wasn’t enough to stir the patriotic hearts of all loyal readers, the author closes with the clarion-call “No deal is the real deal and the left should unite in pursuit of that end. You might call it government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Along the way, this fearless tribune of the people declares “We need to leave the EU and concentrate on pursuing a national renewal based upon democracy and the dignity of labour, a defence of freedom and humanity from the iron cage of Napoleonic directives and Thatcherite economics that the EU has become. It is not a cliff edge.”
The author of this thunderous demand for democracy and the dignity of labour was billed simply as ‘Maurice Glasman’, but why did the M Star not give him his full title? He is, of course, The Lord Baron Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill who has graced the red benches of the House of Lords since elevated there in 2011 on the recommendation of Ed Miliband, for whom he was a leading adviser.
In fact, for a couple of years culminating in mid-2011, Glasman led a highly influential movement that many expected to take over the Labour Party: Blue Labour. In the puff for the movement’s launch at Conway Hall in April 2009, Glasman (then just Dr Glasman, Senor Lecturer in Political Theory, London Metropolitan University) described Blue Labour as “a deeply conservative socialism that places family, faith and work at the heart of a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity”.
Blue Labour included in its ranks the (then) influential MPs Jon Cruddas and James Purnell, plus a number of prominent academics, notably Jonathan Rutherford (Professor of Cultural Studies, Middlesex University) and Marc Steers (Lecturer in Political Theory, Oxford University). Alan Finlayson (Professor of Political and Social Theory, University of East Anglia), while claiming to be critical of some aspects of Blue Labour thinking, ensured positive coverage on the Open Democracy website. It was also fairly obvious that Blue Labour enjoyed a close ideological affinity with Phillip Blond’s ‘Red Tories’. For a brief period in 2011 it looked as though Ed Miliband was set to adopt Blue Labour as the party’s semi-official think tank, adopting their ideas pretty much wholesale. The media was fascinated and Glasman gave a series of interviews which were to prove the undoing of himself and his project.
Interviewed by the Blairite Progress magazine in April 2011, he argued against the idea that “everyone who comes is equal and has an equal status with people who are here”. In the same interview he argued for a Labour to drop its hostility to the English Defence League: “You consider yourself … so opposed that you don’t want to talk to them, you don’t want to engage with them, you don’t want anybody with views like that anywhere near the party.” This approach, he argued, is to ignore “a massive hate and rage against us” from working-class people “who have always been true to Labour”. The solution, he said, was “to build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL within our party. Not dominant in the party, not setting the tone of the party, but just a reconnection with those people that we can represent a better life for them, because that’s what they want.”
He went on to suggest that Labour had become hostile to working class men: “working class men can’t really speak at Labour party meetings about what causes them grief, concerns about their family, concerns about immigration, love of country, without being falsely stereotyped as sexist, racist, nationalist” (Labour MP Helen Goodman shortly afterwards wrote a critique of Blue Labour entitled Tradition and Change – Four People, that noted “Glasman characterises as female all the aspects of New Labour he dislikes, whereas all the characteristics he applauds he draws as male”).
Interviewed in July 2011 by the Daily Telegraph’s Mary Riddle, Glasman went further: asked whether he would support a total ban on immigration, even just for a temporary period, he 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 the (then) Welfare Secretary Ian 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.”
As a result of these comments and the approval with which they were received in the right wing press, Blue Labour was deserted and disowned by more or less all its supporters, including Ed Miliband. From then until the appearance of the Morning Star article, virtually nothing has been heard from Glasman; but it would seem that little if anything has changed in his thinking in the intervening period. Knowing what we do about his views on immigration, family values, the virtues of ‘traditional’ communities and his contempt for what he regards as ‘liberalism’ (eg womens’ rights and multiculturalism), it is not difficult (despite his opaque language) to decipher what His Lordship really means in those sections of his M Star article that touch on (supposedly)’cultural’ matters:
“The cultural crisis is the most difficult for the left and for the coalition we need to build. That is because the socialist tradition of which I am part thinks that we are social beings, that we are constituted by unchosen traditions such as language, relationships and religions that are part of an inheritance
“The cultural crisis of Brexit is the distance between the liberal assumptions of the rulers and enduring ethics of the moral economy held by the ruled. Brexit is a class issue.”
Like so many petty bourgeois (and big bourgeois) would-be ‘socialists’ Glasman is the worst kind of workerist: one who (approvingly) believes that working class ‘culture’ necessarily involves backward attitudes towards women, immigrants and (no doubt) various minority groups. He ignores the fact that the vast majority of trades unionists and class conscious workers do not support Brexit, are not racists and do not oppose women’s rights. Presumably the Morning Star editors were aware of Glasman’s views when they commissioned his article and, so presumably, they were happy to overlook them. In a sense, of course, the M Star is entirely correct about this: Glasman is the very embodiment of what Brexit (with a thin veneer of ‘communitarian’ pseudo-radicalism) actually means.