Last week, my job took me to the One Nation Labour conference at Queen Mary, University of London. There I saw a series of lectures followed by Q&A’s on what the future direction of the Labour party should and should not be. It was a fascinating day – the Lib Dem baiting they have gotten used to falling back on has (mostly) stopped and there seems to be an honest appraisal under way within Labour’s ranks about how they want to move forward. Of most interest to Lib Dems, and indeed liberals of all self-applied stripes, were ideas around liberalism and its relationship with the Labour party put forward by Phillip Blond and Maurice Glasman.
Phillip Blond wrote a book a few years back entitled “Red Tory”, the central idea of which was that while the 20th century in British politics played out mostly as a battle between conservatives and socialists, Blond argues that the real enemy of both conservatism and socialism is liberalism. Further, that socialism is actually quite conservative when all is said and done and that conservatives should not fear the size of the state and should indeed abandon neo-liberal economic policies as they will never bring about the kind of society built around flag, faith and family they so desire. Maurice Glasman, meanwhile, is the architect of Blue Labour, whose concept was that Labour had been too eager through the years to simply accept social liberalism as being an intrinsic part of what the party was all about, and that it should now embrace certain aspects of social conservatism that he deems to be necessary for collectivism to work. “Labour is not the liberal party,” Glasman responded with when some on the left felt some his ideas went too far. Some of those people were in attendance at Queen Mary last week and looked distinctly uncomfortable during both Blond and Glasman’s lectures; at the same time, lots of people were nodding in agreement throughout, clearly enraptured by this approach.
Blond thinks that politics should be refreshed along the lines of a sort of liberal party v an anti-liberal/non-liberal/post-liberal party, whichever you prefer (Blond chooses the very latter nomenclature). Glasman proposes nothing quite so bold, but mostly I think due to his tribal Labour leanings (he does however feel that Labour embracing social conservatism would bring back a large chunk of Tory votes to his party). I’m interested to hear what Lib Dems think of this idea. Not because I think it’s going to happen any time in the near future (tribal Tory and Labour politics are certainly not ready for such a thing) but because, in my opinion, to think about such an idea and whether or not we as liberals think it would be a good thing gets right to the heart of what the party is all about and why it exists.
I for one think such a reconfiguration of the political landscape would be a good thing. I agree with Phillip Blond on the idea that it would re-invigorate politics due to the fact that many people tend to vote along the lines of whether they are a liberal or a conservative (small c in both instances) and yet the party system as it is structured doesn’t allow for such a distinction to be made. I accept that the biggest dilemma this new liberal construct would face would be its approach to social democracy (as would it be for the “post-liberal” party). But I think such a conversation would be a great opportunity as well and one that social democrats have little to fear from – I think there is a consensus around the idea that public services matter to people in this country and that some sort of supply side revolution is not going to be politically palatable to a majority of voters any time soon.