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What will the new British politics look like?

What will fill the space left by Third Way politics?

A tabloid editor in 2006 once told John Harris for the Guardian “Britain is booming.” This message, widely accepted by politicians, encapsulated two things:

1) that some were able to pretend “walled-up factories, Poundstretcher shops, [and] low-paid service-sector jobs” didn’t exist or matter, and

2) metropolitan politics was the order of the day, and perpetuated in the mainstream press.

Well, as the ideological spending cuts begin to pinch, and metropolitanism starts to lose the electoral power it once had during the boom years, the target political audience has shifted.

While the Liberal Democrats have created their own demise, Labour and the Tories have both been on a soul searching mission for a post-third way, post-New Labour politics (which they both appealed to) and have come to the conclusion that communities in decline are the new target.

For Cameron, addressing the problems of immigration and multiculturalism was the way forward, while for Ed Miliband (who yesterday said people “lost trust” in Labour over immigration) the squeezed middle needed representation (aware, as he is, that according to a survey by BritainThinks seven in 10 Britons identify as Middle Class).

Think tanks and academics are showing the same findings. For Respublica, whose recent report on the dominance of four supermarkets and forthcoming report on how community social capital can replace the state in the protection of children, empowered communities, not multinational corporations that concentrate too much wealth, will be the bedrock of a big society.

For Maurice Glasman, whose ‘blue labour’ idea has caught the attention of Ed Miliband, “family, faith and flag” and the reintroduction of working class social conservatism in mainstream politics will counter the hegemony of liberal elite politics, so embedded into Blairite politics, and be a major deterrent against far right politics in vulnerable communities.

But don’t we need metropolitanism?

As David Aaronovitch put it in 2000:

“I am, of course, a member of the metropolitan, liberal elite. I am for gay rights, asylum-seekers, the euro, metric measurements, devolution, feminism, dearer petrol, fewer cars, intervening in Sierra Leone, change, reggae and experimenting with exotic foods.”

The problem for the Left, particularly the socialist Left, is that they are for some – perhaps most – of those things too, as well as the reintroduction of vulnerable or forgotten communities back into the political mainstream. Do I have to forgo one to allow for the other? By supporting families, do I have to sacrifice support for gay rights?

The answer is no. Broadly speaking – which is all there is of Glasman’s big idea so far – I am blue labour, in so far as I am opposed to New Labour and neoliberal individualism, but my social attitudes profess inclusivity and not prejudice.

Politicians, in seeking to empower communities, should not shy away from their duty to dispel myths about asylum seekers, homosexuals, or indeed reggae. During Britain’s transition away from Third Way politics, we would do well to remember that the working class do not have a monolithic set of politics and what might be called metropolitianism – for want of a better word – can co-exist with community empowerment.

  1. Ian
    April 23, 2011 at 1:00 am

    I’ve not really read Glasman, but does his Blue Labour idea really reject New Labour and neo-liberal individualism as you suggest?

    • April 23, 2011 at 1:14 am

      Well from what I know of it, it’s a renewed focus on community and family as well as a rejection of liberal elite metropolitanism. Some of the tenets of the latter are consumerism (albeit ethical consumption), individualism and cosmopolitan selfhood. I think it’s quite distinct from New Labour; it’s trying to recapture the social conservatism of old labour, as opposed to the social (neo-)liberalism of New Labour.

      How have you perceived blue labour at first glance? Like me did you think blue labour, blue danger?

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