- Alan Smith considers political overlap
As I write this article, the media circus triggered by the election for the leadership of the Conservative Party makes me long for the halcyon days of my youth. In those days, whenever there was a need for a new leader of the Conservative Party, the Marquess of Salisbury—almost an essential member of any Conservative Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet—would take soundings among leading members of the party and, within a few days, announce to the party who the new leader would be. Under the present system, by the time that this article appears, those readers who are members of the Conservative Party should still have time to make their choice from the shortlist of two candidates offered for their consideration by the party’s MPs (this, of course, makes the assumption that there will be two candidates available from which to make a choice.) Meanwhile, I offer this article about two groups who, perhaps, should be better known by the general public: Blue Labour and Red Tory.
Blue Labour is a Labour Party pressure group that aims to put relationships and responsibility at the heart of British politics. It was launched in 2010 by Maurice Glasman, an academic and Labour peer, with the motto ‘Work, Family, Community.’ It advocates conservative ideas on social and international issues, including immigration, crime, and the European Union, but rejecting neoliberal economics in favour of guild socialism and corporatism. It advocates a switch to local and democratic community management and provision of services, rather than relying on a traditional welfare state that it sees as excessively bureaucratic. Its view has been expressed in Tangled Up in Blue by Rowenna Davis, Blue Labour edited by Ian Geary and Adrian Pabst, and The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox.
Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics (2nd Edition, 2015) proclaims: ‘Following Labour’s defeat at the polls in 2015, and at time when the party is attempting to redefine its meaning, values and even identity, there is an urgent need for fresh thinking. Most people agree that a new start is needed. But in which direction should Labour turn? A crucial conversation is beginning, and it is in this fluid and volatile context that Blue Labour ideas could make a crucial difference. Seeking to move beyond the centrist pragmatism of both Blair and Cameron, and attempting to inject into politics a newfound passion and significance with which people can truly engage, this essential work speaks to the needs of diverse people and communities across the country. Critiquing the dominance in Britain of a social-cultural liberalism linked to the left and a free-market liberalism associated with the right, Blue Labour blends a “progressive” commitment to greater economic equality with a more “conservative” disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality. It is the manifesto of a vital new force in politics: one that could define the thinking of the next generation and beyond.’
The term ‘Red Tory’ originated in Canada to describe Conservatives like Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, and his successors who supported an active role for government in managing the economy. In 2009 Phillip Blond used the name ‘Red Tory’ to promote traditional conservative ideas within the Conservative Party, writing a book entitled Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It and creating the think tank ResPublica. Born in 1966, Blond studied Philosophy and Politics at the University of Hull, continental philosophy at the University of Warwick and theology at Peterhouse, Cambridge. His ideas have some connection with the tradition of distributism. He took part in a distributist conference at Oxford University in 2009 sponsored by the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture.
Red Tory does appear to have similarities to the High Tory tradition of the Caroline Tories in the seventeenth century, the Jacobite Tories of the eighteenth century, and Disraeli’s Young England of the nineteenth century, a tradition which still continues within the Conservative Party today.
In this article I have barely been able to scratch the surface of Blue Labour and Red Tory. However, these initial investigations suggest that there are reasonable grounds for confidence to believe that they will be successful in resisting the social liberalism and economic liberalism within their respective parties. Indeed, it may be that together they may be able to establish a new common ground for politics in the United Kingdom.