Meet the peer who is trying to turn Labour blue

By Robert Philpot, July 18, 2014
Follow The JC on Twitter

Labour's National Policy Forum meets in Milton Keynes this weekend, its last before the general election. It thus marks a crucial staging post in the development of Labour's manifesto.

One man who will not be there is Maurice Glasman, the Jewish academic and community organiser appointed to the Lords by Ed Miliband. But the presence of Baron Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill will nonetheless be keenly felt.

"You cannot deny he has created traction; on usury, regional banking, corporate governance, reshaping welfare and family policy," says Jon Cruddas, head of Labour's policy review.

Last month's Condition of Britain report by the IPPR think-tank, which is likely to weigh heavily on Cruddas's thinking, was infused with Glasman's ideas on the need to improve vocational training and restore the link between contribution and entitlement in welfare. His call for Labour to end its addiction to Whitehall diktat and devolve power to regions was also apparent in one of the review's other reports by fellow peer Andrew Adonis.

He is a force of nature - an iconoclast, an irritant and a philosopher

While Glasman's admiration for the German economy is percolating into Labour's plans, the manifesto is unlikely to adopt the radical approach he recommends. "Half of our universities could be closed and turned into vocational colleges jointly governed by business, unions and local authorities," he wrote earlier this year.

He has suggested that a third of Boardroom seats should be elected by the workforce. Companies are too tightly regulated and too highly taxed, he also argues. And although his view that high levels of immigration depresses wages is frequently echoed by Miliband, don't expect Labour to accept his solution: allow illegal immigrants to become citizens but halt the free movement of labour within the EU.

Glasman is the founder of "Blue Labour", a set of ideas which has flourished in the party in the aftermath of the 2010 election defeat. Defying traditional left-right definitions, it contends that the last Labour government was in thrall to market forces and too ready to reach for statist solutions.

In its place, Glasman argues for a small-c conservative socialism. He cites his mother, Rivi, who died in 2008, as his biggest influence. "She was very conservative Labour with a very strong commitment to work, faith, family, country, very patriotic", he told the Observer in 2011. "England for her was the country that saved the Jews from the Nazis."

When Miliband sent Glasman to the Lords he told him: "I really like what you're doing and want you to keep doing it." For a while, Glasman was cited as the Labour leader's "guru". But the relationship has become strained. Earlier this month, Glasman warned in the Financial Times that the party was "missing a sense of direction".

Cruddas's admiration for Glasman, however, remains undimmed. He describes him as "a force of nature, an iconoclast, an irritant and a philosopher". The "bottom line" he suggests, is that, "after our worst defeat since 1918 Labour has to rethink what it is. We need more Glasmans not less." He accepts, however, that Glasman's style is "not one for the faint hearted.

"He kicks up dust, is controversial; he winds people up because he is in a hurry. I like that but it is at odds with the dominant Westminster culture."

If Glasman's estrangement from the Miliband court pains him, the peer does not show it. He says: "I see this as a long story, and I'm amazed how far we've come." Or, as he put it on the day he made his maiden speech in the Lords, "not bad for a Jewish boy living above a shop in Hackney".

Robert Philpot is director of the New Labour pressure group Progress

    Last updated: 8:45am, July 18 2014