Is this the thinker whose ideas can help rebuild a mainstream Labour Party?

The time may have come for the ‘Blue Labour’ ideas of Ed Miliband’s former guru to help reshape Labour’s return to being a party for the working classes, writes Robert Philpot


There are few prizes in politics for foresight. If there were, however, they should now be raining down upon Maurice Glasman. In November 2016, the Jewish Labour peer warned in a speech that his party was “no longer an object of affection for the working-class”. “If that does not change,” he argued, “the scale of the loss is colossal”. 

“In three or four years time we are likely to be faced with a defeat comparable to 1931,” Lord Glasman continued, unless the “ruptured relationship” between the party and its disaffected heartlands were healed.

Lord Glasman may have slightly overstated his case — Labour’s loss was its worst since 1935 not 1931 — but his powers of prediction may now grant him a new hearing as the party struggles to come to terms with its most devastating post-war defeat.

His words today, though, are unlikely to raise the spirits of Labour’s battered army of supporters. “Labour may die,” he grimly argued on the BBC’s Newsnight last month. “It’s lost its home. It’s lost its heartlands. It’s become much more middle class.”

Only new leadership which was “prepared to recognise the scale of the defeat,” he suggested, offered the party any hope of a comeback.

In reality, Lord Glasman has been prophesising for nearly a decade that Labour was living on borrowed time. 

He first came to prominence in late 2010 when the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, decided to send the maverick academic to the House of Lords as he wrestled with how the party should respond to being ejected from government earlier that year.

As Lord Glasman, he swiftly became an informal adviser to Mr Miliband and was widely labelled his guru. 

Lord Glasman’s loquaciousness soon made him a media favourite and something of a headache for Labour’s spin doctors.

Within months of his elevation he had accused the last Labour government of lying about immigration, suggested the party needed to engage with some of those who supported the English Defence League and called for a renegotiation of the EU’s free movement rules.

“Britain is not an outpost of the UN,” he declared. “We have to put the people in this country first.”

But Lord Glasman is no rent-a-quote. Beneath the headline-grabbing comments was a serious philosophy. “Blue Labour”, as he termed it, urged the party to reconnect with its traditional supporters by embracing the values of “flag, faith and family”.

His beliefs are firmly rooted in his Jewish upbringing. As he explained to the Observer in early 2011, Lord Glasman’s biggest influence was his mother, Rivi:

“She was very conservative Labour with a very strong commitment to work, faith, country, very patriotic. England for her was the country that saved the Jews from the Nazis. Alone in Europe we survived. She was a monarchist. She was very religious, very radical. She thought the country was very unfair.” 

Lord Glasman’s diagnosis for Labour’s ills was a raft of policies which defied political categorisation: German-style regional banks to boost the economy outside of London; vocational training and works councils; measures to help preserve local institutions; and tough-minded welfare reform that placed a premium on personal responsibility. Each, however, was squarely aimed at rebuilding support among working-class voters. 

Lord Glasman’s ideas were neither New Labour nor 1970s-style statism. 

However, Ed Miliband’s innate caution led him to ultimately reject Blue Labour and instead offer a mish-mash of soft left policies.  And with the triumph of the hard left after Mr Miliband’s defeat, and his backing of Brexit, in recent years Lord Glasman himself appeared a rather marginalised figure within Labour’s ranks. 

There may be few second acts in politics but last month’s election may give Lord Glasman a new opportunity to help shape how Labour rebuilds the “red wall” which Boris Johnson so effectively demolished.

Although she hails more from the party’s soft left, likely leadership contender Lisa Nandy is probably the most sympathetic of the potential candidates to Lord Glasman’s ideas. She has spoken at Blue Labour events and her close ally, Jon Cruddas, has been one of its strongest proponents.

Like Lord Glasman, the Wigan MP called for Labour to honour the result of the EU referendum and her belief that “place, identity, history and culture matter” is straight out of the Blue Labour playbook. So, too, her suggestion last month that, “There is a strong feeling in towns like mine that Labour stopped listening long ago and that we no longer have much understanding or care for the things that matter deeply to them or their families.”

As for Lord Glasman, it’s also worth recalling that not all of his predictions have come true.

Early last year, he suggested that Labour would ultimately help Theresa May get her Brexit deal through parliament, allowing the then Prime Minister to keep to her March 29 deadline.

“We are going to wake up on 30th March this year,” he argued in February, “and the world is going to be pretty much as it was before. Just a little bit better.”

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