I wrote a while back that Labour really needed Blue Labour in order to ‘get back in the game’. The phrase came from an interview with a Labour MP who, talking on Labour’s prospects in the North, had said that when he goes into pubs and clubs of his constituency all talk is about UKIP and Labour are not even in the game.
Which one might find odd, considering clichés about Labour’s strongholds. But then we had confirmation of much the same yesterday, with an ostensibly working-class (and certainly Northern) male, talking with Ed Miliband and recounting a conversation he recently had in his local, noting that talk was of turning away from Labour and backing UKIP.
One thing we must get straight: UKIP is not the problem for Labour. No, as things stand, Labour is the problem for Labour. Which, on the plus side, means that the answer to the problem is Labour too. Not as the assertion that we’re right and everyone else is wrong, but in the recognition that our tradition is right and that to exclude huge swathes of those who authentically articulate it has been terribly wrong.
Nonetheless, the (selection) arteries are clogged up, and seeking to move toward diversity – the genuine sort – will need concerted action from the centre. But to do so, to take such drastic action, requires first the articulation of this long excluded voice, to provide an infrastructure of thought and expression that can proclaim the Labour vision in a concrete and compelling way. Without that, there is only nostalgic sighs and apathetic shrugs.
Which is perhaps what the Blue Labour collection of essays, due out next Friday, could be – the flesh on the bones of a movement that currently exists as the echo of a nearly-forgotten tradition, that yet contains within it a rich seam of thought, with the potential to address in new ways those anxieties that are the mark of contemporary times.
To declare an interest, I have a chapter in the book, but don’t let that put you off – there are plenty of impressive voices in there too, from a range of backgrounds (Rowan Williams, Ruth Davis, Maurice Glasman, Arnie Graf, Rowenna Davis, Frank Field and Tom Watson to name but a few)
Labour really needs to get back in the game – particularly in those places it has long thought impregnable. Even if Blue Labour is not the entire solution, it can certainly help us better understand the problem. And that is in all our best interests.