We are witnessing a massive attack on the idea of the state, especially the welfare state, by the ConDem government. After a local Labour meeting/debate last week regarding Blue Labour and its potential for the Labour party, whilst recognising elements of Blue Labour that are analytically useful – such as the critique of the dominance of markets/capital – the rag-bag of ideas, which fails to unite a common practical policy framework, is in danger of actually helping further the current attacks on institutions such as the welfare state and trade unions that Labour, Red Labour if you like, have been historically central to creating and protecting.
Blue Labour as a movement has social conservative policies on crime and immigration, alongside support for new forms of organisation such as cooperatives at the centre of its vision. It criticises the so-called over reliance of the Labour party on the state, including the 1945 creation of the welfare state, and our focus on equality and eradicating the postcode lottery. Without an adequate policy prescription, however, it is not clear how they would replace the current state and welfare structure.
In a time when the NHS is being privatised even more, welfare benefits are being cut, taken away and subject to Social Darwin measures and when low paid workers are having their union rights slashed through the new universal benefit is it really the right time, and will it ever be, to join the attack on so-called welfare dependency – buying into ‘scrounger’ rhetoric – and the state? Yes, I have been very critical of the state in the past, and still believe new forms of organisation such as cooperatives and mutuals are essential. But I think promoting this idea that the welfare state creates dependency, attacking the creation of the welfare state in 1945, alongside criticising trade unions as excessive only helps the current Tory right-wing attack on the poor, the voters that Blue Labour apparently is trying to target. This is especially true, given they fail to prescribe a coherent alternative.
As Jay Baker said in a recent vlog (video included below), Labour actually fare badly when they try to be something that is not true to Labour’s core values:
All Labour has to do is stay true to their original values, having been founded on the working class, mass majorities labour workplace; it shouldn’t have to be so complicated.
The use of the word ‘Blue’ is supposed to represent loss, sadness and nostalgia. But nostalgia of what? Labour should be defending the rights of the state, equality, welfare and trade unions. Not criticising them. Let’s look at the facts. For instance, welfare spending is not excessive, it is rather stable:
Despite population ageing, greater welfare generosity under Labour and a much deeper recession than that of the early 1990s, welfare expenditure has not ballooned, gone through the roof, exploded, hit unsustainable levels or whatever other glib phrase people want to use to describe what didn’t happen over the last ten years.
It’s the same when looking at the movement to switch DLA to most likely ATOS means tested assessements despite there only being around 0.5% benefit fraud through DLA, alongside DLA being for many an in-work benefit so actually helps maintain employment – illustrating the ideological nature to the benefit changes. In fact,
DLA is not an out-of-work benefit, and many people use the money to help subsidise the extra costs of getting to work. Disability Rights UK estimates that at least 25,000 people could be forced to give up their work as a result of the drive to restrict payments, pushing up unemployment payments.
Fundamentally, Blue Labour is very weak when it comes to the state and presenting an alternative view of the state’s functions and fails to support one of Labour’s best and invaluable creations: the construction of the welfare state:
Blue Labour actually puts the final nail in the coffin of the state by placing faith primarily in communities as the last line of defence against the market, and leaving the question of the state’s function unanswered (for more, click here).
This is not to deny that New Labour vastly undermined Labour as a party; however, Blue Labour traces the decline of the Labour party to the 1945 nationalisation. What I am saying is that a Labour party that begins to give in to the massive attacks on the state’s value for providing welfare, alongside equality and the need for trade union rights at a time when these things are being attacked on a scale more extensive than Thatcher, is failing to defend its own successes. There are some good ideas within Blue Labour, but they’re not new to the Labour party’s underlying, central ethos.
NB: Just found a really good article making a similar point to me over on Labour List.