In many ways ‘Blue Labour’ is an unfortunate label, because neither Glasman nor most of the other contributors to this volume give much indication of sympathy for recognisable brands of conservatism. What they do show is a deep antipathy towards Liberalism. We are not talking here about Liberal Democrats, who barely merit a mention. The ‘Liberals’ Glasman has in his sights are not bound by party affiliation but by intellectual heritage and political instincts. They can be found in any party, including the Labour Party of Tony Blair and the Conservative Party of Blair’s heir, David Cameron. Glasman has no fundamental problem with Cameron’s notion of the Big Society, which he takes very seriously. He absolutely is not one of those who think it’s just a fluffy cover story for an ideological programme of radical Tory cuts (which is the way Baldwin would like to spin it). Glasman thinks the problem goes the other way. The Big Society is precisely what we need, but it’s been misappropriated by the people who champion it. It’s a good idea fallen among liberals.
What do liberals do that Glasman rejects? The way that I would put it is that they undervalue the common good and defer too much to concentrated wealth, but this is the review’s description:
The sin of omission is the inability of liberal politics to resist the depredations of international finance capitalism. This is the real passion that motivates Blue Labour: a sense that the country has been raped by the bankers, and all on the watch of a Labour government. They want someone, or something, to stand up to what the editors call in their introduction ‘the destructive, itinerant power of capital’, and they are acutely conscious that New Labour barely even put up a fight. That’s because liberals never put up a fight: all they do is talk about individuals, with their rights and responsibilities, their choices and their freedoms, without noticing that individuals are like confetti in the face of the whirlwind power of money.
As Glasman sees it, it is communal and social ties that provide protection against this:
Glasman is not fussy about what provides the glue: family, church, local pride, a sense of place, a sense of tradition (this, I guess, is the something ‘blue’ about Blue Labour).
Glasman’s other main objection to liberalism will be very familiar to traditional conservatives:
The other problem with liberalism, and the reason it is no good at this sort of micro-politics, is that liberals have a fatal weakness for abstraction. They prefer concepts to concrete experiences. In the end, they prefer nice ideas to real people.