Confront not concede to the right on multiculturalism says Lucille Harvey

This summer i attended the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) festival in Austria as part of the UK Young Labour delegation. IUSY hold a festival every other year at which affiliated groups come together to discuss, debate and learn from each other. This year the festival took place in the shadow of the far right terrorist attack on young AUF activists in Utøya and we paid tribute to our fallen comrades through a reaffirmation of our enduring commitment to equality, social justice, democracy and international solidarity.

Delegations from the UK haven’t always received the warmest of welcomes by our European comrades (we’re affectionately referred to as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ after some allegedly bizarre antics of Labour Students). However, we were heartily embraced by comrades from the Netherlands. This was a welcome surprise until we discovered the reason. They had mistakenly assumed we were followers of the Maurice Glasman school of thought on immigration and that we shared their view that immigration be ‘regulated’ (ie prohibited). For them, Britain’s very own Baron Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill is a hero.

As the granddaughter of a West Indian immigrant, the daughter of a single mother and socialist of the internationalist feminist variety with a deep aversion for anything small ‘c’ conservative, I was never Blue Labour’s target audience. The initial murmurings, as much as I disagreed with them, I dismissed as a bunch of male, pale & stales dreaming about creating some sort of Darling Buds of May utopia. However, a line was crossed with Glasman’s comments on immigration over summer. He may have backtracked and Blue Labour distanced themselves from him but further investigation shows this was no one-off. Glasman earlier stated that migrants to Britain should not have equal footing. Before I’m accused of misquoting, here’s the full quote from Glasman’s interview with our comrades at Progress:
‘There have to be ways of honouring the common life of people who come [as immigrants],’ he believes, but it also not the case that ‘everyone who comes is equal and has an equal status with people who are here.’

At best, this is very Animal Farm.

When immigrants are bashed it’s not the rich who are targeted; not Brazilian footballers, Swiss bankers or American film stars. No, they are attacks on working class migrants. The same migrants who are forced into low paid, poorly regulated employment, live in squalid overcrowded accommodation; the victims of the harshest realities of global capitalism. These workers are the human cost of a market which venerates profit at the expense of people. It was this brutality of capitalism and the inevitable exploitation of workers that led to the creation of our party. Anyone from a left perspective condemning these same workers is absurd as it attacks our raison d’etre. Maybe Glasman could explain but when did solidarity start only extending as far as your nation’s borders?

The terrorist attacks in Norway showed that the far-right in Europe has not been defeated and still lingers on the fringes of our communities. Not only can the Left not be complacent about this threat but we cannot concede any ground on the immigration debate to the right whatsoever. This shows us how wrong Glasman’s comments were. Wrong and dangerous. Any talk denouncing immigration and de facto our vulnerable migrant communities justifies the far right’s bigotry and fuels their hate.

After the Utøya massacre the Norwegian PM, Jens Stoltenberg, asserted that “more democracy, more openness” was needed to tackle the far right. This is true. However, more solidarity is absolutely fundamental. Solidarity with those communities whose very right to exist within our society is under attack. Our response cannot be to pit communities against each other, worker against worker, neighbour against neighbour in a battle to win votes. Failure to act will allow fear will fester and hate to take hold. Labour should be proud to stand for an inclusive, tolerant, socially just, free society that has no place for bigotry or hate. There can be no ambivalence in Labour’s message on multiculturalism. We need to reiterate our commitment to a racially and religiously diverse multicultural Britain of equals. A society where “we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect” Sound familiar? It should. It’s on the back of the party membership cards we all signed up to.

It is for this reason, as a proud champion of multicultural Britain, that I am standing for the Block of 14 with the aim of becoming Anti-Racism Officer at London Young Labour’s AGM this Sunday.

If elected i pledge to put my words into action and London Young Labour will be at the heart of the fight against the far right in all communities across our city.

 

 

A radical Labour Party, not a conservative one, will beat this Government

Blue Labour is right to call itself “conservative.” But to beat this Government, we need a radical alternative to Tory economic policy, not meek acceptance of it. Blue Labour has nothing to offer

This is no time to accept the status quo.

People are right to be angry when their wages are shrinking, two and a half million are unemployed, and George Osborne’s budgets have made them suffer – whilst at the other end of the scale, bank chiefs have had pay rises of more than a third. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s Big Society is giving communities responsibility for their own services, whilst withdrawing support from the state. Those with the means will be able to take over their local libraries, start their own schools and draw up their own neighbourhood development plans. Those without, won’t.

Yet against this backdrop, a bunch of academics has proposed Blue Labour. A set of “conservative socialist” ideas, it expresses deep scepticism over Labour’s “state-driven, redistribution-driven, equality-driven” agenda since 1945. It wants Labour to get back to its earlier traditions of co-operatism and labour organisation, and a more “relational” style of politics.

To be honest, pinning down exactly what Blue Labour stands for is a lot like trying to catch smoke in a fishing net. Each criticism against Blue Labour can be defended by someone with a different conception of what it all means. Maurice Glasman, one of Blue Labour’s founding fathers, calls it “a completely agitational idea to provoke a conversation.” If Blue Labour is just his way of playing devil’s advocate, it’s no wonder it all seems so inconsistent.

And it is true that there are some bits that many of us would agree with: regaining our lost working-class supporters; promoting trade unions and worker democracy; strengthening communities and creating co-operatives. All of this is excellent, but it’s neither new nor Blue – as the trade unions and the Co-operative Party would certainly agree. Cherry-picking these bits from Blue Labour risks giving credibility to the whole Blue Labour brand, warts and all.

And here are the warts. It’s not hard to see how Blue Labour and the Big Society come from the same pod. Marc Stears, a key Blue Labour thinker, sayswe need to get away from this obsession with absolute fairness, with material equality,” and the idea that we can eradicate the postcode lottery is a “myth.” Glasman claims he isn’t calling for a smaller state, but he does think Labour took a “gamble on state power” and failed. But there is no alternative proposal from them on how to tackle inequality in our society. They are not radical. Where people have poor education, or low life expectancy, or social problems – all of which stem from big gaps between the richest and the poorest – there is nothing Blue Labour can think to do about it.

The Big Blue Labour Society is unrealistic about what communities can, and should, do for themselves. We understand the benefits of community-run services, but there are also limits to them. For example, Helen Goodman points out that communities once even had local cooperatives to provide an ambulance service. Yes, we could go back to that model, but that would be a very risky way indeed of strengthening community relationships. As Goodman says, most people would prefer to dial 999. Localism isn’t the answer to everything.

More importantly, even where there is a case for a co-operative public service, it would be a mistake to see it as a cheap option. The service would still need funding (yes, redistributive funding) from the taxpayer, and an active state to ensure standards. The Co-operative approach has not been to replace public services, but to deliver them in a different (but still equal and inclusive) way. True, there are concerns that in some cases councils have used co-operatives as an excuse to cut spending. But the Big Blue Labour Society is unashamed about rejecting the state and inclusive public services. Yes, Blue Labour is right to call itself “conservative.”

At this point, one Blue Labour apologist or another is likely to pipe up and tell me I simply haven’t been clever enough to understand it all, or I’ve used selective quotes to advance my shady agenda. I’m sticking to my guns. In fact there are others, from across the Labour Party, who agree that Blue Labour means embracing inequality.

Actually that’s the scariest part. James Purnell is one of them. He has written, “Until [Glasman’s] paper, Labour’s default setting has been that 1945 was paradise lost and Crosland John the Baptist. That’s what gives the keepers of the scrolls the right to denounce anyone who doesn’t privilege equality… This is our family myth.” Glasman might say he never liked Purnell or the Labour right, but in fact he has handed them everything they need.

David Miliband also agrees that Blue Labour has ignored equality, though unlike Purnell he thinks this is a bad thing. He says, “I just don’t think it is possible to escape questions of equality by stressing the vital nature of relationships – vital though they are.” Thanks David – I don’t believe I could have put it any better. Even you see Blue Labour as rather liberal on the economic side.

One of the conclusions that Wilkinson and Pickett come to in The Spirit Level is that when there are big gaps between the poor and the rich in society, trust and community life suffers. If Blue Labour wants to see strong, organised communities, it should have started from that point. In the face of the onslaught from this Government, its conservative approach is not an option. Now, more than ever, Labour needs to be radical about improving the lives of working people, and Blue Labour has nothing to offer.