Billy Bragg: Not So Blue

It is a sure sign that an idea is gaining ground when those opposed to it begin doing so publicly.  Yet it is also concerning when that opposition is based on a fairly fundamental misunderstanding.

Billy Bragg is the latest figure on the left to come out against ‘Blue Labour’.  He describes it as economically liberal but socially conversative.  It’s main flaw, Bragg believes, is the same as New Labour’s: being “too blue”, or “too free market”.  Anyone who has actually listened to Maurice Glasman describe Blue Labour wouldn’t recognise this accusation.

Bragg’s conclusion for what Britain needs, though, is straightforward:

What they want – what they need – is a Labour party that remembers what it is for: a party that defends the ordinary working people against the ravages of the free market; a party that holds those who wield great financial power to account; a party that provides people with a sense of security in an ever-changing world.

Last time I checked, that’s precisely what Blue Labour is meant to be.  Several times Bragg contradicts himself by denigrating the use of tradition, while also plaintively calling for Labour to return to its roots. 

It is perhaps not coincidental that Bragg’s condemnation of Maurice Glasman appears on the same webpage as an article co-authored by Glasman and Jon Cruddas MP entitled “Theft in a City State”.  If you’d just read Bragg’s article, you may well think it was a tirade against new taxes.  But no, it is an attack on the City of London’s treatment of the Billingsgate fish porters.  That sounds a lot like defending the ordinary working people against the ravages of a free market.

This small snapshot of the confusion facing the Labour party as it seeks to determine what it is for (and against) in the post-New Labour era is instructive.  Those seeking positive renewal (defining Labour as being for something, and not simply against what it perceives the Coalition to be doing) of Labour have a lot more explaining, and discussion, to do.  Until those hard conversations take place, expect to see many more straw men.

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