Blue Labour would have us believe that to “win back” the towns of former industry in the north that Labour needs to return to “cakes and ale” socialism, that Labour must move socially to the right and begin to espouse “culturally conservative” views. If that dog-whistle wasn’t clear enough, Blue Labour leader Maurice Glasman has called for Labour to involve people who support the EDL.
This harking back to a “golden age” of 1970s militantism comes from a perceived place of disempowerment, a rose-tinted view of a pre-Thatcher time when strikes and union action were seen by the establishment as a threat to the order of society. Blue Labour adherents highlighting past anti-immigration rhetoric from Labour leaders ignores completely the changing face of British life and culture, being profoundly ignorant of the current and future place of the worker in 21st century Britain.
Government statistics show that in 2017, 29.7% of workers in the UK were employed in the public administration, education and health sector, with 18.7% employed in distribution, hotels and restaurants. 17.3% of the workforce were employed in banking, finance and insurance, 9.3% in manufacturing, 9.0% in transport and communications, 7.4% in construction, 5.9% in other services, 1.7% in energy and water, and 1.1% in agriculture and fishing.
The era of the “industrial worker” as a force in the British economy is sadly over.
Throughout the coming century, automation and AI will reduce the number of industrial jobs yet further with internet-based corporations such as Amazon continuing to undercut the high street, the advancement of technology eating away at service and industry jobs yet further. Automated Uber drivers will replace the cabbie, drone deliveries will replace the delivery driver.
So, where exactly does “cakes and ale socialism” fit into the world of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and drones? Britain needs a Labour Party that is fit for the 21st century, not the last century.
A socialist Labour must be a populist movement and it must be anti-establishment”, it must speak to and of “the people”. The far-right grip on “the will of the people” must be broken.
Across the globe the masses have lost faith in establishment and career politicians, those beholden to the “deep state” forces of capital and war. In the United States, this backlash against the establishment allowed Donald Trump to ascend to the Presidency with no left-wing challenger available to harness this power. The sentiment is the same one that now drives Bernie Sanders and has given an understated boost to Tulsi Gabbard.
This populism must never descend into the nativist populism that Blue Labour would have the party attempt, these principles of racism and division are the antithesis of everything that socialism stands for. The equality of all is at the very basis of our belief.
By 2051 ethnic minorities will make up 20% of the British population, a growth from 8% in 2001. Research shows that those defined as white British will shrink from 87.1% to 67.1%, with white Irish shrinking from 2.5% to 2.1%. Asian groups will grow by three percentage points, black groups by two percentage points and Chinese and other ethnic groups by 2.6 percentage points.
It is imperative that Labour represents these groups and amplifies their voices, with socialism uniquely placed to both deliver social justice and combat the forces of poverty, inequality and racism that will only grow under the Johnson government.
Blue Labour state that that the movement must be more patriotic and wrap themselves in the flag. This is part of their attempt to produce a nativist Labour and comes from a place where “patriotism” is defined along the lines that the far-right have defined it, pushed through a prism of white nationalist supremacy. 21st-century socialism must reset and redefine the conversation on patriotism.
Is it more patriotic to send British troops to die in foreign wars for oil or is it more patriotic to fund the NHS? Is it more patriotic to bend the knee to Donald Trump and NATO or is it more patriotic to set an independent foreign policy free from outside interference?
This redefining of the national discourse is essential in moving the so-called “Overton window” back from the right, placing the extremist rhetoric of the Johnson government squarely back into the box of unacceptability.
This process of redefinition must go beyond discourse and encompass policies of national redefinition, not only domestically in terms of redefining the role of the state and advocating for press, constitutional and electoral reform, but it must also seek the long-overdue conversation on Britain’s place in the world throughout the rest of the century.
21st century Labour must be an international movement, one that is uniquely placed to play a leading role in what is quickly becoming a worldwide revolt against neoliberalism.
The rise of the far-right, spearheaded by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and their international backers has been allowed to become a worldwide force. This axis runs across continents with massive coordination between governments and supporters. From India’s Modi and Brazil’s Bolsanaro to Orban in Hungary and the rising threat of Salvini and Le Pen, this movement is the greatest threat the free world has faced in generations.
Labour must build and publicise international links to combat this force. It must give support to anti-neoliberal and anti-corruption movements in places such as Chile, Colombia and France, it must share ideas and collaborate with socialist movements across the globe including the likes of Bernie Sanders and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France. 21st Century Labour must be unequivocal in its support for the deposed Evo Morales, for Cuba and Venezuela.
Alongside internationalism, 21st-century socialism must be vibrant and technological and must harness the energy of the youth movements that have backed it en masse at the last two elections. Yet at the same time, it must understand that the interests and needs of the youth are not necessarily the same needs as the interests of people in Burnley worried about where tomorrow’s meal is coming from.
21st century Labour must speak to every corner of the country, from metropolitan liberals to the poor of the north, from the young to the old. It must speak to Muslims and atheists alike, to both black people and white people. The only ideology that has this ability is socialism. The only ideology that represents every single one of these communities is socialism. What can unite a country deliberately fractured along lines of nationality, religion, race, class, gender and income is socialism.
Instead of looking to return to the past, Labour must learn from it and move only forward. The groundwork has been laid by Jeremy Corbyn to move onto the next stage of the revitalisation of socialism in this country.
Neoliberals have attempted to portray Corbyn and Labour’s defeat as the end of socialism in the country and the rebirth of centrism, it’s quite the opposite. Against the backdrop of the biggest anti-socialist campaign since McCarthyism, 10 million voted for the Labour manifesto, the highest number of voters since 2001. The party which stood on a whole neoliberal manifesto, the Lib Dems, were embarrassed.
Far from being dead and buried, socialism is alive and well. Jeremy Corbyn might be gone, but his legacy will live on. This is only the beginning.