Guest post by Marc Stears, political theorist at Oxford University and Fellow at IPPR
“Blue Labour’s line on immigration is toxic.” That was a headline I woke up to this morning. I greeted it initially with some disbelief for the simple reason that I didn’t know there was a “Blue Labour line” on immigration. But then I realized that it came on the back of an incendiary Daily Express front page citing an apparent report produced by Maurice Glasman for Ed Miliband calling for an immediate moratorium on the vast majority of immigration to Britain.
There is no such report, of course. That was a fiction in true Daily Express style. But Maurice Glasman has nonetheless made a series of comments in interviews with the Fabian Review and with the Guardian this week and so the story begins.
What must be made entirely clear, though: this is Maurice Glasman’s view and not the view of others who have been associated with the debates around “Blue Labour” or who contributed to the e-book, The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox. Those debates have not been programmatic statements of policy positions, and certainly not recommendations for areas of policy as deeply complex and controversial as immigration. They have concentrated on just one thing: how can Labour restore its democratic tradition.
In these debates, Labour people like Jon Cruddas, Jonathan Rutherford, James Purnell, David Lammy, and Tessa Jowell have been calling for a more relational, open, truly democratic politics in Labour. All of us involved have shared a desire to build a politics that starts from people’s everyday experiences and encourages the citizens of Britain to come together to campaigns for a better life together. It is a politics that celebrates the trade union and co-operative heritage of Labour, and that recognizes in movements like London Citizens the possibility of recapturing the best of that tradition today. It is a politics that has strong resonances with Ed Miliband’s recent insistence that social responsibility and a radical attack on concentrations of power should be at the centre of Labour’s agenda.
In my view, this kind of politics is peculiarly ill-suited to a policy of dramatic immigration restriction. The British Labour tradition is an open, tolerant, and welcoming one. It is one which, as Maurice Glasman himself recognises in the e-book, has a strongly internationalist as well as nationalist dimension.
That is not to say, of course, that Labour should proceed towards a politics of fully open borders. That is a utopian abstraction. Nor is it to say that Labour has ever properly put its case on immigration straight to the British people, as it surely must. But it is to say that a politics of the common good, one that is grounded in relational obligations, sceptical about the domineering power of the state, sensitive to everyday experience, and open always to democratic renewal, should be an instinctively generous politics and not a restrictive one.
Labour needs to recommit itself to its co-operative, democratic tradition. This is a real and practical call. We have seen the merits of it in the leadership Ed Miliband has shown in the last few weeks in taking on the Murdoch empire in the name of social responsibility. Labour also needs open debates on difficult questions, of which immigration is very high up that list. But for that open debate to flourish we need to be absolutely clear about where each of us stands and about how our values relate to our policies. That clarity has been obscured this week. It is time to restore it.