Wednesday 20 July 2011

This is not the 'Blue Labour view' on immigration

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.


tomdickandharry said...

"Immigration has been used as a 21st-century incomes policy, mixing a liberal sense of free for all with a free-market disdain for clear and effective rules. We have known this was a problem. Yet the answer for the government lay in a ratcheted-up rhetoric rather than solutions that may have challenged liberal assumptions and business lobbyists alike.” A quote from Jon Cruddas.

While I agree with your general sentiment that 'Blue Labour's' stance on immigration shouldn't be assumed, I think you're fighting a losing battle. The communitarian and anti-neo-liberal nature of 'Blue Labour' does lend itself to stronger constraints on immigration. You talk about bringing Labour back to its trade union tradition - but historically trade unions were confrontational towards immigrants.

It pains me to say this, as an immigrant myself who strongly believes in the freedom of movement - but unfortunately the assumed 'Blue Labour' stance on immigration would be popular. When canvassing, Labour's perceived "open-door" policy towards immigration led to more hostility than anything else (even though the idea that Labour even had an "open-door" policy is laughable). Regardless of how accurate the perception is, it's one Labour has to address.

Anthony Painter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Painter said...

Thanks Mark for clarification. Just a few of brief points:

1. I didn't mention the Express article in the 'Blue Labour stance on immigration is toxic' piece in the Guardian that you link to. It relates to the Fabian Review interview. I'm afraid the Daily Express article faithfully reflects the content of that interview. Just because it's the Daily Express it doesn't mean that it's misleading.

2. At no point until this has anyone associated with blue Labour thinking made the point that Maurice doesn't represent a blue Labour viewpoint despite his many articles and TV appearances. No-one has made the point that there is no bllue Labour viewpoint either. For example, when Maurice said that Labour should 'embrace the supporters of the EDL' I would have thought that would be an ideal time for someone to speak up. For almost anyone in Labour and beyond who is aware of the blue Labour concept, Blue Labour is Maurice Glasman and vice versa. I'm afraid the Uk Uncut defence- we have no leaders, we're a network, we stand in solidarity, until we don't- line doesn't work.

3. I hope we can get back to the rich analysis by Jonathan Rutherford and others on the role of conservative philosophy in Labour thinking that I have written about on this website and others. This includes thinking about the place of England and Englishness in Labour's outlook. I have always deliberately distinguished this from blue Labour which is now heavily contaminated. Let's salvage the good?

Unknown said...

If it isn't the Blue Labour position on migration, it is certainly a coherent position on migration - more than our party's current confused stance.

The points system made sense - but on doorsteps people couldn't take it seriously because there are open borders within the EU.

Why are people concerned about migration? It's not hostility to migrants, it's a fear of increased competition in labour markets. The free movement of capital is just as unpopular - many people are worried their jobs will be shipped off to a lower-wage economy.

Paul McMc said...

"Labour's perceived "open-door" policy towards immigration led to more hostility than anything else (even though the idea that Labour even had an "open-door" policy is laughable)."

The media created that perception - immigration was never a big issue on the doorstep until scare stories started to appear in the Mail, Express, etc. This suggests that actual immigration policy is less important than 'how the tabloids report immigration policy'.

(Word verification: "repress" - blimey)

Robert said...

The media did what, for god sake your own eyes will show you the changes, yes yes some of those changes may well be for the good, but a lot of the changes are not.

Blue Labour green labour pink Labour basically all the same pandering to what somebody things we want to hear

Newmania said...

Maurice Glasman himself recognises in the e-book, has a strongly internationalist as well as nationalist dimension.

This is gibberish

Children of Abraham said...


Dear Mr Miliband

We are writing as British Jews and Muslims, rabbis and imams and community leaders, in an open letter which we are forwarding to the media of both our communities.

We share a commitment to fighting racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia wherever they are found – including within our own communities. This position is informed by Jewish and Muslim ethical teaching on equality and human dignity.

We wish to express our concern at some of the statements on English national identity, immigration and the English Defence League, made by your close advisor, Lord Maurice Glasman, Labour peer and founder of “Blue Labour”.

He has spoken of his vision for Labour “to build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL [English Defence League] within our party”. He has said that it is not the case that “everyone who comes is equal and has an equal status with people who are here”. And he has also called for a complete halt to immigration, and implied that he is against asylum (“Britain is not an outpost of the UN...”).

These comments have caused such offence and concern with the Muslim community that some mosques have announced a prohibition against Lord Glasman entering their premises.

We are extremely worried by Lord Glasman’s pronouncements and use of language. Whatever his intentions, these sentiments and soundbites on such an emotive topic as immigration just give fodder to extremism.

We feel that it is important for you to dissociate yourself from these comments, and we call on the Labour Party to reaffirm its best traditions of anti-racism, equality and compassion for all people in our country.

Yours sincerely

Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini, Lecturer in Abrahamic Religions at Al-Azhar College, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

Sheikh Professor Mohamed Elsharkawy, Secretary of Scriptural Reasoning Imams Council

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality

Imam Shahid Hussain, Head of the Interfaith Department, Regent’s Park Mosque London

Rabbi Reuben Livingstone, Chair of Children of Abraham, Jewish Chaplain to H M Armed Forces

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK

Rabbi Jackie Tabick, Chair of the World Congress of Faiths

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, Rabbi of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue