by Adrian Pabst
Wednesday, 28
September 2022
Analysis
07:00

Keir Starmer finally goes Blue Labour

The Labour leader is finding his way to a winning formula
by Adrian Pabst
A new man. Credit: Getty

For King and Country. That, in a nutshell, was Keir Starmer’s message to the British people. A Labour Party conference that began with a minute’s silence for the late Queen and the national anthem ended with the promise of putting “country first, party second”. In a speech replete with references to the great Labour victories of 1945, 1964 and 1997, Starmer channeled his inner Attlee, Wilson and Blair. Yet the red thread running through his new thinking is better known as Blue Labour — economically radical and socially moderate. 

The core of Blue Labour’s economic radicalism is about reconciling the estranged interests of capital and labour in a new settlement anchored in stronger local government and civic bodies. Our aim has long been to tame the excesses of both the central bureaucratic state and the global free market in favour of communities and working families — suddenly, that aim seems to be shaping Labour’s emerging vision.


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Whereas the Tories under Truss use state power to extend the reach of the market, Starmer appears to put society first. Great British Energy, Labour’s flagship policy idea, is a new kind of company owned by the people and based on what Sir Keir calls “the biggest partnership between government, business and communities this country has ever seen”.

This is reorienting Labour away from both New Labour’s devotion to markets and globalisation and Corbyn’s central state nationalisation towards a more communitarian corporatist model. The goal is to rebuild the national economy — hence Starmer’s pledge to restore “British power to the British people”.

Reinstating the 45p income tax rate and investing the proceeds in vocational training is another sign that Starmer has learnt from the Blue Labour paradox of fiscal prudence with a bold economic offer. Massive investment in technical training and vocational colleges, alongside green industries, will not only help Britain break its addiction to importing cheaper foreign skilled workers (who end up being exploited by big business and middle-class consumers). It will also contribute to renewing rural and coastal towns like Blackpool, Southend and Grimsby decimated by deindustrialisation and dispossession.

A Blue Labour national renewal would not be limited to greater economic prosperity but focused on rebuilding social ties too. That is why Starmer links Labour’s radical economics and green re-industrialisation to people’s yearning for security and belonging. Gone (for now) is the gesture politics of extreme identity ideology — no mention of trans rights, for example. Instead, the appeal was to the Britain of the Great Queue — togetherness, solidarity, patience, civility and being bound together by a common purpose. 

Lofty words for sure, yet ones that resonate at a time of social fragmentation and the dissolution of both familial and communal bonds. Having found his voice, the task for Starmer is now to develop a national narrative — a convincing story of how Labour will build a remoralised politics and an embedded economy at the service of a renewed, more resilient society.

At this point, the danger is not so much the temptation of identity politics, though it will take much more than one speech to save Labour from the ultra-progressive ideology that risks denying the party a majority at the next election. The greater threat is a retreat to New Labour slogans of mindless modernisation that leave people cold and alienated from politics altogether.

Keir Starmer is evidently moving in a Blue Labour direction. But only by going further and being bolder will he appeal to the working-class voters in post-industrial towns who deserted Labour in 2019 and thereby secure a majority at the next election.

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Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
2 months ago

Starmer – and Labour – is still silent about the grooming and rapes of thousands of school girls in 14 Labour Council areas. Yet knelt for a dead man thousands of miles away.
What a truly disgusting and contemptible example of “remoralised politics”.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago
Reply to  Roger Sponge

A fair comment. Like the you say it’s a moral travesty that the issue has largely been ignored. But equally, it would be a travesty if insensitive treatment of the issue was allowed to significantly increase the already high discrimination faced by males of certain ethnic minorities. There would be ways around it. For example, one could state that we white Britons were much worse even as recently as the 1880s, back when we were far more Christian than we are now. We used to ship thousands of 12 – 15 year old working class English lasses of to a life of slavery in brothels on the continent. ( Google “Josephine Butler” for details – she was the progressive most responsible for ending that travesty.) But you can probably see there are downsides with that sort of argument. Hopefully the higher ups will find a better way to address the issue.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

I have a suggestion that might help. Let’s reclassify the gang rape of children by grooming gangs as “cultural enrichment”.
My pleasure, Adam.

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

I fail to see what is “insensitive” in condemning Police, social services and councillors who ignored the rapes because of cowardice. And, I suggest, because they didn’t care enough for disadvantaged, vulnerable children.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago
Reply to  Roger Sponge

I mostly agree. And you wont find me popping up with slightly different persepctives on this if you aired your view anywhere else than a Blue Labour article. When Labour MP Sarah Champion spoke out in the young girls interests – more strongly than any Conservative MP has, AFAIK – Blue Labour were among the few who defended her. Like you say, more should be done to minimise the risk of future children being expolited the same way.

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Starmer, Labour’s leader, has said nothing about the thousands of raped girls in Labour Council areas.
He has not called out Police. Social services or Labour councillors who failed them so grievously and so cowardly.
Starmer and his cohorts worked to put Corbyn into power and would have served under him. They also conspired with the EU to void the largest vote in British electoral history.
Labour’s ID politics and betrayal of women is still alive and kicking.
The stench of moral decay and lack of any principles beyond the one of getting power by any means is overpowering.
It can’t be ignored merely by waving the Union Flag and singing the National Anthem.
We can measure Labour by how effective they’ve been as an Opposition. They’ve been dreadful.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Who exactly are “Blue Labour” ? Is Keir Starmer a member ? Is it even an organisation with structure and members ?

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Hard to say exactly who, just like it would be for ‘New Labour’ or ‘Old Labour’. Id guess maybe just a few hundred party members might consider themselves part of the faction. Only a small handful of MPs have ever identified as Blue Labour – the intellectual centre has always been outside the PP. Academics, activists, journalists, senior staffers in polling firms & think tanks, that sort of thing.
Ed Miliband had a lot of time for them so they had considerable influence until he stood down as leader. Liberals & SJWs outside Labour inner circles used to claim BL remained influential while JC & JM were running the show – but that was nonsense. I don’t think Sir Starmer is a member but word is he has been increasingly influenced by them over the last couple of years, albeit probably not anywhere near as much as Ed was.  They have a website and they arrange conferences etc. So yes there is an organisation, though not really sure if there is much formal structure. I seem to remember one used to be able to sign up as members to some of the regional Blue Labour groups, but that was years back.

Emre 0
Emre 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

That’s a very good reference to Josephine Butler – thanks for that, very interesting to know.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago
Reply to  Emre 0

You’re welcome, a truly remarkable woman.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  Roger Sponge

Starmer will never mention the grooming gangs: His party is dependent on their votes and he knows it. He thinks that he can get away with this approach, but I suspect that it will prove a slow burner. I cannot speak for others, obviously, but it is the one reason that I would not vote for the Labour Party under any circumstances.

Last edited 2 months ago by polidori redux
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 months ago

The working class is not interested in ‘Green’ and loathes identity politics. Trade unionists will not support a Labour leader who does not support the industrial action of hard working people when mortgages and energy bills are becoming unaffordable. Working people are sick of hearing about ‘the poor and the vulnerable’ who live on benefits funded by their taxes. Women will not vote Labour until its front bench recognises that a woman is a female human being and that Eddie Izzard isn’t one.
Starmer has a long way to go and North London middle class green virtue signalling is not Blue Labour.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

hear hear!

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 months ago

Well said!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

In order to have useful, vocational training and education, he will need to bin most of the tertiary education courses that charge over £9k PA for a degree that qualifies you to do nothing from an institution sitting somewhere in the 800 – 1000 section of the world rankings, next to the universities of barely functioning second world economies. Basically, throwing a load of leftie, Labour voting ‘academics’ on the dole.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

It is just about possible that a degree from an “800-1000 section” institution might qualify you to join the staff of such a place.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Quite possibly. They have to come from somewhere!

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago

I suspect that a substantial part of the Labour Party will find the policies not Utopian enough, and a substantial part of the electorate will find the policies too authoritarian.

You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time.

~ Apologies to Abraham Lincoln

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

That certainly used to be the case. One could refine your argument by adding that some Labour members used to be attracted to their economic proposition but repelled by the social side, and vice versa. Back when the faction broke out around 2010, they were more presented as “Economically moderate / Socially radical” (though radical in a traditional direction). Both Fiscally & Socially conservative was how their detractors put it, and not without reason. I remember loving the socially conservative side, but hating the fiscal side. Hence I never joined the faction, though did try to support one of their most promising young members. Sensible progressives had at the time spent much of the last 3 years boosting the Keynesian Resurgence – the global fiscal stimulus that averted much of the potentially disastrous fall out from the 2007-2008 free market crises. We weren’t too impressed by Blue Labour founder Lord Glassman talking about how in some ways he was more inspired by von Hayek than Lord Keynes!

Might work much better for blue labour is they stick with Mr Pabst’s “economically radical and socially moderate formulation.” Still, I doubt BL will ever have much lasting influence. Reason being, they are too good to understand the world. Some of them are extremely talented, and could easily go far in the private sector, getting experience in international deal making and learning how the world really works. But no, at least with the ones I personally know, they live by their values, often working 16+ hours per day on local causes like even personally doing the donkey work at local foodbanks. JFL at thinking that sort of integrity will be recognised in today’s world.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago

What a depressing read. I am confronted with two and a half dead parties that spout empty platitudes because they have no vision, no coherent platform of policies and no goal other then getting themselves elected. When they get there they will spend four years searching for the “levers of power” that aren’t attached to anything, even if they find them.
I am sure that Adrian Pabst is a decent and sincere guy, but I ain’t buying.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
2 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I ain’t buying either! The ‘national economy’ proposed vanished with British Leyland in the grim 1970s. Global capital owns everything; yes, including Sweden Keir. Are you seriously suggesting the Treasury buy it all back?? The farcical British Hot Air Energy Company is a joke, all part of a pie in windy sky fantasy that renewables will employ millions and be the engine of mass prosperity. What tosh. Keir would does not recognise our private sector. He is not a Blue Labour Old Labour man. He is a 1980s Honnecker – an out and out Statist – and we will be an proto GDR/ East Germany with a bossy Blob State in utter command of economic affairs should he ever secure power.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

“renewables will employ millions”. Well quite. Some people haven’t cottoned on that jobs are the cost of something, not the benefit that accrues from it. Let’s create even more jobs by returning to subsistence farming – everyone gets to work 12 hours a day in return for a bowl of turnip gruel. That’s what I call wealth creation!

Michael F
Michael F
2 months ago

That couple of billion (max) raised by reinstating the 45% rate of tax is turning into magic beans at the conference. It’s already been spent in about half a dozen different ways, and now you tell me it’s going to be invested in retraining unemployed fishermen in Grimsby as well?
Perhaps someone also needs to point out to the Labour Party that reinstating the tax just takes us back to where we are now – it’s not an increase.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

“Great British Energy, Labour’s flagship policy idea, is a new kind of company owned by the people and based on what Sir Keir calls “the biggest partnership between government, business and communities this country has ever seen”.
That’s nothing new. It certainly not exciting – not for me at least. It was tried before and failed – nationalised industries from 1945 to the 80s/90s. Almost all were failures. A few were not and perhaps could have been retained.
It hardly needs saying that Major, Blair and Brown’s “public private partnerships” have been a disaster (renting hospitals and schools we should have owned, getting ripped off for maintenance charges, generally being taken for a ride by the private sector).
Mixing public and private probably gets you the worst of both worlds and not the best.
One major challenge in all this is getting the right management in. In my experience, the likelihood of this drops the more the state – and especially politicians – are involved. Yes, let’s give the politicians more huge multi-billion state enterprises to play with – what could possibly go wrong ?

Last edited 2 months ago by Peter B
j morgan
j morgan
2 months ago

I might believe this “Labour goes small-c conservative” theory if they admit they know what a woman is. An apology to the women in the party they harassed for not submitting to that lunacy would also be nice.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 months ago

Did they NOT sing the Red Flag this year?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

Starmer KC … ” King Crimplene”… ghastly little man…

Glyn R
Glyn R
2 months ago

Think it takes a bit more to become Blue Labour than wrapping yourself in the Union Jack and singing the national anthem. It is simply a re-branding exercise. Like changing the wrapper on a mars bar but the content remains the same.
Anyone taken in by Starmer’s new act needs their head examining.

Last edited 2 months ago by Glyn R
Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
2 months ago

The pretense of Starmer moving in a tokenistic Blue Labour direction is simply duplication of what the Tories are already doing with the tokenism of a nationalised Green Energy company that completely fails to highlight how the critical materials for a green industrial revolution will be sourced.

https://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2022/10/05/no-one-will-win-the-global-battle-for-critical-raw-materials/

Starmer’s politics and that of the remainer elite is to wear the clothes of localism for the benefit of EU supranational elites.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Gwynne