Blue Labour and the Common Good

Mr J.F.X Zahra's article appears weekly on Newsbook

I introduced Lord Glasman to the delegates of the international conference entitled “Rethinking Solidarity for Employment: The Challenges of the Twenty-First Century”, held in Rome in end May and which was also addressed by Cardinal Ravasi and Cardinal Marx. I had heard Maurice Glasman addressing a conference organised by the Archbishop of Westminster in London in September last year with the theme “A Blue Print for Better Business” (also reported in this blog in October 2012). Glassman’s speech was sharp, focused and sincere... it was intellectually fulfilling. Glasman is an academic, a social thinker and a Labour Life peer in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. He was a professor at John Hopkins University’s European Centre in Bologna, and he is a senior lecturer in Political Theory at London Metropolitan University. He is also a strict follower of the Jewish tradition, but he declares strongly that he gets inspiration for his thinking from the Social Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. He is an intellectual who has great influence on the British Labour Party’s thinking and policy in his country. He is the author of “Tangled in Blue” (2011), a milestone work which coined the term “Blue Labour” in British politics. What impresses me in Maurice Glasman as a person and as a thinker is his mastery of paradox and contradiction. He rejects the present economic debate which as he says “remains polarized in terms of stimulus or austerity, Hayek or Keynes, as if we have learnt nothing in the intervening eighty years”.

Let us focus on the influence that encyclicals like “Laborem Exercens” and “Centesimus Annus” had on Maurice Glasman. He admits that the major influence has been the meaning that these encyclicals gave to labour, vocation, virtue and value as economic categories and how a balance of power in corporate governance limited the excesses of capital and the state while protecting the person and private property. Catholic Social Thinking is in the centre of “Blue Labour” as it proposes a new economic model which avoids the pitfalls of both centralised state control and uncontrolled capitalism. This proposed new economic model is a hybrid of tradition, institutions and labour value which are the foundations of an economy which is both innovative and competitive. He states: “This is what Blue Labour is about as a political force within British Politics. It asserts the mutual necessity of tradition and innovation, of liberty and solidarity, of co-operation and competition, the necessity of tension for the common good, of honouring the dignity of labour as a condition of competitive success.” He has admiration for the social economic model of Germany where vocational training, co-determination and regional banking are an integral part of the economic landscape. The German economy is the one that resisted most the economic slowdown, but it seems that no one has studied the likely reasons why this is so. The explanation can be found in its economic model which has been underpinned by the principles of subsidiarity and market conformity.

The point being made by Glasman on tradition is a valid one. We have been segregating the old from the new generation, nearly isolating the elderly from society. Meanwhile we are targeting separately the younger generation by sophisticated marketing tools, the social media etc. His plea is to bring them together in an atmosphere of mutual respect, to “reconstitute inter-generational solidarity by giving incentives for them to meet and care for older people and to learn and be nourished by them”.

There is much to learn from Catholic Social Thinking.  The “Labour” Lord Glasman has some serious advice on how to apply this Catholic Social Thinking to the economy and society and  to those policy makers who are willing to listen.

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