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The death of my party, by a Labour peer


LORD Glasman, a Labour peer and the founder of Blue Labour, is a most interesting thinker. I am fascinated by the essay he produced on the December election result. He thinks that the EU is killing social democratic parties by imposing ‘the rectitude of Hayek’ via the Treaty of Lisbon and has now killed the Labour Party just as the UK is leaving. 

He wrote: ‘It is a minor irony that Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, who prided themselves on their Marxist analysis with a central role for class, ran a campaign based on ‘values’ and were trounced by the Conservatives who placed a relentless stress on the working class and transferring their loyalties. Labour Marxists turned out to be Whigs. What a lot of luggage for such a short journey.

‘The deep complicity between New Labour and the Corbyn Project was shown here. The progressive certainty that history was going in one direction, towards the free movement of people and things, that technology would dissolve place and borders in an undifferentiated swirl in which only the individual and Treaty law mattered.

‘That the future was based on globalisation was unquestioned between them, as was the idea that the nation state and democracy no longer really mattered. This Whig theory of history is as untrue now as it ever was. The working class, the nation-state and democracy are key features of the new era. Far from being losers, the post-industrial working class have decided the two most significant votes of our time.

‘And the Left was the loser. The progressive illness has dissolved the ties that bind because it has no concept of society, of the social, of belonging and inheritance. Trapped in an endless now, it lost the future. The coalition of Peter Mandelson and John McDonnell that tied Labour to a second referendum is the key to understanding the catastrophic defeat, because it finally ruptured the connection between the working class and Labour. It said, ‘You didn’t know what you were doing’. It said that democracy does not decide issues in our society. It said that it had no faith in our country to decide its future through democratic politics but that it had to be contracted out to an unaccountable system of directives and laws.’

There are so many ironies here. One is that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell always wanted the UK to leave the EU in order to achieve socialism. On the other hand, had they behaved honourably, respected the referendum result and held to their real convictions, Labour would have lost an unknowable number of seats to the Liberal Democrats. 

In retrospect they should have accepted a Left-wing adaptation of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Thank God they did not.

Seumas Milne is no Whig in the sense of caring about freedom, and much less, despite having gone to Winchester, in the sense of loving rule by the upper classes. However he and most of the Left believe in rule by salons, if not by the sort of well-bred intellectuals one met at Holland House in the 1830s, who included European liberals such as  the Hungarian nationalist ‘Stephen’ Szechenyi, then by the people one meets at literary, media and academic London parties today. 

Lord Glasman, however, does not have Sydney Smith in mind when he calls Milne a Whig, but someone who sees history as continuous progress. This is the philosophy of Tony Blair who sees conservatism as always wrong, about votes for the working class, votes for women and so on. Up and up and up, on and on and on, as Ramsay MacDonald encapsulated it. 

The truth is that history is not like this, with the conservatives by definition behind and wrong, the progressives by definition in front and right. Liberals have often been behind and conservatives ahead, as with giving votes to women and the working class.

History is also full of progressive ideas that later were considered to be wrong. Eugenics is an example. Imperialism was progressive once. Keir Hardie, the first leader of the British Labour Party, considered himself a prohibitionist first and a socialist second. Both ideas were foolish.

The Left, liberals and socialists, had a very strongly anti-Semitic strain before the First World War in Britain and Europe. Bolshevism after 1917 was considered by many to be progressive. Many more reasonable people were in favour of nationalising the commanding heights of industry. In the 1950s and 1960s state planning seemed to be the future. The EEC was a top-down, statist, Napoleonic civil law project when it began in that era and it will presumably be so until it dies. Nothing is as old-fashioned as a future that has failed.

The EU’s only chance of survival is to become democratic, but this requires the creation of a European demos, a self-conscious European people. Such a demos is a very hard thing to create, but it can be based only on what binds Europe together. In other words, the recognition that Europe is based on the heritage of Greek and Roman civilisation and is predominantly Christian. Its values are derived from Christian values. Because of these things its peoples have much in common. 

Immigration from outside Europe is the biggest of the many stumbling blocks to creating such a demos. But to stop this huge phenomenon someone has to provide a moral justification to do so. The obvious institution to do so, the Catholic Church, is doing the opposite, while engaged in normalising the sin of Sodom.

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Paul Wood
Paul Wood

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