‘Ever since the Thatcher era, British politics has been defined by forms of economic and social liberalism. The right won the argument for the former and the left the argument for the latter, or so it is said. Yet in the post-crash era, this ideological settlement is beginning to fracture. The right is re-examining its crude economic liberalism and the left its social liberalism. This shift is characterised neither by a revival of socialist economics, nor by one of reactionary conservatism. Rather, it is defined by a mutual recognition that liberalism, at least in some of its guises, does not provide all the answers to Britain’s most entrenched problems: its imbalanced economy, its atomised society, its lack of common identity.’ New Statesman, 29 March 2013
The summer of 2012 captured an unexpected optimism as the nation was bound together by two events: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.
My family stood in the rain as the Queen’s flotilla glided along the Thames as it came past south-east London. We attended football at Wembley and Hockey at the Olympic Park. We cheered Mo Farah and Jess Ennis and were inspired by the Jamaican athletes who overcame the might of the US. A wide range of people were inspired by Danny Boyle’s genius account of the people’s history during the opening ceremony.
A common story
What happened? Our country united around a common story. We realised that there are many good things about our nation and the civic identity and the narrative that defines us. It could not have been better. It was genuinely British and genuinely inclusive.
But as the glow of the Olympics fades, what is the root cause of the unease and anxiety that defines significant parts of our country?
The quote from the New Statesman above suggests that our embrace of individualism in our economic and social relationships has been exposed as the sham offer it always was. The promise that markets have all the answers, that ‘if it feels good, do it’ and that responsibility, family values and love for your neighbour are not welcome in the modern world have proved hollow.
Political theorists might label these defining motifs of the modern world as economic and social liberalism. They dominated Western society in the post-war period and their fragmentation leaves a large gap. It is a vacuum that can be exploited by dark forces seeking dominance and certainty.
Into this vacuum theologians, community activists and ordinary people with a desire for a better path are seeking to craft a new politics. Left and Right are re-evaluating previous assumptions about society, economics and identity. The new movement seeks to stimulate a debate on how Britain responds to the challenges in this ‘post-liberal’ landscape. In the Labour Party and on the centre-left this energy finds its expression in a movement called ‘Blue Labour’.
‘Blue Labour’ seeks to affirm the indelible elements of British society that cannot be reduced to individual choice. It honours faith, family, love of ‘place’ and a refusal to bow to the state or the market, both of which can de-humanise and commodify us.
The Blue Labour seminar: ‘Towards a Post-Liberal Future’
If you are interested in learning more why not come to the Blue Labour seminar on the 5th July at Nottingham University? We will explore some of the questions at the heart of addressing the political unease in the UK. A Christian contribution is essential.
Professors John Milbank and Adrian Pabst, alongside Richard Robinson and Ian Geary, host a discussion on the future of Blue Labour.
5 July 2013, 9:30 to 17:00, Centre of Theology and Philosophy, The University of Nottingham
Professor John Milbank will give the opening address and Lord Glasman will close the conference. Our panel discussions will cover a broad and critical range of concerns such as welfare, One Nation Labour, election strategy and the contribution of Catholic Social Teaching.
Speakers include: David Goodhart (Demos), Caroline Julian (Respublica), Daniel Singleton (Faith Action), Canon Paul Hackwood (Church Urban Fund), Dan Leighton, Dr Jon Wilson (Historian, Kings College London) and Adrian Pabst (University of Kent).
If you are interested in attending, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org The cost is £10 for those in employment and £5 for students and the unemployed. We will be asking people to pay on the day.
For more details – http://www.bluelabour.org/
Ian Geary works in Parliament and is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement and lives in South East London with his wife and their two young children.