Labour axioms, Labour commitments, Labour values

In the conclusion to his essay, Labour as a radical tradition (PDF, pp.14ff.), Maurice Glasman (see previous post) sets out a number of “axioms” of Labour’s “radical tradition” (bullet points and bold highlighting added):

  • Capitalism is based on the maximisation of returns on investment, which creates great pressure to commodify land and labour markets. Human beings and nature, however, are not created as commodities and should not be treated as such.
  • Human beings, in contrast, are dependent rational beings capable of trust and responsibility, who need each other to lead a good life. People are meaning-seeking beings who rely on an inheritance to make sense of their world, on liberty to pursue their own truth, and on strong social institutions which promote public goods and virtue.
  • Democracy, the power of organised people to act together in the Common Good, is the way to resist the power of money. In that sense, Labour holds to a theory of relational power as a counterweight to the power of money.
  • The building of relational power is called organising and this is a necessary aspect of the tradition.
  • As a theory of the Common Good, Labour holds to a balance of power within the Constitution, and in all public institutions, including the economy.

Labour recognises “the innovation, energy and prosperity that markets bring”. However, it also retains “an awareness, absent in liberalism, of the concentrations of power, the disruption and the dispossession that are its accompaniment”. Labour’s response to this is

not the abolition of capital nor the elimination of markets, but their democratic entanglement in regional, civic and vocational relationships.

Glasman then suggests a number of forms which this “democratic entanglement” can take:

  1. A commitment to local, relational or mutual banking.
  2. A commitment to skilled labour, with “real traditions of skill and knowledge” in a “vocational economy”.
  3. A commitment to the balance of power within the firm, so that “managers are held accountable” and “strategy is not based on the interests of one group alone”.
  4. A commitment to forms of mutual and co-operative ownership.

For those whose heads hit the table in despair when they hear phrases like “Blue Labour” or (saints preserve us) “Purple Labour”, and who cry out “Why can’t we just be Labour?”, I suggest that what Glasman is describing in these “axioms” and “commitments” is precisely that: Labour values. Indeed, I think Glasman’s entire thesis is that Labour has distinctive values arising from its unique origins, rather than just being a classic, post-Enlightenment “social democratic” (let alone “liberal”) party.

While I don’t think Glasman’s list is exhaustive – in particular, I do think basic Labour values include a commitment to greater equality, and that this has deep roots in the English radical tradition – I do think it forms a basis for thinking about how Labour can once again present a vision of the common good that can inspire people, and maybe even win power again.


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