“You know how it seems like over the past thirty years the Left won the contest for social policy – for liberalism, equal rights, against homophobia and racism – and yet the Right won all the arguments on economic party? Well sometimes I almost – almost – wish that it had been the other way around. A less open and more traditional society, but with the pay-off that we would at least live under a more equitable economic system, without unemployment, poverty, or exploitation…”
“That’s very Blue Labour of you.”
“Is it? B****cks.”
This was a conversation had between myself and one of our season 2 guests during a post-show drinking session. For the avoidance of doubt I was the speculative-swearing one.
Blue Labour is a political-philosophical strand within the modern Labour party, associated with academic peer Maurice Glasman. Put simply it argues for small-“c” conservatism on social issues (law & order, welfare, immigration) as a means for winning back lost core voters, particularly working class people. An obsession with metropolitan-oriented social issues, its adherents would argue, has caused the Labour Party (and perhaps the Left in general) to neglect those more traditional supporters who have lost out through globalisation. Reasonable enough, but any row back on social progress – be it concessions to xenophobia-motivated anti-immigration sentiments, or the empty and manipulative mantra of “Faith, Family and Flag” – would too big a price to pay, even in buying authentically socialistic economic reform.
But what has this to do with the Pope? Well Francis recently made the suggestion that good acts could be good in themselves, without needing any ideology-based motivation. Not his exact wording, but what “Just do good, and we’ll find a meeting point.” effectively means in that context. Its not revolutionary way of thinking to me personally, even if Francis’ predecessor and many of my contemporaries struggle with it.
The new Pope is something of an enigma. He is as bigoted and backward as the come with regards to contraception and equal marriage. On the other hand he affects modesty and frugality in the papal household, is a genuine voice for the poor and dispossessed, and is apparently sympathetic to the Marxist-influenced Liberation theology. Its a space that isn’t really occupied by many people on the political compass; that of a left-wing authoritarian. Rather where there are famous left-authoritarians , it is the authoritarian side that is most pre-eminent. Francis seems a genuine balance of two not-quite incompatible positions, each expressed sincerely and openly.
Coming back to the UK, my concern is that sometimes the modern Left goes for the (relatively) easy victories. Legislating for LGBT rights is now such an open door that right-wing parties can do it, albeit thanks to the groundwork laid thirty plus years ago by people that they then and now denounce as loonies and extremists. Sure we could worry about gender-balance on corporate boards of directors, or even in the House of Commons – but when 99% plus of people born today will never stand a chance of sitting on or in either irrespective of gender, is that not putting the cart significantly ahead of the horse?
Social change has shown us that no orthodoxy is so self-evidently true as to be beyond challenge. No tradition is so key to existential well-being that it cannot be torn up. Greater equality and freedom has been won by those who had the courage to stake out new ideas before those ideas were popular, mainstream or “credible”. At the same time, economic inequality has rocketed because in that policy area, that same courage and determination has been lacking.
The backwards ideology of the men in cassocks is crumbling. How long must we wait before the same happens to the similarly backwards ideology of the men in pinstripes?