During the leadership contest, Owen Smith began to sketch out a new form of 'Blue Labour' vision for Labour--republican, federalist, not overly socially conservative, opposed to concentrations of wealth and power, and launching a patriotic assault on inequality. This vision holds out the prospect of reconnecting with some of Labour's lost voters. The party would do well to build on it.
What lessons can we draw from Owen Smith's leadership challenge? Some would respond that it shows that a candidate promising to prioritise competence and electability cannot make gaffes like suggesting that the UK should negotiate with ISIS. Others add that since Smith only really drew policy battle-lines on a second EU referendum, his defeat shows no challenger can hope to out-Corbyn Corbyn. Instead, it is claimed, Labour moderates (which includes every non-Corbynite faction from the soft left to the Blairite right) need an inspiring vision of their own: only then will they deserve to win back control of the party.
So far, so obvious. Largely overlooked is that Smith briefly made gestures towards the kind of political renewal Labour so desperately needs. Early on in the contest Smith gave two extensive interviews--one on Newsnight, the other with Owen Jones--which addressed Labour's estrangement from the country. (1) He spoke of the existential threat of UKIP storming our working-class heartlands in South Wales and Northern England, advocated a properly federal UK, and argued for a patriotic Labour party which tackled inequality and insecurity while openly addressing immigration. It was, in other words, a partial embrace--subsequently abandoned--of the Blue Labour approach to socialism.
Anthony Painter argues that Blue Labour combines two strands of thought currently in exile from the Labour movement: republicanism and social conservatism. (2) Modern republicanism, stretching from the Italian Renaissance to the American and French Revolutions, conceived of the common good as freedom from domineering rule. (3) Blue Labour applies this notion to political economy, holding that strong local governance, workplace democracy, and civil society organisations are the means by which we can best free ourselves from economic domination, and so realise the common good. Blue Labour's social conservatives, meanwhile, also advocate a contributory approach to welfare, tough controls on immigration, and stress the importance of national identity.
The republican and socially...