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One Nation: Tradition, Virtue and Modernity - Maurice Glasman

One Nation: Tradition, Virtue and Modernity - Maurice Glasman

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The speech was given in debate with Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in the inaugural event of the One Nation series of debates at the LSE, May 15th 2013.
The speech was given in debate with Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in the inaugural event of the One Nation series of debates at the LSE, May 15th 2013.

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Published by: onenationregister on May 29, 2013
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One Nation: Tradition, Virtue and Modernity By Maurice Glasman

I would first like to thank, Conor, Purna, Sarah and all here at the Institute for Public Affairs for organising this event. I am travelling next week to the Vatican to meet the Pope and discuss the tradition of Catholic Social Thought and its distinctive stress on vocation, virtue and labour value and I wondered what he would make of the name of your institution. It would probably confirm his worst fears concerning the end point of secular reason. Robespierre set up the committee for the promotion of public virtue, the LSE establishes the Institute for Public Affairs. Each to his own. I am also delighted to be here because I have known the new director of the LSE, Professor Craig Calhoun for nearly twenty years, and I have the greatest respect for his academic integrity, his virtue and his judgement. His work on tradition and radical politics in the early 19th century, particularly ‘The Roots of Radicalism’ have been an extremely important reference for the development of Blue Labour. Professor Calhoun wrote of Marx that ‘like many heirs of the enlightenment he cannot accept the intrusion of seemingly irrelevant tradition into the rationality of the future’. That, in a nutshell is the argument I will be making about Michael Gove’s theory of modernisation this evening. While I do not expect that this will be the beginning of a public affair with Michael Gove , or even a civil partnership, let alone god forbid, the kind of loveless contractual marriage that he and his party have entered into with the liberal democrats, I really do appreciate your agreement to this debate tonight. It shows confidence and courage, two important political virtues that you have also displayed as one of the two serious reforming ministers of this Government. While I think your reforms to be doomed through their inability to engage with the practice of teaching as a vocation upheld by its living practitioners, sometimes called teachers, and by your insistence on the domination of a single interest in the governance of institutions which is hostile to the English


tradition of the balance of power, I do not doubt your sincerity and intensity of purpose or your right as Secretary of State to pursue them. Indeed Michael Gove was one of the first politicians to seriously engage with the idea of One Nation after Ed Miliband’s speech last September. It did not take long for Mr Gove to condemn the entire concept as too conservative, an impediment to modernisation and competition, a hindrance to aspiration, excellence and innovation and a lame defence of a failed status quo which he identified with reactionary public sector unions, bureaucratic inertia and a fear of risk. He also targeted Jon Cruddas and me as the root cause of the problem. He described us as stuck at home watching Blue Peter on a black and white telle and being served Marmite sandwiches by our depressed wives while giving our children a Chinese burn for using their mobiles at the table. He claimed in contrast the Blair inheritance, which he rightly identified with supporting Arsenal Football Club and secondarily, as embracing the challenges and possibilities of globalisation within a progressive ideology best summed up by the song, ‘things can only get better’. Our sense of loss was perceived as nostalgia, our solidarity as a resistance to the necessary demands of globalisation and our concern that all should participate in politics, the economy and society as a cowardly retreat from the intense challenges that need to be faced. Teddy not Franklin Roosevelt was the way to go. I sometimes view this liberal led government as having all of the vices and none of the virtues of New Labour and indicates the necessity of moving beyond it to embrace a politics where the balance of interests and vocation are given a more significant role. And most importantly where tradition and virtue are seen as constitutive aspects of modernity and a successful competitive economy. It is also appropriate that this debate tonight should take place at the LSE because it concerns a central issue in the social sciences concerning the essential elements of modernity within an economic era characterised by globalisation. There are those, and I think Michael Gove is clearly on this side of the debate, who argue that there are two dominant institutions in a modern society, the market and the state and the market should be sovereign in the economy and the state in politics. A price setting market and the rule of law defines modernity and is the road to liberty and prosperity. The political choices are stark in this vision of modernity, sink or swim, adapt or die, the past or the future, open or closed societies, innovation or stagnation, optimism or


nostalgia, the market or the state. I take all of these examples from Michael Gove’s Politea speech. I hate to raise the spectre of the big society that was supposed to define the orientation and direction of the liberal led coalition but the remarkable thing is that there is no conception of society at all in Mr Gove’s conception of modernity. The past is a drag on modernisation, unions hinder innovation, vocation impedes aspiration and tradition must be constrained within Max Weber’s iron cage of modernisation by managerial prerogative and the maximisation of returns in the public and private sectors. And then there are those on my side of the fence who argue that the assumptions of this kind of globalised modernisation theory are mistaken in their proposition that the greatest degree of market organisation and state administration is the only, or even the best way of assimilating changes in technology, information and practice in a global economy. That there is something wrong about an exclusive stress on transferrable skills, in the rejection of institutional mediation and above all in the invisibility of tradition, inherited practice and vocation in the constitution of modernity. Our argument is that these things don’t matter less but matter more in a high value added skilled economy that wishes to be competitive in a global economy. We have known for decades that there would be a knowledge economy, our mistake, and it was shared between both parties, was to think that academics had all the knowledge when a brief conversation with any of us would indicate that this is far from the case. There was a contempt for labour and labour traditions as the carriers of value, of knowledge and of skill. We thought that people who read books knew more than people who worked with other people and did things. We still do and that needs to change. The fundamental counter example that is put forward by mediated globalisation theory is Germany. We ask those on Michael Gove’s side of the argument to explain how the country with the greatest degree of worker representation in its corporate governance structure, the greatest degree of vocational regulation of labour market entry through the enforcement of apprenticeships as a condition of being able to practice a trade, with the greatest constraints on capital through its system of regional and sectoral banks that are not allowed to lend outside of a defined geographical location or specialism, as well as a pension system that administered on parity terms between capital and


labour, all working within a federal structure with strong city government should have the most successful economy in Europe. From the point of view of liberal or third way modernisation theory it simply makes no sense at all. The overwhelming lesson of Thatcherism, and the hardest to face, is that Germany won. We have a Champions League final next week between two supporter owned and democratically governed football clubs. Neither liberal nor Keynesian economic theory can explain this because neither has any concept of tradition, institutions, firms, vocations, or any intermediate structures between the individual and the collective, or the market and the state. Neither has any conception of society. That is why the Labour Tradition and One Nation Labour as an expression of that places its innovation theory, its idea of an innovation nation within a framework of decentralised institutions which maintain a role for tradition, good practice and ethos in navigating an effective response to the demands of globalisation. You cannot innovate out of nothing, there is always pre-existing matter and knowledge that is transformed by the innovation. It is precisely the wisdom of the conservative tradition that revolutionary change cannot understand the continuity of things through time, the constant balance between change and continuity and that not everything can be put into doubt simultaneously. This leads to the insight that an inheritance is necessary for a future, that tradition is necessary for innovation. It is this insight that has been lost to Conservatives since Thatcher and Michael Gove’s vision of modernity is one of relentless change with no institutional mediation in either understanding, shaping or constraining it. It is for this reason that we embrace a politics of paradox where quality and equality, virtuous elites and a renewed democracy, tradition and innovation, the past and the future are understood as complementary not as opposed concepts. We have to be open and closed and the balance between them is the task of the new statecraft. The concept doing all the work in Gove’s definition of modernity is that of the ‘open society’. The problem is that Gove’s vision of the open society has no institutions in it other than the state and the price setting market. Society, however, in contrast to the market, is characterised by robust institutions and closure. In other words, society is always open and closed. The problem with the open society tradition is not the ideal, it is vital to be engaged with the world and to be open to correction; it is the conflation of the open society with the open market. Those


societies with the strongest vocational, financial and knowledge institutions that resist market domination in knowledge, capital and labour markets are most able to effectively compete in international markets on the basis of value added. What we witnessed in the crash of 2008, and the party that can give the most compelling account of its causes and how to avoid their repetition will win the next election, was a market without moral institutions or any balance of power and the result was unsurprisingly a degree of unconstrained greed that led to exaggeration, deceit and ruin. There were precious few constraints of ‘innovation’ and ‘risk taking’ in the City of London in 2007 and we could no longer tell the difference between good and bad forms. It was a failure of an overly centralised state but also an overly centralised financial system. It was a failure of leadership and of accountability, but it was also an institutional failure on a grand scale that spoke of excessive centralization in the market and the state. The shared institutional ecology that can nourish competitive markets and the balance of interests that can constrain arrogance and deceit through relational accountability are the important things to understand and it doesn’t help if your position denies that such things should exist. The irony of Michael Gove’s position is that he has to intensify and centralize state power still further in order to generate educational renewal. It is like a form of permanent revolution, an inane and insane corporate Maoism in which everything must be made anew all the time, out of nothing. Maoism was also hostile to political interference with the popular will, of reactionary and conservative elements that blocked progress. The doctrine of permanent revolution is not only epistemologically void and morally treacherous, it is also a practical failure. It is, however, the guiding philosophy of this liberal led government and no good can come of it. What is needed in contrast is a Politics of the Common Good and this is the meaning of One Nation Labour, in which labour value is honoured as a necessary part of the life of the nation. It is about the redistribution of power and the negotiation of a common good between people with common interests. Take educational reform for example. I agree that Labours educational reform, while very good in places did not go far enough. Where I disagree is that no single interest should dominate in the new reformed institutions he is creating. Under the old system, the funder, whether the local authority or the state was the sovereign power in determining school policy. Under Michael Gove’s free school


initiative it is the parents. What we would advocate is a common good between funders, parents and teachers. We agree with Michael Gove when he says that ‘the quality of teaching – and the prestige of the teaching profession – is the single most important factor in driving up educational standards.’ Status, however, is not an abstract concept, but a position with power and responsibility. The proletarianisation of the teaching profession is the work of many governments, and there have been times when the teaching unions have been complicit with this, and it needs to be reversed. The vocational honour of teachers needs to be strengthened not diminished and established as a significant but not dominant force in the governance structure. Estelle Morris’s suggestion of establishing a Royal College of teaching is an excellent one. No responsibility without power should be the guiding principle of public sector reform and there is no avoiding the necessity that labour is a constitutive part of quality and equality, delivery and design. In One Nation each of the interests need to organise themselves and be represented. The shared inheritance of Marxism and Liberalism, and I know that Michael Gove has been both and that there is not much difference between them, is their permanent renunciation of decentralised democrats as utopian and nostalgic since 1848. Jesse Norman, in his new book on Burke takes a different view. In contrast, tradition and the preservation of institutional virtue are a source of energy and modernisation precisely because we recognise that change and continuity work together, that a balance of power is the best system, that a negotiated settlement is better than one that is imposed, that the domination of any interest violates the demands of what is good and the discovery of the common good between forces that are estranged is the best good of all. It takes longer to get there but the benefits are more enduring. Disraeli defined One Nation as ‘the maintenance of the institutions of the realm and the elevation of the conditions of the people’. It remains a noble description of the vocation of politics. We need to renew not subordinate our institutions such as our great universities, of which this is one, our Parliament, our city governments and professional associations and extend them into the working life of the nation. One Nation assumes the plurality and diversity of existing interests and traditions and seeks to reconcile them in pursuit of the common good, of a societal purpose that gives incentives to virtue and is oriented


towards the good. It conceives of this in reconciling the societal divisions that liberalism denies exists, between capital and labour, between immigrant and local, between Christians and Muslims and between religious and secular, between rich and poor and between North and South. The ‘elevation of the condition of the people’ is not only material, although that is vital and the Living Wage, the regional banks, the cap on interest rates and the establishment of vocational colleges all address that but it is also a respect for the dignity of labour, its centrality in the generation of wealth, the partnership with people in fulfilling their obligations to their loved ones and an understanding of the humiliation and grief that people feel when they cannot. One Nation stresses work, enterprise and participation, a genuine status for workers and users in the governance of the institutions that have power over you and a respect for their complexity, tensions and constraints. Such a vision is very different from the one proposed by this government, or the last labour government, both of which are characterised by a contempt for tradition, a belief in managerial prerogative and the domination of a single interest in the name of efficiency. One Nation Labour is offering a future that is significantly different and better. There are interesting times ahead.

Maurice Glasman is a Labour Peer. The speech was given in debate with Michael Gove Secretary of State for Education in the inaugural event of the One Nation series of debates at the LSE, May 15th 2013. Political notes are published by One Nation Register. They are a monthly contribution to the debates shaping Labour’s political renewal. The articles published do not represent Labour’s policy positions. To contact political notes, email onenationregister@gmail.com


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