I’ve just come out of the inaugural event of the LSE’s new Institute of Public Affairs – ‘who owns the ‘One Nation’ and what does it stand for?’ It was a debate of sorts – between Michael Gove and Lord Glasman – ably chaired by the excellent Conor Gearty.
Both Glasman and Gove spoke eloquently, intelligently, amusingly and interestingly – poking fun at each other and dissecting each other’s ideas and attitudes. And yet the main impression I left with was that most of the big questions, specifically questions about the ‘One Nation’ idea, remained unanswered. As Fiona Miller, asking a question from the audience suggested, it seemed very much a ‘boys club’ kind of debate. The similarities between Gove and Glasman were far, far greater than their differences.
What I had been hoping for was some kind of explanation of how the idea of ‘one nation’ could be reconciled with the current ‘strivers vs skivers’ agenda. And yet there was none of this. Poverty, though central to Disraeli’s original feeling for a need for ‘one nation’ barely got a look in. When Fiona Miller asked where women fitted in either of their visions of ‘one nation’ Gove got very nervous, almost tongue-tied. People with disabilities didn’t get mentioned – I doubt either speaker even thought about mentioning them. Ethnic minorities? Barely a whisper of them in the speeches of either Gove or Glasman.
Indeed, the ‘one nation’ seemed very one-dimensional. It was all about one kind of person, though others got the odd name check it was little more than lip service. When Gove mentioned poverty he hinted at it all being caused by the ‘character’ of the families involved. One nation, just so long as that nation consists of good little workers doing what they’re told….
Glasman represents Blue Labour – and though I found myself liking him as a person, if Labour remains Blue I think we’re all in trouble. We need a new vision – ‘One Nation’ may be a good idea, but it has to include many more of us, and not just on the terms that are set by the old boys club. The current vision, as set out by both Glasman and Gove, effectively only allows people to be included on terms that actually exclude them. It can’t work – and the way that they both either avoided or misunderstood the questions that challenged those terms made that very clear.
Something needs to change – and I don’t think we can even hope for change from the existing people at the top.