Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What the appointment of Jon Cruddas means for Labour's 2015 manifesto

Jon Cruddas is, broadly speaking, a welcome appointment to head up the Labour policy review, but that's not to say he's not a mixed bag. He is free thinking and quite forthright which regardless of output one always has to appreciate I think. In the not to distant past he has spoken privately in quite negative terms about Ed Miliband, and whilst no one would expect him to retract those opinions, my hope is that he does not let them cloud the respect he shows the elected leader of the party. Ed I am sure is intensely relaxed about such matters. Jon also by nature a thoroughly decent and ethical man and has in the past been quite open about the impact his Roman Catholic faith has had on his ideology so I guess it is not out of order for me to point out that much of his ideas are influenced by his religious upbringing. But if that is his inherent ideology it would be wrong to conclude that he is not open minded enough to derive fresh thinking and ideas from elsewhere.

What glues Cruddas's entire political thinking together is his joined up thinking. He shies away from policy heavy debates and instead focuses upon the ideas and philosophy that underpins them. He has a passion for counter-hegemonic theory and utilisation the various components of culture & class to create something of a radical movement - Gramscian if you like. That makes him a useful chair of the policy review because he is more likely to develop an ambitious, radical yet coherent theme than Byrne ever was. It also means that Cruddas is much much less likely to engage in the Blairite triangulation that insults voters and drives principled people away from the party. My experience is that activists are more ready to compromise on some of their policies if they can be confident in the overall principles and direction of the project. In that respect many will be reasonably happy with the direction that Cruddas plots for us.

So what does this mean in policy terms? Well, the good news is that no one shows a disdain for the fast buck culture in the UK more than Jon Cruddas. He has spoken about it often, and arguably long before the current leadership came to embrace it. In addition, Cruddas gets the horrors of consumer debt, he recoils at the housing bubble that we in Labour did more than any other to create. In this more moral age Jon is well placed to articulate society's growing unease with excessive commodification. So if you are in politics to build a sustainable economy then you will be happy with Jon's appointment. Cruddas is also much more comfortable with using the phrase class. His brand of urban masculine politics will probably go down much better with the white van man but that is equally fraught with the danger that it might bring a lack of focus on gender equality in our manifesto's outlook. He has written about the lack of affordability in housing prices and about the dangers of high turnover in tenants so that housing estates lose their community spirit, my only fear is that he may allow this to lead him down the path of pandering to those who blame immigration for those worries. Jon there are 5 million on housing waiting lists in the UK and if we removed every foreigner in Britain who lives in a council house it would not even make a dent in that figure. 

On the theme of British Patriotism, or dare I say it English patriotism, Jon also has to be careful. This can be very healthy when used to safe guard British jobs, British industry and to hold the EU to account. Jon has spoken well in the past about the importance of community pride in local businesses and about the dangers of globalisation. This will lend itself well to those, including myself, who call on Ed Miliband to back an EU Referendum. As ever, the danger is that this means send out the wrong signals on international co-operation, or immigration. Done correctly, this could work, but its crucial that immigrants are not made scapegoats of in the process. Where there is a strength in Jon's communitarianism is his increased faith in co-operative endeavour and in the voluntary sector.  Expect Jon to explore themes of how a re-vamped Red Big Society might look.

I guess, however, those who will be most disappointed at Jon's appointment yesterday will be the very long term unemployed. Jon might draw a distinction between those who currently cannot find work because of the mess the Tories are making of the economy and those who were unemployed before the economic crash. Jon having a closer affinity dare I say it with the working poor, might be willing to accept/embrace/adopt the argument that Labour was seen between 1997-2010 as too much on the side of the workshy. Now before you rush to judgement on that point, it might be an idea to wait and see what Jon himself has to say about these matters, or indeed how it comes to fruition in policy terms. For now, I am simply giving you my two penny's worth.

Potential Winners: Southern Working Class, men, mild euro-sceptics, manufacturing, low paid, renters, Christian Socialists, small businesses.

Potential Losers: Long term unemployed, new waves of immigrants, sub-urban women, city financiers, corporations, millionaires, rogue landlords, Euro-philes, environmentalists.

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