Thursday, March 01, 2007

Why the left should back Jon Cruddas

I want to return to the issue of whether the left should support Jon Cruddas for deputy leader of the Labour Party. Not only is it increasingly likely that there will be no left challenge to Gordon Brown for leader, but as I have argued before, the dynamic of the Labour Party means that Cruddas’s candidature for deputy leader actually makes it less likely that McDonnell (or Meacher) will get support from the 44 MPs that they need.

Unfortunately, the forthcoming leadership election and deputy leadership contest has generated as much heat as light in blogland, about the relative merits of being in the Labour Party as an individual member. This is largely a futile argument, as we are not going to convince each other, and the key issue is how the left can work together and support each other.

I think the correct position was very well expressed by Rob Griffiths, General Secretary of the Communist Party (CPB), in a debate with me two years ago: “As far as we are concerned we will do all we can to support those in the Labour Party, and do everything we can to give unity and to help to give clarity to that fight within the Labour party and the affiliated trade unions against New Labour. There is also the important area as well of the left outside the Labour party. We will certainly be committed … to contributing as much as we can, not to the point where we will attack those in the Labour party who continue to work for left policies and socialist polices in the Labour party - we will be in solidarity with them. We won't join in any attack on those, but we will work with others on the left to try to build as much unity as we can in the left outside the Labour party. … And we would argue to both sets, we have good friends in the Labour party, we have good friends and allies outside the Labour Party, and we think, by and large, while we will continue to debate our differences of course, we believe it is futile to attack one another and say you shouldn't be over there you should be over here. We will be arguing that the left outside the Labour party should be showing as much solidarity as they can with the left inside the Labour party, and we will be arguing with our friends inside the Labour Party that they should be as much joint work, and common work and unity as possible with those outside the Labour party.”

Now of course the Labour Party leadership, and deputy leadership, contests are an issue for both those with individual Labour Party membership, and also for those of us in the affiliated trade unions.

In January there was an important article in the Morning Star, by editor, John Haylett, that described the situation we are in very well. “The trade unions, which remain the largest storehouse of pro-Labour sentiment, personnel and finance, bear key responsibility for what happens to the party that they created. They have already been conned once by the Warwick agreement, of which Hans Christian Andersen must have seen an early draft and based his Emperor's New Clothes on it. It delivered nothing for working people other than an increased level of disappointment and alienation. Today, for the labour movement, the status quo is definitely not an option. Change must come or, as Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas suggests, we could see the demise of Labour, leaving the field to barely distinguishable pro-business parties funded by the rich and by taxation. Indeed, it is difficult even to find evidence that a party of labour - rather than a neoliberal imposter party that bears the name Labour - still exists. The unions have links with most Labour MPs. Those links must be activated to let these MPs, half of whom have never broken ranks to speak out against new Labour's pro-business, pro-war agenda, know what is expected of them.”

Haylett puts it very well: “Unless Labour changes course, adopting a political approach such as that put forward by left leadership challenger John McDonnell, the future is bleak not only for Labour's short-term electoral hopes but for its very future. ”

I am sure we would all like to wake up the day after the labour leadership result is announced and find that John McDonnell is Prime Minister. But if we look at the actually existing possibilities and ask ourselves what would be the most progressive outcome and context for the continuing struggle against New Labour’s neo-liberalism, then that is probably a Gordon Brown victory, with Jon Cruddas elected deputy leader, or at least securing a very credible vote. (And make no mistake Gordon Brown PM is a preferable option to David MiniBlair PM). Of course if McDonnell does manage to get on the ballot for leader and secures a creditable vote, then that is even better still - but we all know he cannot win.

As I have argued before, “The union leaders want influence, and also want a change of direction. They will reason that backing Brown keeps them close to him, and they could maximise pressure on the new PM by backing a deputy leader closer to the unions’ agenda. As has been shown at the last two party conferences, the union leaders are very disciplined (or spineless, depending on your perspective) at sticking to their own agenda, and not supporting left initiatives over Iraq, etc. Cruddas himself has a good prospect of being not the “left candidate” but the “unions’ candidate”, in the same way that Callaghan was for leader. I think those union leaders wanting to pull Labour towards their own agenda may back Brown and Cruddas.”

So why does Cruddas suit the union leaders' agenda? It seems many on the left have missed the fundamental dynamic. The Labour Party has institutionally embedded neo-liberalism into its DNA, yet this places the Parliamentary Labour Party in a prolonged structural antagonism with the Party’s base of support within the Trade Unions. Triangulation also means that Labour Policies are not engaged with the priorities of working class voters in safe seats, which leads to apathy, disengagement and even some voting for the BNP.

Despite his background as a Blaitite, Cruddas does understand this dynamic, and has spoken against it. In his epilogue to the Rowntree Trust’s report (PDF) on the far right Cruddas wrote: “The originality of New Labour lies in the method by which policy is not deductively produced from a series of core economic or philosophical assumptions or even a body of ideas, but rather, is scientifically constructed out of the preferences and prejudices of the swing voter in the swing seat. It is a brilliant political movement whose primary objective is to reproduce itself – to achieve this it must dominate the politics of Middle England. The government is not a coalition of traditions and interests who initiate policy and debate; rather it is a power elite whose modus operandi is the retention of power. … … At root the gearing of the electoral system empties out opportunities for a radical policy agenda. On the one hand, policy is constructed on the basis of scientific analysis of the preferences of key voters; on the other, difficult issues and the prejudices of the swing voter are neutralised. Labour have become efficient at winning elections and being in government yet within a calibrated politics where tenure is inversely proportionate to change. As a politician for what is regarded as a safe working class seat the implications of this political calibration are immense. The system acts at the expense of communities like these – arguably those most in need. The science of key seat organisation and policy formation acts as a barrier to a radical emancipatory programme of economic and social change.”

Get that: “a radical emancipatory programme of economic and social change” It doesn’t matter whether or not Cruddas is sincere, or whether he will deliver. A vote for him is a vote for a change of direction from New Labour towards: “a radical emancipatory programme of economic and social change”

He may or may not be a socialist, but he is attuned to the broad social democratic agenda of the trade union leadership. If Cruddas wins, then that is a much better context for the unions to exercise influence over the direction of the Labour Party, or if they fail in that to develop alternative avenues of influence. It is my firm view that the Labour Party cannot be rescued, but whether or not I am right, the best outcome will be a result in the leadership and deputy leadership elections that demonstrates that we want to see a change of direction.


Tawfiq Chahboune said...

Rob Griffiths claims that the unions have been "conned"? Is this meant to be taken seriously in any way whatever? In which case, the unions must be so unimaginably stupid that giving any money to people so damn thick and naive is worse than literally burning the dosh.

Furthermore, Cruddas is no more on the Left than Hilarious Benn, Michael "interesting" Meacher, Alan Johnson, Peter Hain or anyone else - other than McDonnell - currently positioning themselves as the Left's candidate, yet he is the Left's candidate!

McDonnell is the only true leftie in the pack and he can barely bring himself to vote for himself. This whole absurd business tells us a great deal, and one thing more than any: the Labour Left has decided that to vote for a leftwing candidate is a waste of time and that the only choice is between varying degrees of rightwing candidates. Even Diane Abbott, the chair of the campaign group, isn't going to vote for McDonnell! She's going to vote for Brown. Though I still think the Labour Left is the only thing that can save the Left, this whole thing shows how far they have yet to travel.

Jim Denham said...

I find it interesting that someone (ie: you, Liam) who thinks the Labour Party is beyond redemption, nonetheless advocates a vote for Cruddas: maybe it's because your expectations are so low, that you think it's worth voting for this religious, opportunist, Blairite, who has no prghramme worthy of any sort of socialist (even right-wing reformist) support.

AN said...

What has Liam got to do with it Jim?? And which Liam?

I think the mistake you are mkaing Jim is to fetichise the importance of the programme, or political beleifs of the candidate.

I may be proven wrong, but i beleive that Cruddas will get support from the unions on the basis that he is standing for a change of direction - and the bigger the vote he gets the stringer the argument for a change of direction.

And yes my expectations are very low in this context!

dan said...

Diane Abbott isn't the chair of the Campaign Group and she is nominating John.

Get your facts straight.

Martin Wicks said...

Can't agree Andy. Having a quick look at Cruddas's web site there's nothing about one of the central aspects of Blairism - privatisation.

True it's doubtfeul that JD will get the necessary support from enough MPs to get on the ballot. But in terms of political struggle in the unions the demand that the affiliated unions support him remains the key means of pressing the unions for a sharp break with Blair/Brown.

Some unions will use the deputy leadership election as a means of avoiding challenging Brown. People in the CWU tell me, for instance, that Hayes believes that the key question is getting a 'left' deputy leader (presumably on the grounds that Brown is a certainty). Their 'left' candidate is the risible choice of Peter Hain.

In practice, of course, the choice of deputy leader will have little bearing on government policy, in the face of Prime Ministerial patronage and the dictatorship of the leader.

JD poses a break with the whole Blairite programme. Aside from the quote about an emancipatory project it's difficult to see what is Cruddas's programme. You'd have to have a look at his voting record of course, but there's no sign (unless I'm missing something) that he is posing a break with the Blairite programme.

Tawfiq Chahboune said...

Apologies, Dan. Looked up the Campaign Group's website, and, yes, you're right, she isn't the chair. However, am I right in thinking that until very recently she was the chair?

She said on The Week that she's going to vote for Brown (and generally singing his praises). So I'm only taking her at her word. Maybe she was joking. I have no idea what goes through her head. After all, she did say that she would not send her child to any school in Hackney because there were too many black kids there.

AN said...


You are righht that the JmD campaign is the big story.

As much as anything I am flying a kite as to what the fall back position is for th left if JmD doesn't get on the ballot, and I believe the deputy contest therefore becomes important.

I would find it very hard to see Hain in the role of left candidate, but let's see how the campigns develop.

Jenny said...

I have a question for people here who might know. What happened to the "reclaim labour" blog that supported John McDonnell? It was good and also funny.