Britain’s largest union, UNITE, has pledged support for Jon Cruddas in his campaign to be deputy leader of the Labour Party. I believe that Ed Blisset, influential London regional secretary of the GMB is supporting Cruddas, the GMB as a whole will decide at Congress in June. Tribune has also voted to support Jon Cruddas.
As I have argued all along: 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 Blairite, Cruddas does understand this dynamic, and has spoken against it. In his epilogue to the Rowntree Trust’s report 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”
The importance for the left is that it is the trade unions who are providing the main ideological opposition to neo-liberalism, against private equity, against PFI and in favour of immigrant rights. If the union leadserships and trade union branches and committees send a clear signal that they are opposed to the main thrust of Gordon Brown's agenda than that increases the chance of real opposition to the government.