Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cruddas: We have to return to class politics

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Thursday's Morning Star carries the following very interesting interview with Dagenham MP JON CRUDDAS, who is the only Labour deputy leadership contender who isn't in the Cabinet. As I have argued on this blog, trade union backing has turned Jon into a strong candidate. His campiagn is significant as being the vehicle by which the trade unions can express their disatisfaction with the government's current course

Morning Star editor, John Haylett Writes:

ALONE among the Labour deputy leadership hopefuls, Dagenham and Redbridge MP Jon Cruddas does not want the job to come gift-wrapped with the deputy prime minister label.

"I don't see the job as a stepping stone to the baubles, country houses and so on," he makes clear.

In his opinion, there are too many people in positions of influence in the Labour Party whose vision is of a "virtual party, a message delivery system," which concentrates, US-style, on a tiny proportion of swing voters and key constituencies located in the mythical country of Middle England.

"They regard the ideas of a political party and membership mobilisation as old-fashioned, believing that the future should be decided like a market strategy."

Cruddas is also the only contender who has not sat in the heart of the Cabinet loyally parroting the new Labour neoliberal and pro-imperialist line, although, for a current outsider, he began as an insider, working in 10 Downing Street during the first Blair government.

"I recall sitting in Downing Street in 1998-9 when BMW pulled the plug on Rover and one of the advisers said that this was marvellous news - 'a great opportunity to move from the old industrial economy to the new knowledge economy,' based on new technology."

Such people, who had the Prime Minister's ear, saw the new Labour government as ushering in a new epoch, which would remove the Labour Party from the working class, creating a new economy and new support base for the government.

Cruddas points out that only about one in five jobs is in the knowledge sector, with 80 per cent still taking a traditional form, although, increasingly, based on low skills, low wages and done by women.

"To move forward, the first step is to look at the economy as it is, not at some kind of dream world," he says.

"They have this idea that the government should remove itself from the economy and we have to confront that debate and return to class politics," Cruddas declares.

Deindustrialisation has certainly hit his own constituency, with car assembly at Ford Dagenham ending in 2000 and causing a huge effect on attitudes and voting patterns.

"There has been a big decline in support for Labour and the largest drop has been in social groups D/E, whose attitudes are coloured by insecurity in work, a shortage of council housing and problems in accessing public services," he explains.

"Those who backed new Labour and still do are social groups A/B, many of whom are the new knowledge economy professionals."

Since Labour won the 1997 election, it has shed 4.5 million voters, the vast bulk of whom fall into four main groups.

• The manual working class, which has seen well-paid jobs exported to low-wage economies

• Public-service workers, who resent private-sector penetration and government "reforms"

• Black and ethnic minorities, who have reacted against the Iraq war and ministerial racist scapegoating

• Urban intellectuals who have switched, largely to the Liberal Democrats, over the war.

A recent YouGov poll revealed that 15 million people self-identified as Labour voters, but one-third of them said that they would not vote Labour under present circumstances.

"The important point is that these voters are not switching to the Tories, which means that it is possible to rebuild the Labour Party as a modern, pluralist, federalist democracy," Cruddas insists.

However, he is aware that, in a number of areas, including his own, disillusioned working-class voters are switching to the racist British National Party.

"About 10,000 people voted BNP in my area. That doesn't mean that there are 10,000 nazis. These are insecure and vulnerable people, for whom, as far as they are concerned, the Labour Party has failed them," he states.

Unlike neighbouring MP Margaret Hodge, whose response to this phenomenon was to wallow in the gutter with the BNP by proposing discrimination in housing against recent migrants, Cruddas has worked the streets with a broad coalition of anti-racist groups.

In response to the lies peddled by the BNP, he has delivered the excellent factual newspapers prepared by Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation, door-to-door.

It is an uphill job, especially since, while the BNP concentrates its headline propaganda against Muslim religious symbols, there is a material basis for the refusal to vote Labour any longer.

"They won't vote Tory on class grounds, but they see the main parties as interchangeable," says Cruddas.

"We need to talk to people, change the debate and see how to re-enfranchise working people."

The scale of the problem becomes apparent when he reports on some of the problems coming into his regular constituency surgery and affecting the living standards of his constituents - a Lithuanian construction gang being fed stale bread and cold beans and paid £15 a day and a roofer whose rate for the job has fallen by £2.50 an hour in six months.

And there's even one man who has put a cooker in the shed at the bottom of his garden and rents it out to hot-bedding migrants working in the shadow economy.

"So, you have a combination of exploitation, abuse and criminality," Cruddas comments.

He is passionate about employment rights, not only for indigenous people but also for the large number of undocumented workers whose ruthless exploitation also drives down the living standards and expectations of everyone else.

He recalls with anger that, on the same Friday morning that 125 Labour MPs backed a Trade Union Freedom Bill initiated by, among others Cruddas and John McDonnell MP, former leftwinger and trade union official turned new Labour minister Jim Fitzpatrick filibustered to talk out a Bill on agency workers' rights.

The Dagenham MP believes that it is necessary to tighten regulation of employment agencies and to insist on the kind of public procurement clauses on fair pay and non-discrimination that Ken Livingstone introduced in the Greater London Council days, before the Tory government outlawed them.

Cruddas was among those who addressed the May Day amnesty protest in Trafalgar Square, calling for regularisation of undocumented workers.

"This is a huge problem. There are a third of a million people in London alone with no legal status. If we are not prepared to acknowledge their existence, they will be open to the worst abuses," he says.

So, what are the policies on which Cruddas will campaign for the deputy leadership and pursue his campaign to rebuild the Labour Party as a "modern, pluralist, federalist democracy?"

Apart from workplace rights, he insists on the need for an upsurge in council house building and notes ruefully that, at recent hustings, Cabinet members who have said nothing on the subject in years have jumped on the council housing bandwagon.

"We've passed motions on this at party conference for four years and had the door slammed firmly in our faces, but there are now 100,000 more on the council house waiting list in London since 2003 and a total of 1.6 million people on waiting lists."

Private construction companies constantly bank land, while complaining about "red tape" restrictions on where they may build, but they stick rigidly to building 170,000 units a year, guaranteeing a real-terms annual price rise.

"We used to build 200,000 council homes a year," says Cruddas, pointing out that the government's compliance with "the EU golden rule" of a borrowing limit of 3 per cent of GDP lies behind its determination not to increase the public-sector borrowing requirement.

In his view, this is "unsustainable. It has to change. It is an exercise in political will."

On public services, he wants a moratorium on the involvement of the private sector, saying that the necessary first step is to stop rigging markets in favour of the privateers.

"In the NHS, there is low morale and public support is in decline as a result of the internal market. Paper work, which used to take up 4 per cent of costs, is now 11 per cent and privately provided operations cost 11 per cent more than NHS operations."

His opposition to Trident is based on it being a "relic from a previous era, the cold war," which was useless to defend people on public transport targeted by terrorists on July 7 2005.

Cruddas voted for the invasion of Iraq, explaining: "I saw the case for removing a tyrant who was a threat because of his possession of weapons of mass destruction and who had already used them against his own people.

"I now state unequivocally that I was wrong, not only over the original premise but also on account of the consequences since," he admits.

"If the Democrats in the US can begin to debate a framework for withdrawal, why can't Labour in this country?"

So, if he stands on a left alternative to new Labour neoliberal orthodoxy, why didn't he sign up to John McDonnell's leadership campaign, which shared many of his policy priorities?

"I held out until a late stage, until it was clear that he wasn't going to get enough votes, since even Campaign Group members were signing up for Gordon Brown.

"There was a strong argument for a contest, but it wasn't going to happen."

Those who back Cruddas believe that he would have isolated himself by supporting a doomed McDonnell challenge and that the policy priorities that he champions would have been "drowned out" and discounted.

Whatever, the labour movement and, especially, the left have a choice - back a candidate who speaks out on many of the issues laid out by McDonnell or take part in a beauty contest of new Labour Cabinet members.

When you look at it like that, ruffled feathers and hurt feelings aside, it seems an easy decision to make.

22 comments:

Owen said...

"He recalls with anger that, on the same Friday morning that 125 Labour MPs backed a Trade Union Freedom Bill initiated by, among others Cruddas and John McDonnell MP, former leftwinger and trade union official turned new Labour minister Jim Fitzpatrick filibustered to talk out a Bill on agency workers' rights."

That bit is frankly irritating. The Bill was initiated by John and only John. Cruddas and others supported it.

Phil said...

I saw the case for removing a tyrant who was a threat because of his possession of weapons of mass destruction

Two words: international law.

(I'm not saying he's not worth voting for - you take what you can get. But I'm not saying he's worth joining the party to vote for.)

Liam Mac Uaid said...

Cruddas was very good on the radio this morning on the issue of social housing. He really set himself apart from the other contenders but he seems to have that old Labour belief in the right of the British army to go anywhere it wants.

AN said...

Owen

Why are you irritated?

My understanding is that the trade union freedom bill came out of a proposal from the General Council of the TUC in April 2006, following a congress resolution in 2005.

But you say it was initiated by JOhn McDonnell, can you clarify that. What exact role did JOhn play in getng th TUC to propose the bill

Owen said...

"My understanding is that the trade union freedom bill came out of a proposal from the General Council of the TUC in April 2006, following a congress resolution in 2005.

But you say it was initiated by JOhn McDonnell, can you clarify that. What exact role did JOhn play in getng th TUC to propose the bill"

Andy,

Outside bodies can't "propose" Bills, per se. They can support pieces of legislation introduced by the Government or by MPs - or call for such legislation to be introduced. Only MPs can actually initiate Bills. The Bill which John attempted to introduce into the House (which was blocked by the Government's filibustering) was drawn up in consultation with John Hendy QC and the Institute for Employment Rights.

John has also tabled an EDM in support of such legislation.

The TUC support a Trade Union Freedom Bill - that is, a piece of legislation that restores certain rights.

So, in other words, Cruddas and others supported a Bill which John introduced into Parliament. That is not to say that the TUC and others haven't called for this type of legislation to be introduced previously.

I hope that makes sense.

Martin Wicks said...

Well, I suppose presented with sucha collction of scum-bags one might vote for Cruddas. However, it's difficult to see how nominating Gordon Brown will help to "return us to class politics".

neprimerimye said...

It's very interesting to see the Cruddy one's recent evolution. Some, no doubt, of his recently expressed views are designed to win the allegiance of the activist left. And his political origins as a blairite do not tend towards trusting the chap but he does seem to have genuinely realised something that many leftists do not. Namely that the grass roots of the Labour movement are withering away rather rapidly.

That understanding alone marks him out as being a more insightful politician than anybody in the Campaign group of MP's and the boring old fart tendency of nostalgics. Including the 'lets carry on as we always have' variety of Trotskyoid entrists I might add. The point being that whether one is an old style labourite or an'ultra left looney chune' rather more drastic answers are needed.

AN said...

Martin.

Nominating Brown is neither here nor there., Has Cruddas niminated brown instad of McDonnell at a point where mcDonnell still had a chance of getting on the ballot, then there might be some substance.

However the Cruddas challenge is rather a different one from McDonnell's.

Mike has spotted that which many on the Labour lefts seem to have overlooked, that Jon Cruddas is putting forward a considered critique of the decline of the grassroots of the Labour movement.

The reaon it is worth supporting him is not as the least evil candidate, but because his critical candidature allows a debate in the unions about the need for labour to change direction.


The pyschology of the major union leaders means they were always going to back Brown, as they like to back the winner, and they have a Quixotic belief it buys them infleunce.

Charlie Marks said...

I don't know what to make of Cruddas -- alls I know is that Labour now has a bad name. And the lack of unity amongst the party's left is unfortunate... But then, the left external to Labour isn't much better when it comes with working together against a common enemy...

PHILB said...

Once Brown is the only candidate I think its stupid to attack the unions for nominating Brown.

And since 125 MPs backed the TUFB and 139 voted against invading Iraq, there are plenty of others who share McDonnell's views on some issues who could have nominated him.

Cruddas is clearly the best available. Everyone should build him up and try and get him in, but with no illusions.

grimupnorth said...

I found tbe Haylett article deeply annoying too.I have posted why on my blog. The reference to Trade Union Freedom Bill,which Owen has already covered, particularly disingenuous. I'm not voting for Jon "Two Homes" Cruddas as he helped ensure there was not a leadership contest and let down the very people whose votes he has courted.Not big, clever or admirable.

AN said...

Susan (Grimupnorth)

I know it is bad blog ettiquette to refer to somone who uses a blogger name by their real name, but since you are actually an elected representative of the Labour party holding ublic office, then I think you should use your real name in debates, for the purpose of political accountability.

I have read the post on your blog, and I think your approach is deeply flawed, it does not start from an evaluation of the situation we are actually in, and considereing what would be the bestt acheivable outcome for improving things.

I will, in the next couple of days post a longer article on this blog about why the Cruddas campiagn desreves the support of the unioons and the left.

Coun Susan Press calder valley CLP said...

Happy to use my real name.I know where you are coming from, Andy.And I understand it.I just don't happen to agree with it.
Your approach is to be pragmatic and realistic and accept things as they are.
I say things are as they are precisely because of MPs like Cruddas who did not stand in solidarity with John McDonnell so he could have mounted a REALLY interesting debate on where labour goes next. This would also have engaged the activists he spouts concern for. I therefore find his faux leftism distasteful and dishonest. To try and take credit for McDonnell's Trade Union Freedom Bill is, frankly, disgraceful.
I am sure many will vote for Cruddas because of the reasons outlined in the Morning Star. I will not.

AN said...

hi Susan. next time I get round to updating the blogroll I will put a link to Grimupnorth.

I am not at all sure that Cruddas takes credit for anything. the article was written by John Haylett not Cruddas himself. And as i pointed out before, the strategic demand for a Trade Union freedoom bill came from the TUC.

Anyway, I first argued for support for Cruddas back in February, and I never expected that Cruddas would back mcDonnell, as the political basis of their campaigns are different. The strength of Cruddas's campiagn is that he is the only candiudate making a critique of just how weak the base of the Labour party has become, and how much it has been weakened by neo-liberialism.

In contrast, from what i see, many in mcDonnell's campaign were actually relying upon the fact that the left base of the party, and its organic links with lay trade unionists were still intact, and hoping they could be woken up bu a socialist campaign.

The base for McDonnell's campaign was much narrower than some of his supporters recognised. I say that in sorrow, as I wish it were otherwise.

Louisefeminista said...

Susan: I am coming to the conclusion that I can't vote for Cruddas for many of the reasons you outlined. He coulda showed his support for McD but lamely argued:

"I held out until a late stage, until it was clear that he wasn't going to get enough votes, since even Campaign Group members were signing up for Gordon Brown.

"There was a strong argument for a contest, but it wasn't going to happen."

What bloody excuse is that? Just because even some "Campaign Group members" were "signing up for Brown" he followed suit like a clone.

Cruddas could have swung around the McD campaign but chose not to.

The Deputy Leadership position has no power and or influence.

I have sick of hearing about these "repentant" MPs (Meacher and Cruddas). If Cruddas had voted against the war I may have given him the time and the day but looking at the "talent" on the Deputy Leadership list they are all a bunch pro-imperialist warmongering shower of shite (sorry, but they are..) including Cruddas.

One activist asked Meacher at the LAtW conference: "How can we trust you"? The same question should be applied to Cruddas. I am cynical and believe that Cruddas is playing an opportunistic game, trying to talk "left" whilst appealing to the TU bureaucracy as opposed to rank and file activists ..

If anyone can come up with good reasons why I should back comrade Cruddas then I will listen but in the meantime I will give my "gag reflex a rest".

I have my LP CLP meeting tomorrow where we will discuss the candidates....

AN said...

Louise,

I think this is a funadamentally mistaken approach, partly because you put too much emphasis on the division between the union bureacracy and the "rank and file" actists, and partly becasue you put too much stock on the candidates themselves.

The key issue in this election is getting the trade unions - at every level - to signal some desire to change direction, and independent political intersts froom new labour.

Cruddas has never claimed to be left wing, nor have I ever claimed he was left wing.

The issue is that as someone who in historical terms would be regarded as a Labour right winger, he is the only deputy leadership candidate articuating the obvious point that labour needs to be a class party.

So irrespective of this or that policy weakness, it is importnat that the largest possible vote is deliverd by the unions for a return to class politics.

It dosn't matter whether Cruddas is sincere (my judgement is that he is) or whether he will deliver (my judgement is that he won't) but that he is making arguments about class, and an interllectually rigorous critique of the dmage that new Labourism has done to the party and the movement by retreating from class.

In contrast, the McDonnell campaign was - to a certain degree - fighting a battle already lost. It maybe more emotionally satisfying to back a hard left challenger, but the failure to get on the ballot paper was entritly preditcable - that is why they changed the threashold!

Calling on Cruddas to rescue McDonnell was to fundamentally not understand that Cruddass was not and is not a hard left challenger, and he was trying presumaly therefore to put clear red water between him and McDonnell.

Cruddas is however the only candiadte articulating class politics. Forget about policies, and voting records, and look at what thet represents in terms of the unions expressing the need for labour to change course in the class interst of their members.

In the actually existing circumstances, the bigger the vote for Cruddas, the more space there is for the unions to make demands upon Brown.

Louisefeminista said...

"Cruddas is however the only candiadte articulating class politics. Forget about policies, and voting records, and look at what thet represents in terms of the unions expressing the need for labour to change course in the class interst of their members".

Really? Cruddas represents the TU bureaucracy and that is not positive in building an opposition to NL. When is the TU bureaucracy ever an ally?
Cruddas is being built up into something he is most clearly not

AN said...

When is the TU bureaucracy ever an ally?

Q. Who has made private Equity a big political issue? A. the GMB and T&G bureaucracy.

Q. Who is organising migrant workers, providing language training, and fighting for equal pay and condition with Britsh workers? A. The GMB bureaucacy.

Q. Who have continually opposed the idea of the railways being in the private sector? A. The RMT bureacracy.

You have to look past Cruddas as an indidual.

Louisefeminista said...

Firstly, how do you define the TU bureaucracy?

Secondly, you have to understand the function of the TU bureaucracy where they hold back struggles. There may be individuals and sections of the bureaucracy who take things forward but at the end of the day is that they will be undermined by the bureaucracy overall.

Thirdly, Ok...the TU bureaucracy can maybe be an ally but a treacherous one at that.

Finally, look at various struggles in the past couple of years. Unison bureaucracy played a bloody treacherous game by sabotaging the pensions issue.

Absolutely finally, Cruddas argues , " I want to re-engage with those progressives who currently limit their activism to single issue campaigns...."

But surely if he really believes in reconnecting with the demoralised, alienated and pissed off LP members then he must realise that means members having a real voice, which includes a democratic debate about the leadership contest.

Cruddas supports, at the end of the day, top-down political control. Not grassroots in the least or class based.

AN said...

This is just wrong Lousie :o)

you have to understand the function of the TU bureaucracy where they hold back struggles. There may be individuals and sections of the bureaucracy who take things forward but at the end of the day is that they will be undermined by the bureaucracy overall.

I don't really like the term bureacracy which is a bit of undigested trot-speak in my opinion, but I assume you mean the officials and officers of the unions. For the sake of consistency I will also call them bureaucracy here.

Now the reason that the bureaucracy sometmes holds back struggles is because they have their own material intrest in defending their organisations, and not jeapoardising it by the throw of the dice of industrial struggle.
What is more their role of negotiators can lead them to see themselves as above the class struggle - at the right wing ideological end of the labour movement.

But this is also mediated because the union machines only have any social standing if they continue ot have members, and that means they cannt break completely from representing their members. What is more there are sections of the bureacracy who recognise that they can build the union through militancy. this uts them at the left wing end of the unions ideologically.

You are also wrong that the "bureacucracy overall" will undermine those parts of the union machine that are supporting a fight. Thius is too abstract to mean anything, but we could debate specific examples.

BUt quite apart from whether trade unions officials are to the right or the left with regard to their attitude to class struggle and organistaion - and that can be decisive (look at Scargill) - there is also the fact that union leaders can be on the left or the right ideologically. For exmaple Brother Crow has delivered better as a political opponent of privatisation than he has as a leader of industrial struggle.

Even right wing rade unions leaders are irreversibly linked to the working class (not as individuals, but as a social group), although they have special ingrained interests. The most extreme example of this was their decsiion in 1931 to break from leaders of the Parliamentary LP and refound the Labour Party.

In the current context, the politcal intersts of the trade unions is to oppose privatisation, PFI, deregulation, and there is also a break from some unions away from the insurance model towards an organising model. In this context, at least some of the trade union bureacusracies are to the left of most of the Labour Party, and have mass organisations behind them.

The immportnat aspect of this debate is therefore how can the trade union leaders, and the membership of the unions be encouraged to express their own political interests?

The individual members of the LP are more or less a side show for socialist renewal - after all why didn't you get McD on the ballot? Becasue the right irreversibly filleted you with the rule changes, specifically to prevent you using a leadership context to rebuild.

I cannot speak for Cruddas, but i am sure that many on the centre left and even centre right of the party would have liked a contest, but there was no candidate credible in their terms - as Frank Field put it: Someone who looked like he could be prime minister.

As Brown's victory was inevitable, the big unions were never going to back a doomed challenge, which would show the weakness of their hand. Simnilarly, no dputy leadership canmdiadte endorsed mcDonnell, beacsue to do so was kiss of death.

So we are where we inevitable were going to be, with a deputy leadership context, and Brown "undisputed champeen" of the party.

You are blaming Cruddas for there not being a leadership contest, but it was never in his gift, even had he wanted to make it so. McDonnell's campopaign failed becasue the base upon which that campaign was built was too narrow, ideologically, politically and organisationally.

The damage to the LP's activist base and roots in the working class is much more serious and the deep than you seem to realise. And on the extremely narrow base of some maximum 15000 leftist members, very few of whom are activists, then a campaign aimed just at revitallsing this tired old layer, and maybe drawing in a few thousand new people was doomed.

Cruddas is arguing a differnt proposition, that the Lbaour party is extremely damaged, and needs ot return to class politics, but becasue he is standing for deputy not leader the unioons leaders are more likely to support the campaign.

Yes his policy agenda is weak in some areas, yes he is a former blairite, yes he supported the war, and was dodgy on gay adoptions.

But the big picture is that the left cannot be revived from the CLPs, and the individual membership. You are defeated, and defeated so comprehensively there is no hope of ever recovering.

There is no hope of any new left MPs being selected, and Simpson is retiring, four campiagn group members nominated Brown, and one abstained.

So the only way that the LP can be used for advancing progressive politics is to encourage debate in the unions.

That means backing Cruddas. Not bacsue he is the least worse option, not becasue he is a leftist, but becasue he is making a credible argument for a break with the strategy of new Labour.

Louisefeminista said...

The "Cruddas phenomenom" should be analysed and not be taken at face value. We should be looking at his political trajectory. Yes, he hasn't snuggled up to multinational companies or private equity and yes, that marks him out as different from the average Blairite.

"So the only way that the LP can be used for advancing progressive politics is to encourage debate in the unions."

But you can't separate the two and two are not counterposed.

AN said...

Loiuse

I have been analysing the Cruddas phenomenon and not taking it at face value since February.

Serach for Cruddas and read all the posts I have written about his deputy challenge, and you will see the position I am arguing.

If you disagree then adrress those points, rather than telling me he not been a consistent left (which I obvioulsy know)

And yes progressive debate in the unions is normally outside the Labour party, excpet in this leadership election period. There is no eveidence of the unions agenda being adopted by the Labour party, and no effective mechanism for it to take place.

When will Warwick be implemented?