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.