In an interview on GMTV on Sunday, left candidate for the Labour Party deputy leadership Jon Cruddas branded Tony Blair as delusional for saying that last Thursday’s defeats for Labour were a “springboard for future success”
Jon warned that the party is in “real, serious trouble”, having lost around 500 councillors. One of the reasons that Cruddas’s campaign is so important is that he understands the importance of how Labour needs to address its progressive electoral constituency, rather than spin policies for undecided voters in middle England. As Cruddas notes, the councilors are “the core activists, and they have been defeated”.
It has been a good few days for Jon’s campaign, with an extended interview in today’s Independent , where he comes over very well. Particularly in his recognition that the party needs to change direction, and be more supportive not only of left policies but also of the unions: “We can't go down this route of a "virtual party" where members are just cheerleaders for people at the top. We need to involve members much more. If they had been listened to over issues like top-up fees, or the need to build more council houses, we would be in better shape now. … It's up to us to change. And we do have to change. Labour's lost half its members in 10 years. we can't pretend that it's just one of those things. I'm not going to spout a load of platitudes but people deserve better from us, we have to show you that we've changed. … Trade unions form the bedrock of a free society and the basis of our party and the wider labour movement. As a party, we've treated the unions badly over the last few years, that needs to change”
He also had a recent column in the Guardian “For too long the demise of the party has been treated as a convenient truth for those wanting to circumnavigate frustrating party structures and impose policies but the result has been the pursuit of an agenda that is neither in tune with our members or the country at large.”
Of the declared candidates for Deputy Leader, Cruddas is the one who progressive activists and trade unions should back to send a clear message to Gordon Brown that a change of direction is necessary. The beauty of the Deputy Leader campaign is that it allows a debate about policy and direction that the unions can participate in, without explicitly breaking from Brown. We need to recognize that for the big unions, their leaderships are going to make a calculated decision to back Brown, whatever, just to keep the doors open.
The worry I have is that most of the labour left have not grasped the significance of Cruddas’s campaign. There is not a single mention of him in this month’s Labour Left Briefing. It seems these labour Left activists have an exaggerated estaimation of the importance of the individual members of the party, and are ignoring the wider significance of the party's grounding in organised labour and the affiliated unions, where the Deputy leadership contest may well be more important than the leadership contest.
There are many dangers for the left of focusing entirely on John McDonnell’s leadership campaign, not least because he may not get on the ballot paper.
I am a supporter of John McDonell; my union branch (Wiltshire and Swindon GMB) is backing him. But some of his campaigners seem to be neglecting the fact that he will not win, and they need to prepare an end game. There is also a lot of moralism from his camp towards those activists who do not hold indiviudal membership of the Labour Party, that is entirely counterproductive. (For example the argument that the votes of individual members count more than the votes of members through affiliated u nions - this would only be true if McDonnell could win - whereas as his campaignn is really only to consolidate and demonstarte opposition, then votes in the unions are in fact more importnat than the individual members, as the unions can still exercise influence, whereas the rule changes have made the structures open to individual members entirely toothless)
The attacks on Michael Meacher are also entirely counterproductive and naïve. Michael’s campaign may be problematic, but there is no need for McDonnell’s supporters to join in the criticism of Michael. The public criticisms that Meacher is making of Blairism are correct and should be entirely welcomed, whatever the wisdom of his leadership challenge. By sniping at Meacher, and questioning the foundations of his support, the McDonnell campaign are feeding into the Life of Brian culture of the left.
The significance of Cruddas is that the hard left John McDonnell cannot win, and may not even be able to get enough parliamentary support to get on the ballot paper – but the left still needs a campaign to the left of the current party leadership, to tactically break the Party’s centre ground away from the Blairite/Brownite right.
The task at this stage is to use the leadership and deputy leadership campaigns to give the best possible platform for progressive politics opposing the neo-liberalism of a Brown government. Yes, an important component of that will be a significant vote for McDonnell. But whether or not McDonnell gets on the ballot, there will be a Deputy Leadership contest, and it is inexplicable to me that the Labour Left are not banging Cruddas’s drum more loudly