Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Good King Jon

Your insider has been driving the poor editors mad while trying to hold out. They were practically breaking the door down. But Ed Miliband just would not shuffle his deck on deadline. If I did not know better, I would swear it was a grudge.

So dear readers, we have a new shadow cabinet. Well, only slightly new. The changes to Labour’s top team were restrained. This is probably Miliband’s moment of maximum power, after a successful set of local elections, and he chose to refine his team, not radically reform it.

The first big change is the arrival of Jon Cruddas as the head of Labour’s policy review. Cruddas has been something of a talismanic figure in Labour circles since his deputy leadership bid in 2007. Every reshuffle since has included speculation about the future of Labour’s Dagenham man. Yet the amiable MP managed to sidestep office until now.

The detail and process side of running the policy review may not seem a perfect fit with the big-picture philosophical sweep Cruddas is known for. Given his quotability, your insider would not be surprised if some not-very-flattering quotes about policy reviews and leadership elections past are dug out by some Conservative Campaign Headquarters troglodyte ready for PMQs.

But such teasing will be worth enduring. Cruddas is a perfect fit as a policy honcho.

Not only is Cruddas what you might call a ‘proper’ intellectual, complete with a PhD in value theory, he is also one of Labour’s most noticeably normal people. In a shadow cabinet stuffed full of former special advisers, Cruddas is capable of talking technocrat, but can also do Dog and Duck. He is the only politician your insider has ever met who can carry off comparing a council campaign against badly maintained gardens to re-establishing the covenant of the political sphere.

What’s more, Cruddas’ political career, with stints as a policy officer in Labour HQ, Tony Blair’s link man with the unions and deputy leadership campaigner, gives him a deep insight into how the Labour party moves.

At the same time Cruddas’ role as, if not the messiah of blue Labour, then at least its John the Baptist, gives him knowledge of a raft of policies that might be both popular and cheap. Expect a renewed focus on voter concerns like immigration, cultural change, communities and place. Will Cruddas’ appointment be a move to the left? Cruddas would see that as a false choice. He will think of it as more of a move to the street, the corner shop and the community centre.

Perhaps most of important of all, Cruddas has a knack of making friends, both in and outside the Labour party. That will be important for a job that requires an ability to reach beyond Labour but has the capacity to make a lot of enemies.

However, if your insider can offer a word of advice to the Labour leadership – make sure you have a tidy-minded bureaucrat to do the dull process stuff. You do not want someone like Cruddas bogged down in minutiae. And you will need someone to make sure a plan to decommoditise the public space comes with a price tag.

Byrne, baby Byrne?

As was mentioned in the last insider, former policy review head Liam Byrne was severely damaged by the revelation before the local elections that he intended to depart the Commons for the Birmingham mayoralty.

This would surely have suggested to his leader a lack of enthusiasm for the policy review process. What is more, his proud modernism made for well-connected opponents, with some in the PLP feeling that, in holding the line on benefit caps, he misjudged the mood of the party. Indeed, until the very last minute it was thought Byrne might go altogether.

Byrne holds on to the welfare brief, in part thanks to support from senior colleagues and the fact that he is doing Miliband’s bidding on welfare reform, and so plays a useful insulating role for his leader. But make no mistake – moving Byrne and replacing him with Cruddas is a sign of Miliband’s increasing faith in the political power of his case for the moral, good and just society.

Weaving it together …

At the lower ranks, the Labour team sees the usual attempt to weave together the fabric of the Labour party. So Wigan’s Lisa Nandy (no friend of academies) joins Stephen Twigg at education, while the popular Tom Harris returns to the frontbench to bring some bite to food and rural affairs. The mark of Miliband reshuffles is an increasingly adept hand at party management at the lower ranks rather than one reflecting ideological fervour.

Umunna, the new Adonis?

It would not be Progress if we did not salute the return of our chair, Andrew Adonis, to the Labour policymaking process. Adonis is one of Labour’s best and brightest, managing with his drily modest style to win the parliamentary Labour party over to that rare beast, a cabinet minister who has never sat on the green benches.

Even more interesting than Adonis’ return is who he will be advising. He will be helping Chuka Umunna formulate a new industrial policy. Now, it does not take much imagination at all to see that an alliance of the former hero of Compass and the ultra-Blairite Adonis has … possibilities. Umunna is widely seen as Labour’s dreamboat. Now he is a real Adonis too.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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1 comment

  • Great to hear that Ed has ‘increasing faith in the political power of his case for the moral, good and just society’. Thank you for that cheery little snippet!

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