Anyone listening to Jon Cruddas in conversation with Philip Collins yesterday evening who was hoping to hear a blow-by-blow account of the contents of next year’s Labour party manifesto will have been sorely disappointed. However, anyone who was expecting to hear them clearly has not been paying attention to the Dagenham MP since he took the helm of the party’s policy review. He has got a vision of where he thinks our policy approach should be heading, but he is not a micromanager of the detail. Last night we were given a glimpse of the road he is guiding us towards.
Cruddas has certainly honed his vision since his appointment two years ago. Back then he had identified the problem: Labour needed to face up to our worst defeat since 1918 and do some genuine soul-searching to find out why. He just had not really found the solution. That has changed now and in just over an hour, he set out how Labour should present itself to the country next year.
Describing 2010 as a moment when a social democratic crisis took place across the Western world, he suggested that in 2015 Labour needs to fight an election based on national renewal of the country. Cruddas argued that lessons could be learnt from the Scottish National Party, a party which had built a popular movement based on the idea that people could reshape their country. The hope which the Nationalists inspired was in stark contrast to the ‘despair politics’ currently dominating in England. To win, he said, Labour needed to move away from a social democratic model based simply on spreading the benefits of economic growth and learn to be a party which could tackle a deficit and reduce spending by learning how to deliver services more efficiently, perhaps by harnessing technology to do so. Councillors will have been pleased to hear Cruddas point to Labour in local government as the leaders in how to do this. He argued that Labour councils were in part managing the central government cuts by delivering services in innovative, more cost-effective ways.
In some respects, what was most telling about the conversation between the Labour policy lead and a room of party faithful was the fact that it did not particularly touch on the usual Labour sweet spots. So health received but a passing mention, whereas immigration exercised Cruddas, Collins and much of the audience for a significant chunk of the evening. This is perhaps indicative that despite claims to the contrary, Labour’s policy development is increasingly influenced by the looming shadow of the United Kingdom Independence Party.
That said, Cruddas was robust in his criticism of Farage’s party and clear that Labour should steer its own path and not be sucked in by a right wing agenda. He dismissed the notion that the party should back an in-out referendum on Europe and emphasised that a liberal approach to immigration, albeit with appropriate controls, should be favoured.
The most controversial comments of the evening were probably those reserved for George Osborne. It is a bit disconcerting to hear the head of the Labour Policy Review say that Osborne is doing something right, but when it came to the need to consider a new form of devolution to England Cruddas argued that the government was right to engage in this conversation, even conceding that it was good for the country if a Tory government did this. That said, he added that the ideas were largely Labour ones which the Tories had adopted as if they were their own. Given that the major criticism of our policy process is that it has not generated much policy, Cruddas can not be doing too badly if he’s not only creating ideas, but ones which Osborne and friends then try to pinch.
Maeve McCormack is a councillor in the London borough of Camden and chair of the Camden Mental Health Service User Forum. She tweets @McCormackMaeve
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