Can Jon Cruddas save social democracy in Britain?

Jon Cruddas Superstar?

Ed Miliband’s promotion of Jon Cruddas to be the Labour Party’s policy guru may the cleverest decision he has made so far as party leader and/or it may be the last roll of the dice for a real social democrat party in Britain and Ed Miliband’s leadership.

The first problem with Jon being the answer is that messiahs do not come more reluctant than him. He gives out signals that he really doesn’t want responsibility and would much rather not upset anyone. He seems to be happy with his leisure pursuits and his holiday and future home in Ireland. Yet if Britain is to have a social democratic party major changes will have to made. This isn’t only about what post-election policies a Labour government would propose, but also where the Labour Party sees the long-term future of British society.

This last point about Labour’s view of the future of British society has to be based on what ideology the Labour Party believes in. The ‘third way’ was bereft of ideology, in fact almost anti-ideology. In the worship of ‘realism’ as a Progress supporter on LabourList recently said New Labour was able to work with neo-liberalism and will work with whatever follows as neo-liberalism has now failed. The problem is that although it has failed, it’s not dead, and what follows it in Britain may be up to a future Labour government.

Now Cruddas is talking inclusivity and wanting everyone on board including even Blair. Possibly he just going through the motions before laying out his favourite ideas, but I believe he does want the entire party involved. Back to the broad church idea of the post-war years.

One problem we have is that the party is weighted well to right. The PLP was largely pro-David Miliband during the leadership election and one has to guess is sympathetic towards organizations like Progress. The CLPs, where once the left of the party had strength, are no longer so loaded against the right of the party. In fact to find Labour’s left you have to look inside the union leadership and membership.

Even this would be OK except the right around Progress do not even claim social democracy for themselves. At one time it was the right’s argument, although very much a misuse of the term, that they were the social democrats as opposed to the socialists of Labour’s left. This misuse of the term social democrat showed its true nature when the SDP merged with the liberals. There was no social democracy by its definition there.

So if the right of the party no longer believe in social democracy, what do they believe in? It’s hard to fathom because now we delve into the babble of spin and sound bites. We can catch words like social justice, but still no real definition. I  suspect many would like to see Labour become more like the American Democrats. This would take ideology out of British politics and just have two parties, a hard right party, Republican/Tory, and soft right one, Democrat/Labour.

Well it’s certainly a challenge that Cruddas is taking on. He says he is socialist with a small ‘s’, but he is in a PLP with very few of those, either with a big ‘S’ or a little one. He says he is a liberal with a small ‘l’. Again there are few of them either. One only has to look at Yvette Cooper playing the law & order card to realize that.

Can he do it? Well first, will Ed Miliband support him? If not he may as well go back to fishing or playing golf. Is he hard enough to take the brickbats thrown for both the left and more certainly by the right? In the past this hasn’t looked obviously so.

So I will leave the last words to the man himself from a recent interview in The Observer.

He will not even contemplate “gang wars” between Blairites and other factions getting in the way because, he says, the task is too urgent. “We are beyond that. We have to be,” he says. Neither is he bothered about the flak that papers such as the Daily Mail may well throw at him. “I couldn’t give a toss,” he says.

  • Anonymous

    I’m curious Les. Do you support the GMB’s call to ban Progress from the Labour Party? Should Labour try to remove the Blairites or just marginalise them?

    • LesAbbey

      I will answer you DC in the hope that the conversation stays civil otherwise I won’t bother.

      I’m not very keen on banning or proscribing people inside the Labour Party. When it does happen it should only be done for a clear breach of the rules and only then with considerable reluctance. Although there may be some individuals in Progress who have broken rules for campaigning against a Labour candidate the same can’t be said about Progress as whole.

      At the same time I suspect the GMB’s call for an investigation of Progress was more a case of smoking a beehive. The plenty of buzzing but I doubt anything will come of it in the end, except possibly some of the leading figures will know that others are watching them closely, and that maybe briefing against Ed Miliband earlier in the year wasn’t such a great idea after all.

      I think we can probably say that Progress and Blairites are really the same grouping so I think I answered the question, but if we were talk about Blair himself taking a role my answer would be a bit different.

      Without touching on the rights or wrongs of the man, there is a problem. Blair is toxic in that he generates very clear reactions from people. Just as there are those that still have a respect for the man, there is a considerable number of people who bitterly see in him all that is wrong with today’s political class. Unfortunately it is the latter group that will be likely to vote Labour if they are happy. The Blair lovers I suspect spread across the political spectrum and will likely also be spreading their votes a touch more thinly. Because of this I think it better to keep him very much in the background. (Of course I think the same about Mandelson and Campbell.)

      Maggie Thatcher produced a very similar reaction, but probably the love and hate reactions were closer to the traditional voting patterns, even allowing for all those council house buyers who did cross line to vote for her.

      • Anonymous

        I know that several high profile people campaigned against Ken Livingstone (including our host here) but don’t you think it would be rather hard to go after them since Ken had supported Lutfur Rahman, a non-Labour candidate, himself last year. Should Alex Hilton be purged?

        Fundamentaly I think elections are won from the centre (accepting the centre moves over time). The Labour you seem to espouse will not be as close to the centre as the Tories and LibDems currently are, and so won’t win, no matter what the current mid-term lead is.

        It is pretty much constant that one third of the electorate votes to the left no matter what, another third vote right no matter what and it is only by attracting those from the centre third you can gain a majority. Social Democracy doesn’t seem to appeal to those centre voters in England any more, so do you compromise and have a share of power, with the ability to change at least some things, or do you stay pure and watch from the sidelines. The Blairites are definitively of the first persuasion, I think your views seem to be towards the latter.

        [Edited version of comment posted wrongly below]

  • Paul Barker

    Britain already has one social democratic party, in government. why do we need the opposition pretending to be social democrats as well?

    • LesAbbey

      Not sure I really understand that Paul. Your first sentence says there is a social democratic party in government, while the second hints that they may only be pretending along with the opposition. You’re not a UKIP supporter by chance?

  • Anonymous

     I know that several high profile people campaigned against Ken Livingstone (including our host here) but don’t you think it would be rather hard to go after them since Ken had supported a non-Labour candidate himself last year.

    Fundamentaly I think elections are won from the centre (accepting the centre moves over time). The Labour you seem to espouse will not be the centre and so won’t win, no matter what the current mid-term lead is.

  • Davideeinkl

    Labour aren’t a social democratic party, that changed in the 1990′s.  Social Democrats need another party to vote for, not the Labour Party.

    Social Democrats should NEVER vote Labour, vote SNP, Respect or for someone else, but not Labour. 

    • LesAbbey

       David in a way that’s allowing those who have controlled the party since the 90′s to get away with theft of what was Britain’s only mass social democratic party. (I know you have other concerns in Scotland, but that’s up to the Scots decide.)

      I think that the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leaders was extremely important. This isn’t because of whether he is more left than his brother or even if he meant what he said during his campaign. It’s important because in a system really designed to help the leadership control the party, the anointed one didn’t win. The PLP, through the leadership’s control of the candidate lists, has been turned into clones of the leadership. That David Miliband didn’t win even with a loaded PLP shows a revolt inside the party against the last decade and more of moving away from Labour’s social democratic roots.

      Can Jon Cruddas make a difference? That’s today’s big question.

      • Anonymous

         I think Miliband is not that cleaver and he’s not that good at it any way.  The bloke is scared of annoying the groups within labour to be any good.

  • Anonymous

    All I have to say Cruddas is calling for Purnell to be used as a special adviser to either the review group or even adviser to Miliband.

    says everything I want to know about labour today

    • LesAbbey

      I hope it’s because he wants to be inclusive as possible. I think we have seen that with him before. Whether the Blairites can ever bring themselves to do more than pay lip service to social democracy I’m not sure.

      • Anonymous

        Maybe so, maybe not, if Miliband believed  returning to New Labour would win him an election he’s turn, the Unions made an error getting involved with him, trying to keep out his brother, I suspect they are both more interested in power then changing the world.

        • LesAbbey

            You are possibly right, but in the end Ed Miliband’s appeal for the
          left vote in the leadership election becomes baggage he has to carry
          with him from now on. A bit like Wilson always had to make room in
          cabinet for the left as he had the Bevinite following.

          We are going into a period where we need big ideas to get us out of the
          hole neo-liberalism has put us in. It’s not a recent hole as they have
          been digging it since Thatcher and Reagan.

          I’m hoping that Cruddas has the big ideas and isn’t just fooling us with
          an updated ‘third way’. I’m willing to give him a chance.

          • Anonymous

             The fact we aren’t hearing very many new ideas on LabourHome might suggest that there aren’t many out there. Big Government Social Democracy failed in the 1960s & 70s. Big Money banking failed now. Perhaps we should try actual free markets.

          • Anonymous

             Do you think free markets would be free for long, we also seem to end up with some bright spark seeing a way to make a fortune from somebody else.

          • DevonChap

            There is no problem with someone making a fortune, as long as they are doing so honestly. The key is to offer people what they want.
            People who are greedy will often strive  to succeed and in a free market that means offering what people want. Look at Edison, not a nice man but gave the world many inventions in his quest to be wealthy and successful.  The point of free markets is that they can lose it again unless they keep offering people what they want, especially as other greedy people are trying to take it away from them by offering a better/cheaper service. 

            The problem comes when we have those in power favouring one group over another. Then rather than the people as customers deciding who succeeds, we have those with power – politicians. And as a wise man once said, once politicians start deciding what gets bought and sold, the first thing that gets bought and sold is politicians. Those with the money and the power always want to keep it, be they union barons or bank bosses. 

  • Anonymous

    Has Cruddas stepped aside to let the Boss back, yep Blair is back and will work on the review of policies believed to be the New labour type, Blair stated we must remain in the center, we must ensure we are the party of business, it no good moving to the left.

    I suspect Cruddas will either leave walk away or he will be willing to sit behind the next leader of labour once Miliband hands over the keys 

    • LesAbbey

      I hope you are wrong Robert.

      Ed Miliband going to Durham gives me some hope. I think we are seeing baby steps in the right (left) direction;-)

      • DevonChap

         Blair is definitely back, I saw it in the Daily Mail so it must be true.

        The Durham miners is not a step left but the other side of the Blair triangulation. Don’t forget Ed leant at the feet of Blair and Brown. Left is the new centre this week.

  • Anonymous

    Is that the same Cruddas that bought a taxpayer funded flat in Notting Hill Gate so his son didn’t have to go to school with the plebs in his Dagenham constituency?

  • swatantra

    Excellent discussion. I’m surprised that Cruddas thinks the Party is not inclusive enough. I’ve made the same point myself.and if Ed is going to continue to spout One Nation then he has to show that Labour is not in the pocket of the Unions which are only a small fraction of the workforce.
    One Nation means inclusivity ie Left Right and Centre and not dominated by just one faction.

    • Anonymous

      Same old Swat if you want to show that Labour is not in the pocket of the Unions all you have to do is stop taking money from them it’s that easy.

      • swatantra

        Well, I’ve always been in favour of State Funding.

        • Anonymous

          Lucky then Swat the people are not, with labour these days they be accused of stealing state funds, hold on the they have.