If Jon Cruddas is the future of the Left, we’re f*cked
Listening to Jon Cruddas being interviewed on the IPPR’s series of podcasts, I am utterly appalled by large chunks of what he has to say. I’m also quite surprised. First of all, everyone should listen to this podcast because quotes from it may be put on placards should the real Labour Left decide to organize an angry mob and picket Cruddas’ house.
Early in the interview, Cruddas recycles what seems to be the fairly traditional Keynesian line but things begin to go awry when he sticks his neck out on the issue of New Labour. Apparently to begin with, ‘it has been much traduced’ but was a ‘sophisticated political movement’ that only lost its texture after the 2003 war.
The 1997 manifesto, Cruddas has nothing but praise for; it was ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ and a brilliant document. It’s only ‘New Labour mark II’, from the outbreak of war onwards, that made Cruddas uncomfortable as time went on. What about measures such as the 2001 anti-terrorism act. Or New Labour’s behaviour during the FBU strike?
Our 1997 manifesto was radical? The same manifesto that promised not to increase income tax? The manifesto which saw a solution to juvenile crime in getting them up in front of the magistrate faster? The ‘integrated transport policy’ which saw deaths on the railways and the embarrassing bankruptcy of a major rail company?
I haven’t even begun to talk about what New Labour have done for internal Labour Party democracy. The sham of One Member One Vote. The driving off of an army of trade unionist supporters through disaffiliation. I fear I am bludgeoning home my point (when I would prefer to bludgeon Cruddas’ head) so I shall move on.
Cruddas moves on to attack the ‘Old Left’ (a question on which is served up as a softball by the interviewer). He hails the SPD and their grand coalition, and their response to the emergence of Die Linke. Die Linke and the far left generally, Cruddas describes as having “very reductive” and “economically reductive” views of class.
When I heard that, I had trouble not throwing my computer across the room. Is he fucking kidding me? Does he even live on the same political planet as the rest of us, who are labouring long and hard to undermine this rainbow coloured bullshit of people like Nicos Poulantzas who suggest that Late Capitalism has undermined ‘economically reductive’ class and that actually the material superstructure doesn’t matter anymore?
And he’s so glib about it. He passes over it like it doesn’t even merit debate. I have read, written and debated for years on this topic alone – class – and one hack politician suddenly declares that my interpretation is economically reductive. I’m going to beat the shitbag to death with a copy of Ellen Woods’ Retreat from Class.
From there Cruddas goes on to describe the Convention of the Left as an ‘embryonic new party’, a development which he considers to be ‘dangerous’. ‘Where John McDonnell is going’ is nowhere, according to Susan Press, despite Cruddas’ bald assertions, designed to smear his political rival. That’s not even the point, though it shows up Cruddas’ argument as completely tendentious.
My point is this: why is working towards a new party a bad thing? Cruddas categorically fails to engage with the issue of internal democracy, or to lay out how he thinks all the issues of the Left will be resolved. Without that, he effectively has no argument with which to counter the contention that, if we cannot serve our ideals within Labour, we should leave.
I genuinely don’t believe these ideals are really what Cruddas is concerned with. Essentially Cruddas lives in the same world of triangulation as New Labour.
The ‘deliberative, pluralist, centre-left’ that Cruddas vaunts hasn’t appeared yet. Indeed I don’t actually know what that means, bearing in mind a large number of New Labourites would call themselves centre-left. Cruddas doesn’t even mention how he expects that, following a far left split that would deprive Labour of its most ardent supporters and activists, this ‘centre-left’ will go from being a pipe dream to controlling the organs of the Party.
It won’t. Not that Cruddas cares. I suspect Cruddas has in mind the old maxim, “socialism is what Labour does” – regardless of what Labour does, it is socialism. Similarly, for Cruddas, I imagine that ‘centre-left’ is what Cruddas does. This sort of rhetorical vacuity is exactly what we saw in the young Tony Blair – with his protestations of Christian socialism and so forth.
Cruddas evades the issue of a ‘new Third way’ masterfully; he claims that the state-market relationship has changed, undermining the credibility of people like Mandelson, but while talking about a ‘Social Democratic moment’ he has no answer when it is posed to him that actually the electorate is currently shifting to the right.
Instead of challenging the very idea that the electorate is moving to the right, he goes on to say that Labour must simply change its articulation of its goals to match people’s aspirations. This is the sort of disingenuous analysis we’ve been getting from New Labourites for years – and now it turns out Cruddas is a NuLab in sheep’s clothing.
On the abolition of Trident and defence spending, Cruddas hits the Left g-spot, but so what? This is exactly what Blair and Robin Cook were saying after 1994. Rolling back the database state is mentioned, tentatively, but again, none of this challenges the very underlying economic basis of exploitation, the undemocratic bastion of conservative strength: organised Capital.
Cruddas’ complete capitulation is evident in answering questions on how to unite middle England and working class England, asked (I think) by Rupa Huq. Apparently precision bombing messages to small cohorts of voters is part of political life; his only argument is that the message we’re giving out should be different – ‘especially on immigration’.
This betrays both a practical naivety and a theoretical weakness which Cruddas tries to cover with his use of the word ‘semiotic’, a favourite of post-industrial political economist wannabes. New Labour had accepted the inevitable logic that, if your efforts are to be electoral, then you must try and bring on board campaigning machines like the Daily Mail.
With capital in control of the mass media, not to mention having access to the vast PR machine that can crank up ‘expert opinion’, opinion polls, astroturf groups (called such because they can be created overnight) and mock events to promote their issues, it’s no wonder New Labour tried to woo them – but this had repercussions for their policies.
Cruddas tries to explain away the New Labour project as the product merely of human agency; they made choices and held views with which he disagrees – and had Cruddas been in charge, the implication is, the ‘semiotic game’ would have been played differently, displacing the debate towards the Left rather than the Right.
For a student of political economy, the vulnerability of such a situation should be startlingly obvious. It completely ignores the effect of the structure of society upon what he refers to as a law of politics, which he says he is not trying to abolish. Cruddas essentially is a New Labourite – and I would say that if ever a Cruddasite government was established, it would remodel the early Tony Blair years easily.
If the Left is genuinely going to put its trust into this man and his accolytes then once again we’re simply going to be the Left Behind.