Home > General Politics, Labour Party News > Cruddas is all piss and wind, so why are people still listening?

Cruddas is all piss and wind, so why are people still listening?

Jon Cruddas demonstrates in a recent interview just how bad a choice he would be as leader of the Labour Party. The interview with Mary Riddell for the Fabian Review of Summer 2009 was brought to the attention of the Labour millions when Tom Miller helpfully posted it to Facebook. Because let’s face it, the activists of Labour would probably rather shave their eyebrows than read the dreary rubbish that the Fabians publish on a regular basis. Cruddas rules himself out of a leadership bid, and categorically outlines why he would be useless anyway.

“See I was never into scientific socialism. I was quite interested in Blair’s communitarianism. Early Blair. [...] A lot of the debate around the Labour Party’s future in the coming years will be about reinstating aspects of Blairism. Blair lost the language and the ethical dimension, but there was quite a rich texture to the early Blair.”

In the aftermath of an electoral crucifixion, it will be interesting to see what elements of the PLP survive and whether it is a Blairite pretender or a soft left advocate who can gain the confidence of whatever is left of the parliamentary party. However, the weakness of Cruddas’ analysis (Cruddas being a fair marker for the rest of the softies on the PLP) demonstrates exactly what I have been warning about: an attempt to replay Labour 1994-1997 sans Blair, and without having learned the lessons of the period either.

Historiography from the Right of Labour would have one believe that ‘modernising’ the Party was what won the victory of 1997, and that Labour’s flexibility, its claim to more efficient management of the economy and so on was what did for the Tories even in their own heartlands. Cruddas is lining up behind this shallow moralising with his view that ‘Blair lost the language and the ethical dimension’. In reality, Blair’s language was a mask; nothing changed about Blair and Brown except that people lost faith in their rhetoric.

People lost this faith because after a while the hyperbolic oratory grated against an agenda of privatisation and ‘modernisation’ designed to bite into whatever was left after eighteen years of Tory rule. Things got progressively worse because the government survived in office only to be caught out by its own promises on things like top-up fees. Various scandals over the deals done by New Labour with the business elite, several preposterous wars and a determined attack on civil liberties later, it doesn’t take a genius to see why nostalgic glances to ‘early Blair’ are likely to gain support. Especially from those people who did well then, and aren’t doing so well now.

Without changing the Blairite agenda, we won’t change the popular mood. However, wait ten years. After ten years or so of Conservative government, a new Blair will be able to emerge in the same way that David Cameron has. The ever-increasing troubles post-2001 will have been forgotten amidst Tory cuts and a disorganised Left, having failed to restore some institutional democracy to Labour, will not be able to prevent a re-run of 1994-1997. But Cruddas has some credible policies, so why is he wasting his time talking up ‘early Blair’?

Cruddas is not one for cynical political manoeuvers – at least, not yet. He genuinely believes, it would seem, that up until 2001, New Labour was performing quite well and that only subsequently did things go off the rails. As in an interview with Hopi Sen, he asserts that their authoritarian approach resulted in a ‘shrill, sour politics from 2001′. To borrow from Hopi’s interpretation of the interview, problems arose when Labour continued to focus on the needs of a rather small group of the electorate with such unpopular policies as ID cards, welfare reform etc.

On the subject of policies, I think Cruddas is dead right when he says that when we have some five million people in need of social housing and 75,000 repossessions, housing should be priority number one. I think Cruddas is dead right right when he says it is time to regulate the market in agency workers. Though even on this, I suspect that Cruddas will prove to be a damp squib. There’s an obvious answer – take the gloves off the unions and let a new generation of young workers bring their agency equivalents into the union fold.

Yet Cruddas returns time and again to the praise of New Labour. The failure of New Labour (says he) was nothing to do with their utter crushing of internal accountability, the ability of party leadership to parachute its lackeys into safe parliamentary seats – a double blow to parliamentary oversight and the Labour grassroots, or with the privatisation agenda that has cost the country billions more than straight-up government borrowing would have. It’s that New Labour is for the good times, that it was ‘ill-equipped for when the music stopped.’

Crucially, Cruddas doesn’t analyse why. Here, I think, is his key weakness. Cruddas’ populism is great – especially if ever it results in a couple of million more houses – but he simply has nothing to say about why New Labour failed, about why they were so ill-equipped, or why they seem to focus on such a narrow interest group in society. It’s as if New Labour was great, at one point, then the circumstances changed but New Labour didn’t, thus New Labour failed. The deficiencies which Cruddas exhibits in both interviews should be obvious.

Despite Cruddas’ love for discussion and debate, he continually ignores the structural locations in which such debates occur and the fundamental interests which prejudice them. But Cruddas’ narrative is itself flawed. New Labour was certainly not radical – 1997-2001, if thought of in context: a supremely large majority, with the mandate to reform British democracy and to strike a blow for workers. The best we can say is that some rights at work were reformed, and we got a minimum wage. Which still doesn’t pay enough, and was matched by the opt out from the EU Working Time Directive. Meanwhile key deregulations were being planned, and the post-2001 trajectory was being written.

This failure to match his favoured narrative to the reality, and the gaping whole where some form of structural, material appreciation should lie, is how Cruddas manages to go from demanding real radicalism from the government, to recommending Harriet Harman, David or Ed Miliband or (of all people!) James Purnell as potential future leaders. It is the same sort of shallow politics that has always dogged the soft Left, allowing them to sit on the sidelines and carp as though they are Left wing, then turn around and elect the sort of people they were originally carping about.

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  1. July 23, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    I’m not sure which interview you’re referring to when you say Cruddas doesn’t analyse the reasons for the shift from good New Labour to bad New Labour. In the one with Hopi he seems to pin the shift to the end of growth.

    Unfortunately for him, he’s totally wrong. The timings don’t even fit, in that public perception of NL failure started at least four years before the end of the asset boom.

    All a bit depressing. As i’ve said over at Hopi’s, the idea of a taking quite a long time to plan a ‘pluralist debate’, and for that to be the key feature of a Cruddas/Purnell leadership is all very early 1980s, never mind 94-97. And the whole emphasis on neverending ‘poles of debate’ contestation reminds me of none other than our old friends Profs Laclau and Mouffe.

    Oh well, suppose I’d better get on with my ‘what should we do’ posts.

  2. July 23, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Historiography from the Right of Labour would have one believe that ‘modernising’ the Party was what won the victory of 1997, and that Labour’s flexibility, its claim to more efficient management of the economy and so on was what did for the Tories even in their own heartlands. Cruddas is lining up behind this shallow moralising with his view that ‘Blair lost the language and the ethical dimension’. In reality, Blair’s language was a mask; nothing changed about Blair and Brown except that people lost faith in their rhetoric.

    The two are not mutually exclusive. The party needed to ‘modernise’ in the sense that its brand was tainted from the winter of discontent and they needed to change the rhetoric to attract middle england and become electable.

    That people lost faith in that rhetoric eventually is also inevitable for a party that ditches internal democracy and fails to renew itself.

    Cruddas is not one for cynical political manoeuvers – at least, not yet. He genuinely believes, it would seem, that up until 2001, New Labour was performing quite well

    Electorally – yes it was.

    but he simply has nothing to say about why New Labour failed, about why they were so ill-equipped, or why they seem to focus on such a narrow interest group in society. It’s as if New Labour was great, at one point, then the circumstances changed but New Labour didn’t, thus New Labour failed. The deficiencies which Cruddas exhibits in both interviews should be obvious.

    Yes he does. He says they lost the narrative. He says they didn’t focus on bread and butter issues (housing). He says they hoped the expanding economy would create a new paradigm where they could ditch their previous distributive instincts. He does say where New Labour went wrong.

    is how Cruddas manages to go from demanding real radicalism from the government, to recommending Harriet Harman, David or Ed Miliband or (of all people!) James Purnell as potential future leaders.

    I think his point in this case is that Labour can never really be dominated by one faction or with one view of society. Labour has to be a coalition, and to that extent these people represent different poles of coalitions.

  3. July 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Paul, I mean the Fabian interview, but he’s pretty sketchy with it at Hopi’s place as well. In the article above I mention that he doesnt analyse the reasons for the shift from good to New Labour to bad, rather that it’s as if he thinks circumstances change and New Labour didn’t – i.e. that growth failed and New Labour couldn’t adapt to curbs on spending.

    You have said such a claim is nonsense because the economic failure arrived years after the cracks began to appear in New Labour. I haven’t looked at the economic indicators with which the Treasury would be working, on which to base an assessment of the view – but I’m disputing him from a different angle: I’m arguing that there is absolute continuity between New Labour 1997-2001 and post 2001.

  4. July 23, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Sunny, your adoption of a bunch of tired clichés is disappointing. Labour needed to ‘modernise’, Labour needed to ‘change the rhetoric’ etc. Whose rhetoric needed changing? Certainly not that of the Labour leadership. Kinnock and Smith favoured the sort of bland and insubstantial, often gushy, rubbish that Blair and Brown do.

    As for modernising to escape the “Winter of Discontent”, good grief. Tainted brands and middle England; John Denham eat your heart out eh? This is a long discussion; suffice it to say that by 1983, 1987 and 1992, the election losses had little to do with the Winter of Discontent. If you think differently, check out Thatcher’s polling between 1979 and 1983. As for middle England, what’s that and how many votes does it carry?

    Such a term is analytically useless: there is gut wrenching poverty in the south of England, but in the small(ish) towns it still votes Tory. You can have whatever sophisticated propaganda machine you like and you still won’t reach those people. Look into how to smash that and this whole idea of the Severn-Wash line will be exploded forever.

    Moreover, where’s the evidence that a Party which doesn’t listen to its own members can’t ‘renew’ itself? Or rather, why is ‘renewal’ (are we talking policies or individuals?) considered important?

    Are we seriously suggesting that Housing is a new issue? There’s nothing on the table at the minute that any politically astute person couldn’t see coming. Liberal Conspiracy is a clear documentary of that – many of the articles attempt to grapple with any number of issues that the government faces. We have no privileged link to the common man, or at least none that ministers and their wannabe hangers-on don’t have.

    When I say that Jon Cruddas has nothing to say about New Labour’s transition from being ‘good’ New Labour to ‘bad’ New Labour, I’m looking for something more than superficialities. How did New Labour lose the narrative? For that matter, what narrative? How did they deal with bread and butter for the full four years of the 1997-2001 term and thereafter fail to? A lot of this talk doesn’t stack up.

    To take a particular favourite issue of the blogosphere, a major keystone of illiberal legislation was the Terrorism Act, which was passed in 2000. Or, if we wish to talk bread and butter, how was it that (if New Labour were as ‘radical’ as Cruddas insists) following the economic decline in the later half of 2007, that it’s in the midst of economic problems we see the most unmistakeable signs of an assault on poor people?

    This doesn’t fit with the idea that New Labour hoped growth would eliminate the need for redistribution. At the very least, such a sentiment assumes implicitly that failing growth, New Labour was prepared to be more redistibutive. Yet even the soft Left have found it an uphill battle to argue for redistribution – as the Compass campaign to tax the energy companies and reduce energy bills showed.

    So, I stick with my original contention. Cruddas doesn’t say very much at all about why New Labour failed. As I said in the original article, he seems to believe that circumstances changed and New Labour didn’t – but as I have outlined, this is both simplistic and wrong.

  5. July 23, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Without necessarily wanting to comment on the piece. Is it really right/necessary to link to someone’s facebook page?

  6. July 23, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    I can’t say I see any ethical dilemma there Ben. Blogging tends to be something of an insider game, and most of the people who comment on this blog know / know of Tom. Some of them might even want to see what he said about the subject on his FB page.

  7. July 23, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    I’m not terribly concerned about Cruddas’ praise for the early blair years, though I don’t believe for a second that the coalition could have survived after 1997-2001.

    There was inevitably going to be a disappointment amongst those who expected a pro-worker govt that would gradually undo the thatcherite consensus…

  8. July 23, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I would hardly dignify the reforms of Thatcher with the word ‘consensus’. Thatcher’s approach to office, which the memoirs of the period amply support, was startlingly single minded: her way or the high way.

    Charlie, I suspect that Cruddas could say black was white and you’d still not be concerned about it. You should be concerned about his praise for ‘early Blair’. This contrast between New Labour 1994-2001 and post-2001 demonstrates a lack of clarity in analysis and a refusal to take from such a huge disappointment anything of worth, i.e. the sort of thing which will prevent it all happening again after several more terms of the Tories plying their trade.

  9. July 24, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I wasn’t referring to thatcher the person, but thatherism as consensus within the ruling class, but I take your point – it seems like a contradiction in terms.

    Yes, Cruddas could say black was white and I would nod in agreement, pat him on the head, and give him a cookie. Because he was involved in early Blair, and good Catholic boy that he is, probably feels somewhat guilty about the whole thing (or he should!).

    But as i’ve said before, Cruddas is aiming his comments at his fellow labour-loyalists in the PLP rather than Labour activists like yourself – his target is former ministers, seasoned backbenchers, all of whom are terrified of the capitalist press turning on Labour as “lurching to the left” (as opposed to just turning on labour).

    By bigging up early-blair he reminds them that there wasn’t merely authoritarianism, aggression, and adoration of the wealthy – he points to the handful of progressive measures such as the minimum wage and devolution.

    BTW, what d’you make of Mark Perryman’s Compass think-piece?

  10. July 24, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I have an article forthcoming about it, if I can ever be bothered to finish it.

    Back on Cruddas though, so he points to a bunch of progressive measures. Blairites when talking to party activists do the same thing. So far I’m still not seeing any difference – and the development of Cruddas lining up with Purnell is just worrying. Short of having time in office and proving himself to be a Blairite scumbag, is there anything that will convince you that Cruddas is not the man to deliver reform of party or government?

  11. July 24, 2009 at 7:50 am

    You misunderstand. I don’t think Cruddas will deliver anything – he doesn’t aspire to be leader and can’t even bring himself to become a rebel, to draw a line in the sand.

    Re: Perryman’s article, I think it about sums up the situation in electoral terms…

  12. July 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Just a quick comment (will comment more later), firstly, love the title, David…sums him up. Secondly, indeed the Purnell/Cruddas show chills me to the bone and lets not forget the stance Cruddas has taken time and time again on war in Iraq…’misled’ apparently (well, millions of others globally could see through the lies, damn lies and the myth of WMD)also on 42 days… Welfare Reform Bill and so on. He sells out politically yet some on the left still hold him up as some shining example….
    I spoilt my ballot twice (one for LP and one for my then union, Unite) on the deputy leadership contest..many people had illusions in Cruddas and I still think I did the right thing scrawling, ‘No to war mongers’!

  13. July 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    In the deputy leadership election, I supported Cruddas – both by voting for him and by campaigning for him (in lacklustre fashion). Mostly I did this because I believed him to be the lesser of the six evils: and indeed, I think he was the least worst. I probably should have spoiled my ballot – but I was damned if I was going to render the chances of Hazel Blears winning it any more likely.

  14. Robert
    July 25, 2009 at 10:11 am

    When did Blair go wrong the day he took his first bloody breath if you ask me, the doctor that smacked his ass should be shot.

    Blair had one aim when he took control to make money to become rich to kiss anyone ass that could do this for him.

    Blair started his failure when he said benefits including pension would rise by 75p. Then he had the Iraq war, then he had welfare reforms, then he had a few minister who should have moved over to the Tories they might still do so.

    But we do not have enough grass root labour union people coming through the hand picked ladies picked by Blair to back him up have badly hurt labour they are useless looking around for daddy. he pissed off making money.

    I think we are going to have a hell of a time under the Tories, but we would have had a hell of a time under Labour.

    One look at Cruddas voting record is enough for me he was is a Blairite now he is Brownie or he will back who ever comes in , he also does not have the guts to get mixed up as a minister thinking he will become leader if he stand out side looking in, I rather have a real lefty.

  15. July 25, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I said all I had to say abour Cruddas two years ago .I did NOT vote for him because he and his supporters in the PLP sabotaged John McDonnell’s leadership campaign .I also mistrusted his “left” positioning and thought him a charlatan.
    Nothing he has done or said recently has caused me to change my mind – indeed his cosying up to Purnell has reinforced my view he is basically still a Blairite. And a treacherous one at that.

  16. Miller 2.0
    July 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Some good points here Dave. I wouldn’t go as far as JC and endorse NL up until 1997, there were of course underlying things going on, but I also think it’s fair to say that the pre 2001 NL was a lot more progressive. It also seems to me that a symbolic break with the past was a decent bit of strategy 1994-97. My problem is that is was predicated on the undermining of its own foundations. As you say the structural stuff about how the party works has basically made it go politically wrong, but also organisationally and politically stale. It has cut itself of from the world outside, and cut itself off from new thinking.

    “Yet Cruddas returns time and again to the praise of New Labour. The failure of New Labour (says he) was nothing to do with their utter crushing of internal accountability, the ability of party leadership to parachute its lackeys into safe parliamentary seats – a double blow to parliamentary oversight and the Labour grassroots, or with the privatisation agenda that has cost the country billions more than straight-up government borrowing would have. It’s that New Labour is for the good times, that it was ‘ill-equipped for when the music stopped.”

    Pretty much. Interestingly, Compass has started a bit of a drive on this (see the website, and some of the press work). Plus there was Cruddas’s reform plans as part of the deputy manifesto; about 90% of which were quality (and about 10% complete rubbish).

  17. Miller 2.0
    July 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Oh, any chance you could take the facebook link down btw? I’ve got some pretty sad BNP internet stalkers.

  18. July 26, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Tom, link taken down. I noticed that Thomas Byrne chap and his concocted screen shot of something you said. Whatever else, whoever comes up with this sort of thing can’t mimic your writing style worth a damn.

    On the substance: I don’t see how you can quote swathes of my criticism of New Labour and still conclude that pre-2001 they were any more progressive than they are now. There’s no decisive break in the history of New Labour: the decisive break was already rendered by the evisceration of party cadres and the most organised sections of the working class by Kinnock and Thatcher.

    Everything from there proceeded smoothly, because there was nothing the Left could do to stop it.

    New Labour in 2009 is no more nor less cut off from the world outside than it was in 1994. It still has access to the same feeding tubes: Oxbridge, various think tanks and magazines and the Party apparatus. It has had these all the way through its history and we can see where these have led when given free reign due to the weakness of the Left, which has always been the anchor of the Party – if not determining its direction then certainly constraining the parameters within which the Party leadership can manoeuver.

    But this smoothe trajectory ultimately comes into conflict with two pre-existing parties to the Right of Labour. Suddenly an acute crisis of capitalism causes a slight resurgence in working class militancy, perhaps best viewed as a failure of patience, and New Labour’s ‘coalition’ collapses: it is not of the Left, it is not sufficiently of the Right (neither is it, in the South of England, of the right demographic).

    The coalition, however, was sustained in the first place by abandoning the Left and could only ever be maintained by using up a finite store of patience that working people had developed after eighteen years of harsh market winds and Tory indifference to the people on the ground. So what element is it, exactly, which is worth repeating?

  19. July 26, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    For the first four years in govt, New Labour were obliged to implement some policies that had accrued over the years in opposition – devolution for example.

    This is why it appeared slightly more progressive. The core leadership of Blair/Brown etc were agreed on enforcing the neoliberal agenda, pushing forward free market policies.

  20. Miller 2.0
    July 29, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Cheers bre.

    The reason I think there is a break is not so much to do with what went on structurally (on which you are bang on, including on the forseeability of this trajectory), but what took place in terms of policy outcomes (rather than determined future paths, or intentions). At the end of the day, after 97, New Labour was committed to a pretty massive programme of investment in public services. Give or take whatever you like about PFI, the material results of this have at this point in time been more beneficial than not.

    The lines that get trotted out about new hospitals built and suchlike are propagandistic, but they remain true. My old school only used to have windows in half of it.

    New Labour knocked it down, started again, and gave it double glazing (after I had left, grrr).

    1997 (well, 1998 I guess) marked a pretty big splurge on this kind of stuff, but by 2001 the emphasis in improving public services had been placed on further, deeper privatisation, rather than primarily on funding. Where the government had previously pledged a long term commitment to the environment, it started talking about Heathrow. Where it had brought in the Human Rights Act, it genuflected before the media and threatened to repeal it, before introducing detention without trial etc.

    Where we had taken the perfectly sensible step of downgrading the status of cannibis, it has now been reclassified.

    It is true that the underlying motivation, that is to say the ‘letting off the hook’ of New Labour was always there. But I would argue that the changing conditions of superstrutural politics only really exploited these underlying conditions to their full extent once New Labour had repaired some of the damage to infrastructure and social cohesion. I do not argue, as Cruddas does, that New Labour circa 97 was a ‘good thing’. But I would argue that it was a much more nuanced, complicated, and indeed balanced political personality before the 2001 manifesto. Where it had always disenfranchised the left within the party, after 2001 it was a straightforward vehicle for the disenfranchisement of a whole chunk of the electorate.

    I am also not seeking to deny that this is a logical progression, please bear that in mind.

  21. July 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Two things, as I’m about to get on a plane. First, cannabis was downgraded in 2003.

    Second, privatization of hospital and other services represents an objective increase in the rate of exploitation. Having already been screwed once in the labour market, we’re then screwed twice by the direction of money taken off us in tax revenue into private hands as profit: for delivery of services that were and are substandard. So while on one measure things like waiting lists may have decreased (short term), in both short- and long-term it is at the expense of an increased exploitation. Basically we’ve paid twice through our own labour for services which we should be exacting from the wealthy as a means of redistribution.

  1. September 9, 2009 at 6:33 pm
  2. May 18, 2010 at 9:34 am

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