In (angry) defence of Jon Cruddas
Mark at Labourlist is angry with Jon Cruddas:
The National policy Forum meets in three weeks. So why in all merry hell did Cruddas think that attacking the Labour Party – and Labour Party policy – now, of all times, would be a good idea? Labour policy chief slams policy review? How is that ever going to be a good headline? He’s smart enough and has been around the block long enough to know that this isn’t the way people of his standing in the party are supposed to behave. Look again at this line “these interesting ideas and remedies are not going to emerge through Labour’s policy review”. What were you thinking Jon? I like you – I think you’re a force for good in the Labour Party. But what were you thinking? Your job is to make sure that interesting ideas make their way through the process, not argue the opposite before the process has even finished.
I think the criticism is entirely unfair, and I entirely support Jon who, like Mark, I also think is a force for good within the labour movement. It’s very clear that Jon is attacking not the policy review itself, but the “dead hand” campaign managers and assorted “strategists” who have managed the message so badly. What he’s saying – frustratedly to a like-minded audience – is that there’s a risk that some of the really good stuff coming out of the review risks being filtered out by those campaign managers and strategists There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that, because it’s correct. I’m glad that Ed Balls is reflecting that.
Now I like Mark too (I think I met him once), and I think he’s a force for good in the labour movement. He knocks on doors. But he needs to take a step back and look at Labourlist’s own part in this.
The coverage by Labourlist of the big – very big, vet important, IPPR report was, like that of the mainstream media – dominated by the 18-21 year old youth allowance/JSA proposal/means-testing proposal, although it quickly became simply the JSA-slashing proposal*. Yet this was a 280 page report stuffed full of much more important stuff, one of which – the devolution to local city and county regions was in there but has had to be re-announced today. The other related biggie – the proposal to empower local authorities and other pubic bodies to draw forward investment into the early years off a five year cycle on the basis of future savings resutling from that investment – was completely ignored.
Mark accepts (I think) that no-one at Labourlist has actually read the IPPR report, and I suspect their coverage of it was influenced by other non-readings of it. Part of the problem, I suspect then, is that Labourlist’s resources have not grown commensurate with its growing profile, and importance (not in terms of its own direct readership so much as it being a go-to place for other more widely read commentators. Labour itself needs to consider what can be done about this – perhaps my moving some of its wasted PR budget towards Labourlist while guaranteeing absolute independence. In addition, the unions funding Labourlist and Left Foot Forward should consider cutting support to the latter in favour of the former, given that Left Foot Forward is now largely tripe. That way, we might expect that someone within Labourlist (or more likely a few people sharing) would actually get to grips with policy substance.
But better resources are not everything. Labour commentators and campaign managers alike need to get their heads round the idea that the Labour policy review is actually a very good thing, being very well managed within unfortunate constraints established earlier by oh-so-clever but actually much more stupid people.
In the end, it’s the content of the manifesto offer that counts, not some trashy headline from a paper which will attack Labour anyway. Jon and some at IPPR and elsewhere should be congratulated for staying focused on that, not hauled over the coals for being pissed off that the “strategists” still wield far too much influence.
* For what it’s worth, I think the conditional Youth Allowance proposals are a pretty good thing in that they free young people from the stupidity of the JSA job search requirements, but much will depend on the level of autonomy enjoyed by the Job Centre Plus Advisors around the customised plans and the “exceptions”. The proposals are still a too managerial-bureaucratic, as is the way of IPPR (especially Graeme Cooke), but there is time for them to become a useful part of the overall scheme of things. And of course, means-testing parents is only the same as happens with student’s maintenance grants, and only an indiorect form of progressive taxation, to which direct taxation would of course be preferable but not felt currently a vote winner.