Tuesday 8 September 2009

Has Cruddas changed his mind about Cameron?

There has been a lot of advance publiclty for Jon Cruddas' Compass lecture tonight. I will link the full text if and when it appears online, so please accept the health warning that I am going to believe what has been briefed to the newspapers.

[UPDATE: LabourList have the full speech: the analysis below stands; the extensive discussion of Labour, liberalism and progressive alliances is also interesting but, at first glance, might take a little decoding to work out how far that goes].

Two thoughts, based on the briefings and previews.

1. Cruddas now appears to be arguing that, as the Conservatives shift right, they should be there for the taking, according to quotes given to The Observer'.

"It is frankly astonishing, after a summer in which the Tories have showed their true colours, that we have barely laid a glove on them," Cruddas will say. "Progressive conservatism hit a wall as soon as the economic storm clouds rolled in and appears to have been dropped in favour of a harsher, nastier Thatcherism.

"But presented with this golden opportunity to galvanise ourselves and unite behind a clear anti-Tory message we seem paralysed; afraid of using our Labour principles as the basis to lay bare the shallowness of Cameron's project. We seem to be meekly accepting defeat, unable to show what we believe in."

Jackie Ashley made a similar case in her Guardian column on Monday. An emerging consensus among intelligent commentators on left and right finds that the Tory right is advancing in the party's internal arguments. As Matthew Parris, put it recently "it took the disintegration of new Labour’s political and economic faith for the Tories to rediscover theirs. It was, as it turned out, the old faith: a faith that Margaret Thatcher would recognise".

Not too long ago, many of the same people were arguing that Cameronism went rather deeper than that - and that the argument that the Tories hadn't changed would fail to resonate. It was a case made quite powerfully by Jon Cruddas himself.

Nothing wrong with that. There remain common points of analysis between his arguments. And I have also somewhat changed my mind too about the balance of political forces within the right, following the good Keynesian dictum when the facts change.

Cruddas has a good argument about a core values and vision message from Labour - but I am less sure that the Ashley/Cruddas exhortation to 'show we are up for a fight' contains much which could be described as strategy.

After all, Labour high command has been arguing the "the Tories haven't changed" line all along, nobody more than Gordon Brown. Even if it is increasingly true, does it follow that the message will get through?

Yes, voters are sceptical about Cameron and, especially his party. But is Labour the trusted source they will turn to to make up their minds?

Yes, the Tories haven't changed so much. That is part of Labour's argument: the contrast and the choice matters. But Labour's best bet is to define itself, and so test the Tories on content, and so offer an opportunity for external third party scrutiny too.
Yet my sense is that Labour talks about the Tories at least twice as much as it should, and has said less than half of what it needs to say about itself.

2. Rumours of a Labour civil war are much exaggerated

Jim Pickard of the FT has the Cruddas 10-point plan, as "the agenda of the Labour left".

1 - establishment of a High Pay Commission;
2 - greater tax justice, including closing tax havens and more equal distribution of income and wealth;
3 - index link benefit levels, pensions and the minimum wage to average incomes;
4 - replacing tuition fees with a graduate solidarity tax;
5 - a Fair Employment Clause in all public contracts;
6 - windfall and transaction taxes and resetting capital gains tax;
7 - a new covenant with the military, including more investment in mental healthcare, equipment, housing and support for veterans funded by scrapping plans to renew Trident and re-deploying the money saved within the Minister Of Defence budget;
8 - a Green New Deal, to include scrapping the third runway at Heathrow;
9 - remutualisation of the finance sector;
10 - a credit card bill of rights for consumers.

We hear a lot about the coming Labour civil war, most of it nonsense. I am afraid that I haven't read much Trotsky myself. I wasn't myself around for the battles of the 1970s and 1980s.

But I am not sure whether reinvesting the savings from Trident in a new military covenant was quite where the debate was at.

Still, there is quite a lot here which moderate trimming sensiblist centrist Fabians like myself would think worthy of further policy discussion and debate. So let's see whether anyone feels the need to man the New Labour barricades in response.


Red Rag said...

The time for an internal civil war has come and gone.It is time for the party to turn its attention to the common enemy.

Guido Fawkes said...

There is always time for a civil war, it is what Labour does best. I'll be cheering.

You should never have got rid of Blair...

Letters From A Tory said...

"It is frankly astonishing, after a summer in which the Tories have showed their true colours..."

Oh, you cannot be serious - are you still peddling the 'Dan Hannan = David Cameron and every other Conservative in the UK' myth?

Bearded Socialist said...

the problem with politics being that as the Tories do and say different things every five minutes, the unpopularity of the government means they can get away with it.
I certainly agree that Labour should talk more about what they plan to do and less about the Tories.

Stains = dick

Sunder Katwala said...

On reading the speech itself, I think Cruddas' argument to be very much about how to define the battleground by defining Labour's fundamental sense of mission and purpose, animating it in a concrete programme. So his central message is talk more about us as the best way to define them.

Though he does not explicitly go too much into that, he has, however, I think, somewhat changed his mind about the nature of the Cameron project, though I expect he would continue to see the empathy in tapping into social concerns and skilled communication in doing that as explaining the political threat, and he was arguing all along that Cameron's post-Thatcherite inheritance had the potential to divorce him from means to address the issues and concerns he identified.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. We'll try to disappoint you there.

Have you given up on the notion of formenting a libertarian insurgency inside the LibDems? ... Or do you think there might now be a greater opportunity to put your shoulder to a deeper and more substantive Hannanite revolt against any ProgCons who might still be around in a year's time?