Thursday 4 February 2010

Has Jon Cruddas changed his mind?

The bane of politicians trying to open up and talk about the possibilities of a new politics is that they have to deal with the (entirely predictable) googly about their hypothetical future leadership ambitions.

Jon Cruddas' interview with New Statesman editor Jason Cowley is interesting for stressing how he combines a quest for a more egalitarian economic and social agenda and a pluralist broad left politics with a communitarianism somewhat reminiscient of the early mid-1990s Blair (and which is core to the Gordon Brown worldview too).

Cowley writes:

He is troubled by what he calls "lifestyle liberalism", by how the convulsions and libertarian excesses of the late Sixties countercultural revolution as well as Thatcherism conspired to destroy the conventional family.

Some on the secular left are alarmed by what is sometimes mistaken as his social conserva­tism. "I'm interested in reciprocity, in duty, in a sense of obligation to others," Cruddas counters. "Labour, because it was captured by the focus group, has lost that ethic of community, responsibility, obligation. This is difficult language for the liberal."

Cowley finds that "his voice quickens and his shrewd eyes shine when I ask him directly" about the leadership.

"The current way this stuff is covered in Westminster is that the leadership is like a game of top trumps." He pauses. "Listen, no one knows what's going to happen. Actually, I thought it was wrong how one gang tried to get rid of Blair and then how the other gang tried to get rid of Brown. It puts so much poison in the system.

“What matters is the real issues - of political economy, the future of social democracy, what's happening on the right . . . It's fair to say that Compass, myself and a few others will make sure that we have a contribution to make when the time comes."

"To translate: he's in the race", writes Cowley.

Unoffical spokesman Neal Lawson of Compass, who is unequivocally backing Cruddas for leader, tells the Staggers that "Jon doesn't wake up every morning thinking he wants to be Labour leader. But I know there are circumstances in which he would run for the leadership and could win".

All of which might seem pretty standard fare in the 'rule nothing in and rule nothing out' genre of future leadership hypotheticals.

However, it is also a very significant shift in language in not much more than six months from one of the more Shermanesque comments on the leadership from any leading Labour politician, which led us to headline Fabian Review's interview with Jon Cruddas last July as The Man Who Won't Be King.

Cruddas told Mary Riddell:

"I'm not interested in Westminster, or Parliament really. The leadership doesn’t interest me. There are certain identikit characteristics which a leader has to have, and I don’t have them. I don’t have the certainty needed to do it. I couldn’t deal with it. I have a different conception of how I want to live my life".

Partly he is talking about lifestyle. And partly, he is talking about compromise - "playing some game, thinking if I shave 20 per cent of this, then it might work".

“I literally am not interested. A lot of blokes in and around Cabinet could do it. Harriet Harman has shown real steel. There’s the Miliband lads, James Purnell and younger people. I never even thought I'd be an MP. I'm having a blast. But I don't want anything. I’m not ambitious – that’s my problem. Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and David Cameron are physiologically interchangeable. They are merging into the same person – constructing a politician that fits the rubric. The parties themselves have been hollowed out”

Riddell commented that "Cruddas was never seen by his admirers as just a king-breaker or king-maker. He was also, they hoped, a future king. In the coming months, many will try to persuade him to change his mind".

Perhaps they have.

Read the whole thing (PDF file).


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