Saturday, 4 September 2010

Miliband-Cruddas manifesto ditches "core vote" critique of brother Ed

David Miliband and Jon Cruddas have written together for The Guardian, highlighting the elder Miliband's closing "unity" pitch to centre-left Labour party opinion, and concern at becoming excessively defined by supportive interventions from Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair.

It is an effective piece at demonstrating where the centre-left common ground lies towards the end of a contest. I suspect that most of the piece could pretty much have been jointly issued in the name of all five candidates for leader, given that it acknowledges of differences as well as common ground - "there are many things we do not agree on, but we share a fundamental Labour creed: a commitment to democracy and liberty, and an economy that enables people to live decent, dignified lives".

But one line "We need a new electoral strategy, too. Labels such as "core vote" and "middle England" are now largely meaningless" marks a potentially significant shift in the electoral strategy argument which has dominated the last few weeks.

This reflects that Jon Cruddas largely shares Ed Miliband's analysis of Labour's electoral challenge, while agreeing (as both Miliband brothers have emphasised) on the need for a broad electoral coalition. However, as my New Statesman piece last week on this debate showed, David Miliband's campaign hand his supporters have critiqued the rival argument as a "core vote" strategy.

"But the former Scottish secretary Jim Murphy, co-chair of the David Miliband campaign, tells me: "A core vote strategy guarantees you opposition. It fails the Downing Street test. The road back to power isn't inverting the mistake of New Labour and describing that as a strategy." Yet the pejorative expression "core votes" is misapplied to those voters most likely to switch".

This demonstrates a welcome convergence in the electoral strategy debate. Though it will not impress Tony Blair, given what he wrote about his former No 10 staffer Cruddas in his memoir:

Jon made quite a name for himself. It was clever political positioning. To his overall political analysis - New Labour had deserted the working class and thus our base - he added a programme for the party. It was clothed in some modernist language, but was ultimately an attempt to build a left coalition out of Guardian intellectuals and trade union activists. However beguiling - and he was smart enough to make it beguiling - it was, in effect, reheated and updated Bennism from the 1980s."


Indeed, one can spot the influence of several different Labour voices in the Labour Unity piece.

"In government we were too hands-off with the market and too hands-on with the state" began as a James Purnell soundbite, aired in the Demos Open Left pamphlet last February. It is a point of agreement between the post-1968 new left (and the modern Compassites) and Blairites. But perhaps there are disagreements about which bits of the state were too hands-on, was it the poor civil liberties record, which Ed Miliband emphasises, or the approach to public services, which David Miliband may focus on more.

"Our weakness in political economy left the welfare state with too much work to do" explains the shared ground around living wage campaigns and acknowleges the need for a different political economy to New Labour, which is again now common ground, though defining the alternative is much harder than identifying the challenge.

The call for a "new Labour covenant" is a central (Tawneyesque) Jon Cruddas theme, developed in partnership with academic Jonathan Rutherford, which was central to his 2010 Compass lecture, then echoed in David Miliband's Cruddas-influenced Keir Hardie lecture, which took the un-Blairite view that Labour's lack of a core ideology - "a shared creed that is too often undefined" - was a historic weakness of the party, not a pragmatic strength.

"We combine radicalism and credibility by inspiring people with a sense of hope" reprises a John Smith soundbite, which Douglas Alexander has long been fond of quoting, and which has also provided one of the slogans of the Ed Balls' campaign.

1 comment:

james said...

In a funny way, Blair is right about the "reheated Bennism" line - because unlike "liberal" Blair, Cruddas, and the Milibands, do suggest a fundamental shift in power. It's curious that Blair describes Benn as a preacher rather than a general, because this describes Blair himself. The difference being that whereas Bennism was about opposition to capitalist rule, Blairism was about indifference to it at the best of times and evangelism for it at the worst.

I've commented before on the fact David cited Tawney's essay which problematises capitalist control of the economy. Blair rightly states that there's little appetite for state control in the economy - but is perhaps ignorant of the genuine Third Way, that of co-operative and mutual enterprise... Perhaps this could be central to the political economy of a good society?