“Rebuilding and energising” Labour

I obviously have this effect on people. No sooner do I start praising Jon Cruddas than he rules himself out of contention for the Labour leadership.

This is a great pity in many ways, especially if it encourages Labour to make the serious error of rushing into electing a new leader rather than taking time to assess the candidates properly (and it’ll help to have some who aren’t called Miliband!) and think about the direction Labour now has to take.

But I do respect Cruddas’s stated reasons for standing aside. The media have been misquoting him as describing the leadership as a “bauble”, when in fact what he says is he doesn’t want to treat it as a bauble, which would be the case if he went for it for its own sake. Instead, he writes:

I would like to be involved in the debate about the future direction of the party and how we reconnect with our lost voters. But I cannot enter a leadership election just to contribute to a debate; to go into this must be on the basis of running to win and hand on heart I do not want to be leader of the Labour party or subsequently prime minister. These require certain qualities I do not possess.

So, it’s disappointing that Cruddas isn’t standing, but he does seem uniquely placed to contribute to the renewal of Labour, both in terms of its policies and values, and in rebuilding it as a practical political organisation. As Cruddas writes:

Refocusing the party machine, turning the party outwards to the communities we seek to represent, rebuilding our internal democracy and ending the stranglehold of unelected officials are urgent and immediate tasks.

And on the policy side, he is surely right that the priorities will be:

  • finding an approach to immigration that neither treats it as a neo-liberal “21st-century incomes policy” nor indulges in “ratcheted-up rhetoric” (certainly it would be good if the leadership candidates could avoid competing to sound “toughest” on immigration);
  • introducing a living wage and improved employment conditions, especially for agency workers;
  • tackling the housing crisis: not “the crisis of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, where one’s biggest problem is achieving a dream sale price”, but the crisis of “cramped living conditions where family life is undermined” and of “waiting lists that suck the hope from a young couple looking for stability” (and, it might be added, fuel resentment against immigrants perceived as competitors for scarce housing).

To that I think needs to be added an explicit commitment to increasing equality within our society. I hope to blog more on The Spirit Level, but so far it is absolutely convincing in its argument that a wide range of social problems – physical and mental health, crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and so on – have their roots specifically in inequality rather than just poverty. So it’s not enough just to deal with poverty – or the other issues outlined by Cruddas – while remaining “intensely relaxed about the filthy rich”.

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