Cruddas for London mayor?

Labour MP winning "high-level backing" for a bid

Today's Evening Standard reports that Jon Cruddas is winning "high-level backing" to stand as Labour's candidate against Boris Johnson in the 2012 mayoral election. It's not hard to see why. Cruddas is an exceptional campaigner with high levels of support among Labour members and the non-aligned left. As someone with an excellent record on working-class and ethnic-minority issues, he is ideally placed to run the capital.

It's thought that Cruddas will stand only if he loses his Dagenham seat (current majority: 7,605) at the next election, and while there may seem little chance of this at the moment, it would be surprising if he wasn't tempted all the same.

A Cruddas bid would pose a major threat to Ken Livingstone's hopes of recapturing City Hall in 2012. While Livingstone will be almost 67 by the time of the election, Cruddas will only be 50.

Despite persistent speculation that Cruddas plans to run for the Labour leadership following this year's general election, he has already effectively ruled himself out. In a little-noticed interview with Mary Riddell he said:

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.

The opening words of this passage suggest that Cruddas, a campaigner at heart, does not long to become a great House of Commons man. The more pluralistic environment of London politics would offer him a perfect way out.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.