Exclusive: Jon Cruddas endorses David Miliband

“There’s a pluralism I detect in David that I hadn’t witnessed before.”

In this week's New Statesman, Jon Cruddas, the influential left-of-centre MP for Dagenham, and someone many on the left hoped would run for the Labour leadership, tells me why he is endorsing David Miliband.

Long before this year's general election, David Miliband and Cruddas were engaged in what their supporters described as "back-channel talks" over what would happen when Labour lost power -- as both knew the party would -- and Gordon Brown was forced to resign. Neither man was a supporter of Brown and each longed to remake the Labour Party as something bolder, more pluralistic and collegiate.

Many on the left of the party were urging Cruddas, who stood for the deputy leadership in 2007, supported by the powerful Unite union, to stand for the leadership as well. "There are circumstances in which Jon could run and win the leadership," his friend Neal Lawson, chair of the Compass group, told me back in February.

"I'm endorsing David," Cruddas says now, "because of a couple of contributions he has made -- one was the column on Englishness he wrote in your magazine [in our 5 July issue]. Another was his Keir Hardie Memorial Lecture [on 9 July]. What was interesting to me about this was when he started talking about belonging and neighbourliness and community, more communitarian politics, which is where I think Labour has to go.

"He's the only one [of the leadership contenders] that has got into some of that. He's tackling some of more profound questions that need to be addressed head-on. What is the nature of the reckoning? We should not just be running from the record but having a nuanced approach to some of the things that went wrong, as well as defending the things that went right."

In a column in last week's New Statesman, Maurice Glasman, an academic who has worked with the increasingly influential London Citizens movement for the past decade, warned of how, through the rhetoric of the "big society", as well as their desire to redistribute power from the overweening state to the citizen, the Conservatives had seized Labour's language and history by "stressing mutual responsibility, commitment to place and neighbours and the centrality of relationships to a meaningful life, and by laying claim to the mutuals, co-operatives and local societies that built the labour movements". This is language that Keir Hardie himself would have understood.

"The nature of the reckoning"

"I very much echo where Maurice is on some of this," Cruddas says now. "What is interesting is that David more than anyone has attempted to listen and respond to some of those ideas. At times, he stumbles a bit because this is a major shift in orientation for Labour -- or a reorientation back to what Labour was, pre-dating the new left-liberalism."

Cruddas continues: "David is not just going down a checklist of policies; he seems to me to be echoing a more fundamental sentiment, in terms of what Labour needs to do. I'm much more interested in that, rather than in just reciting some policy options, because the scale of the defeat was so great. It's a much more fundamental question of identity that we need to return to.

"I disagree with him on a lot of policy but I think, in terms of the nature of the leadership that's needed, he's beginning to touch on some of those more profound questions that need to be addressed head-on. What is the nature of the reckoning? We should not just be running from the record but having a nuanced approach to some of the things that went wrong, as well as defending the things that went right."

David Miliband is moving towards a new pluralism. It is slow-paced and tentative, but it is sincere: all part of an attempt to remake himself, unburdened by office and free from having to speak in a language of power that he no longer wished to articulate -- the language of New Labour in its terminal phase.

"There's a pluralism I detect in him that I hadn't witnessed before," agrees Cruddas. "We see it around issues of party reform, devolution and local government, and around the question of national identities within Labour -- are we heading towards a federal form of Labour, for instance? And, actually, he's not just attacking the Liberals, as some of the others have."

Cruddas warns that it's a grave mistake for Labour to attack and disparage the Liberal Democrats. "David is not just attacking the Liberals, as some of the others have been."

This could be taken as a reference to his brother Ed Miliband's comments in our last issue, in which he said he would not work with Nick Clegg, and his subsequent attacks on the Liberal Democrat leadership during an address in Scotland, in which he spoke of eliminating the Lib Dems as a political force.

"I think it's definitely a mistake to attack the Liberals," Cruddas says. "We should have a much more subtle approach to this, because what we're seeing is the first major political realignment following the economic crisis.

"The question is: what is the equivalent centre-left response to this moment of rupture?

"Attacking the Liberals is wrong. There's a danger of us spraying too much lead across the forecourt and not really thinking about how we need to regroup. We need to have respect for and show courtesy towards different traditions as part of an overall, plural realignment across the centre and the left -- that's what's going to be needed. Arguably, the era of majoritarian [sic] victories by single parties is at an end."

Read the interview in tomorrow's magazine.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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