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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Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.