Cruddas and Miliband set out their vision

Labour leadership hopeful and party intellectual rethink social democracy.

Fresh from his endorsement of David Miliband's candidacy for the Labour leadership in last week's New Statesman, the Parliamentary Labour Party's resident intellectual Jon Cruddas joins the front-runner in the race in the Guardian to set out what the two men call their "covenant with Britain".

Most of what they have to say will be familiar to New Statesman readers, especially those who read Maurice Glasman's recent guest piece for the magazine. Glasman, a political theorist close to Cruddas, argued that Labour succumbs to the temptation simply to dismiss Tory rhetoric about the "big society" as so much window-dressing for a neo-Thatcherite assault on the welfare state at its peril:

The Conservatives have seized Labour's language with their vision of a "big society" -- and not only its language but its 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, the coalition government is seizing Labour's future by stealing its inheritance.

For Glasman, the correct response to this raid on Labour's vocabulary is not to dismiss the big society, as Ed Miliband has done, as a "load of rubbish". Rather, he says, "Labour should assert its ownership of the language and practice of organised social action for the common good. Democracy all the way up and all the way down."

Cruddas and David Miliband echo this: "We let the Tories claim our language and traditions in their one-sided "big society", while allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as defenders of the 'big state'." And, in a phrase that occurred in Miliband's Keir Hardie Lecture delivered in July, which is by far the most comprehensive and ambitious statement of fundamental values and political vision to have been made by any of the five candidates for the leadership, the two men offer this succinct assessment of the failings of the New Labour years: "In government we were too hands-off with the market and too hands-on with the state."

The piece also contains the outline of a psephological and sociological analysis of the reasons for Labour's defeat in May. As Sunder Katwala has pointed out, the argument between David and Ed Miliband concerns not only the shape of a renewed social democracy (the legacy of Anthony Crosland, you might say), but also electoral strategy. Katwala distinguishes the approaches of the two brothers as follows:

It is fair to say that the thrust of the Ed Miliband campaign's political argument was that New Labour had failed to realise how much its DE vote had slumped, and the impact of that on vote share and seats. The David Miliband campaign agrees that these votes matter, while placing more emphasis on lost C1 and C2 votes and maintaining a strong middle-class appeal, warning against pretending that these don't matter.

Cruddas and David Miliband appear to contest that analysis:

We need a new electoral strategy, too. Labels such as "core vote" and "Middle England" are now largely meaningless. Since 1997 we lost support right across society: 1.6 million lower-income voters and 2.8 million middle-income voters. We need a broad appeal based on principle, not polling -- rooted in the lives and experiences of the people. We combine radicalism and credibility by inspiring people with a sense of hope, while taking them with us as partners in a shared adventure.

"Principle, not polling" -- now there's a thought.

UPDATE: Over at Next Left, Sunder Katwala has now commented on the Cruddas and Miliband article. And he recognises, as I implied above, that the line about labels such as "core vote" and "Middle England" now being "largely meaningless" suggests "a potentially significant shift in the electoral strategy argument which has dominated the last few weeks".

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.