Labour's policy review coordinator and MP for Dagenham and Rainham Jon Cruddas. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cruddas's attack has raised the bar for Miliband

The Labour leader will now need to go even further to meet demands for a "radical offer".

Jon Cruddas has long spoken of his concern that Labour's policy offer will not prove radical enough. In my interview with him in the current NS, he referred to "tripwires", "cross-currents" and "tensions" and said "the jury was out" on whether his ideas would survive contact with the party machine. He also hinted at his private frustration (expressed when we met last week) at how the launch of IPPR's voluminous Condition of Britain report was narrowly defined by Labour's announcement on youth welfare policy: "I know everybody's been dancing around this thing about 18-21s, but all I would say is please just read it, consume the breadth and depth of the story it is telling".

But his comments at a recent Compass meeting, revealed in today's Sunday Times, go further than anything the Dagenham MP has said before. He complained that innovative policies were being crushed by "a profound dead hand at the centre", derided Labour's welfare announcement (on replacing Jobseeker's Allowance for 18-21-year-olds lacking key qualifications with a means-tested youth allowance) as "fairly cynical and punitive" and said of the Condition of Britain report: “My job is to look at Labour’s policy agenda . . . and I can assure you that these interesting ideas and remedies are not going to emerge through Labour’s policy review. We set up independent reviews to rethink social policy, economic policy, democracy, local government — they come up with ideas and they’re just parked, parked.

"And instead instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle dominate and crowd out any innovation or creativity."

He added: "The paradox is there is all sorts of creativity alongside a profound dead hand at the centre. I’d love to say why we don’t just appropriate this idea or that idea — but honestly it ain’t going to happen at the moment, even though the clock’s ticking, with a profoundly important general election."

It's an excoriating critique of the policy review - from its own coordinator. Labour is attempting to portray Cruddas's words as an attack on the media coverage of the party, with Ed Balls telling The Andrew Marr Show: "I understand Jon Cruddas's frustration about a newspaper headline. We've all been in a situation where a big report, or a big speech, is reduced down to just one policy." But it's much worse than that. Cruddas's attack was on the Labour leadership itself ("profound dead head at the centre"), not simply how the party's ideas were framed by the media. Indeed, his complaint was that Labour's aim was precisely to achieve such reductive headlines ("our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle").

The irony, as Mark Ferguson notes at LabourList, is that his criticisms have emerged on the same day that Ed Miliband announced two radical new policies (also in the Sunday Times): the devolution of £30bn from Whitehall to local government (although Cruddas would rather the figure were closer to the £70bn proposed in Michael Heseltine's growth report), and the guaranteeing of a quarter of government contracts for small and medium-sized firms. But those on the left doubtful that Labour is bold enough to meet the challenges of these times, and those on the right determined to present the party's team as irretrievably divided, have had all their instincts confirmed by Cruddas's words.

The most important consequence of his intervention is that the bar has been raised for Miliband. Labour reasonably contends that he has already announced a large number of radical policies: freezing energy prices and establishing a new market regulator, building 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and capping rent increases, launching two new banks and setting up a National Investment Bank, linking the minimum wage to median earnings and spreading use of the living wage, and introducing a mansion tax and reinstating the 50p tax rate.

But he will now need to go even further to satisfy the desire of Cruddas and others for a "radical offer", at a time when plenty more will be urging caution (and focus on the party's economic credibility). Today's story shows just how great the danger is that Labour, like the Tories in 2010, will go into the election as a divided force.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.