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.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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