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
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Theresa May's Brexit gamble

The Prime Minister is betting that the economic hit from putting border control first will be delayed and go unnoticed. 

Britain’s European referendum was about immigration. That doesn’t mean the country was divided on it. Had the question been a Yes/No proposition on whether or not immigration was a good thing, it would have between a 78 to 22 per cent rout for Brexit.  As it was, what separated those who opted for a Remain vote over those who backed a Leave one was not whether or not you thought that immigration to Britain should be lowered. Remain did, however, 88 per cent of the vote from the pro-immigration majority.

The real dividing line was between people who thought that bringing down immigration would come at a cost that they were unwilling to pay, and people who thought that it could be done without cost, or, at least, without a cost that they would have to pay. Remain voters, on the whole, accepted both that there would be an economic consequence to reducing immigration generally and they’d pay for it personally, while Leave voters tended only to accept that there was a cost to be paid for it in general.

That leaves politicians in a bind, electorally speaking. There undoubtedly is a majority to be found at the ballot box for reducing immigration and there is an immediate electoral dividend to be reaped from pursuing a Brexit deal that puts border control above everything else.

But as every poll, every election and the entire history of human behaviour shows, the difficulty is that this particular coalition is single use only. It’s very similar to the majority that David Cameron and George Osborne won to cut £12bn out of the welfare bill. People backed it at the ballot box but revolted at the prospect of cuts to tax credits, one of the few ways that the cuts could possibly be achieved. In the end, the cuts were abandoned and George Osborne’s hopes of securing the Conservative leadership were, if not permanently derailed, at least severely delayed.

The nightmare scenario for Theresa May is that the majority for border control dissolves as quickly on impact with reality as the planned cuts to tax credits did.  That’s also the dream for the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who, due to Labour’s embrace of the Conservative approach of abandoning single market membership, are well-placed to benefit if everything comes unravelled.

Who’s right? In both cases, the gamble is clear. There will be a heavy economic price to be paid through leaving the single market. The question is whether that price will come in one big shock or be paid out over a number of years. If the effect of leaving the single market is an immediate fall in people’s standard of living, job losses and negative equity, then Theresa May will find herself in jeopardy. But if the effect is longer-term, and the consequences of Britain’s single market exit are only made clear when in 2030, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to abandon promises made to pensioners at a time when the pound was worth more than the Euro, then May will be able to reap the electoral dividend of getting Britain’s borders under control.

But there’s a more pessimistic future than either of these. The worst-case scenario isn’t that we all become poorer and the freedom of future governments to do what they want is sharply reduced by its weaker financial consequences. It’s that the economic hit is immediate, noticeable, but that the blame centres not on the incumbent government, but on immigrants and minorities.  

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