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.

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On World Aids Day, let’s end the stigma around HIV for good

Advances in treatment mean that being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence, but attitudes still lag behind.

Stigma is a dangerous human construct, principally based on unfounded prejudices. None more so than the stigma surrounding HIV. The condition has been a recognised health issue in the UK for more than 30 years, and the advances in treatment have been staggering. Unfortunately attitudes seem to have remained in the 1980s.

A recent Terrence Higgins Trust poll asked people who are living with HIV for words that they have heard to describe their health condition. “AIDS”, “riddled”, “dirty”, “disgusting”, “promiscuous”, “dirty”, “deserved”, “unclean”, “diseased” – were the most cited.

Imagine turning to someone, who lets say has a long term health condition like high blood pressure, and branding them “lazy”, “fat”, “deserving”. Or someone who has just been diagnosed with diabetes being dismissed as “greed”. Of course, I’m not saying that these health conditions are without their own stigma. Rather I doubt that Charlie Sheen would have been subjected to such a vitriolic witch hunt, had it transpired he had either of those.

Once the nausea of that coverage subsided, it was telling to note the absent voices from most of the media debate around HIV and stigma. The thing that struck most was the total lack of understanding of the condition, the treatment, and the lack of representation of those who are living with HIV.

There was little written about the stigma women living with HIV face. That which those within the black African community, or the trans community, or the over 50s – the first generation of people living into old age with HIV – are subjected to.

Such is the stigma and the shame of HIV in black African communities that it can divide families. HIV positive people can be asked to leave home, resulting in separation from their family and isolation from their community. We know of a woman from the black African community who felt so stigmatised for not breastfeeding her baby – due to her HIV treatment – that she stopped her drug regime. She died unnecessarily of an Aids-related illness. After her death, her medication was found in the attic.

While living with HIV can be stressful for all ages, ageing with HIV can introduce challenges to mental health and quality of life. When compared to their peers, older people living with HIV are disadvantaged in a wide range of ways – from poorer health, to social care and financial security. We’ve found that older people fear that social care services will be prejudiced about their HIV diagnosis. One man shared that he feared hugely going into a home – the attitudes towards HIV that he might find, and ignorance from the staff. This fear is rooted in many people’s historic and continued experience of HIV-related discrimination.  

Often considered to be a lower risk group than gay men, women are sometimes forgotten in HIV discourse and yet women are stigmatised as much as any other with HIV. Women living with the condition face a unique stigma. Some are mothers and have been accused of being “irresponsible” and “putting children at risk”.

For the record, taking antiretroviral medication (ART) lowers the amount of virus in your blood to “undetectable” levels. When the level of HIV in your blood is so low that it can’t be picked-up in tests it is undetectable. This means there is an extremely low risk of passing on HIV.

Because of ART, undetectable women have a very low risk of passing on HIV to their babies. New-borns are given their own short course of ART to further reduce their risk of developing HIV, and undergo a series of tests during the first 18 months of life.

Many transgender people are on a difficult gender journey, which includes lots of access to GPs for onward referrals to specialists, and still they worry about HIV stigma. Some deny their HIV status in settings where possible, as they look at it as a barrier to achieving their goal. Gender specialist clinics are embedded in mental health departments, and some positive trans people worry that the stigma of diagnosis might be seen as an indicator of promiscuity, which they feel might work against their cases.

And what of stigma in the gay community? The poll mentioned earlier found that of 410 gay men living with HIV, 77 per cent experience stigma – with more than two thirds experiencing this most from within the gay community.

Those gay men who take the plunge and live openly with their status are often heckled, and sent abuse on dating apps like Grindr, even receiving messages that they shouldn’t be using it because “they’ll infect others”. It’s all too easy in the digital age for stigma to persist, and ignorance to remain faceless.

Stigma is best countered with fact. But there’s a clear lack of education amongst many – both positive and negative. Growing up with sex and relationship education lessons that only teach the reproduction cycle is not enough. Young people should be given clear and detailed information about the risks of HIV, but also how living with HIV in the UK has changed, and it is now an entirely manageable health condition.

Officially, stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Let’s turn that around today, and use the red ribbon to stop stigma. Let’s use it a mark of solidarity, compassion and understanding.

Let’s start a conversation about how we speak and write about HIV. Let’s stand together, today of all days against HIV stigma. Start now – join the solidarity on social media by taking a selfie with your red ribbon and #StopStigma.