Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper sing the Red Flag at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Exclusive: Jon Cruddas calls for end to Labour leadership "Top Trumps"

"It’s not about Andy, or Ed, or Yvette," Labour's policy review head tells the New Statesman.

In recent weeks, Ed Miliband's worsening personal ratings have become the subject of increasing concern in Labour. Even some of those loyal to his vision are starting to doubt whether he has the ability to sell it to the country. In these circumstances, discussion among MPs inevitably turns to whether an alternative leader would perform better and who would replace Miliband in the event of defeat. 

But in an interview with me for this week's New Statesman, Jon Cruddas offers a staunch defence of Miliband's style and calls for an end to what he describes as "a game of Top Trumps across the leadership". The party's policy review head adds that "it’s not about Andy [Burnham], or Ed [Balls], or Yvette [Cooper]", becoming the first shadow cabinet member to publicly name some of those regarded by Labour MPs as positioning themselves for a future contest. Burnham, Balls and Cooper were not named by the NS“If people think the solution to this is X rather than Y, they are deluding themselves," Cruddas says, commenting that "this won’t be resolved by throwing someone else in front of the train."

When I asked Cruddas whether he was troubled by Miliband's unpopularity, he told me: "I see him at close quarters. He has a different form of leadership, which I quite like, actually, it’s more inclusive, it’s quite plural ... We have to expose that in terms of the country. We’re laying down the stuff to make sure that he will have an agenda to articulate."

He added: 

You ain’t going to do it by having a game of Top Trumps across the leadership, it’s not about Andy [Burnham], or Ed [Balls], or Yvette [Cooper] ... If people think the solution to this is X rather than Y, they are deluding themselves.

He continued: "There’s a deeper story about what Labour is now and has it got the game to navigate through, in a contemporary way, the challenges that people are facing. That’s why this policy job is absolutely fascinating because it allows you to paddle in this pool." 

Elsewhere in the interview, Cruddas told me that he was not certain that his policy vision would survive contact with Labour's political machine, speaking of "tripwires", "cross-currents" and "tensions".  He identified the "essential conservatism" of organisations and the party’s "centralised" and even "authoritarian" tendencies as the main obstacles to change. "Have we got the political agility and the game to mainline it into our formal policy offer and the architecture of the party? The jury’s out on that, but I’m pretty confident," he said. 

On his past support for a guaranteed in/out EU referendum, which Miliband has ruled out, Cruddas said that he accepted "the settled view" but added that he advocated the policy "to try and get ahead of this question". He concluded: "I’m not non-opinionated on these things, but you have to sacrifice some of that for your seat in the game. That’s all I’d say on that one!"

Here's the full quote:

I used to have the view, before I joined the shadow cabinet, that an in/out referendum could be very useful in terms of some of the deeper issues of democracy and alienation, I come at this as a radical democrat, primarily. I support the settled view within the shadow cabinet about the strategy, I can see the point now. If we dashed for an in/out referendum it would look somewhat gratuitous as a political landgrab and it would be reactive. I was advocating this a few years ago to try and get ahead of this question.

We’re now in a fairly settled position on it being contingent on treaty reform and the timing not being good anyway, with what’s been ricocheting around the eurozone the last few years, so I’m not exercised about it. Even though my position has been fairly clear in the public domain for a while.

I’m not non-opinionated on these things, but you have to sacrifice some of that for your seat in the game. That’s all I’d say on that one!

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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