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

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war