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."
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!