Exclusive: Jon Cruddas endorses David Miliband

“There’s a pluralism I detect in David that I hadn’t witnessed before.”

In this week's New Statesman, Jon Cruddas, the influential left-of-centre MP for Dagenham, and someone many on the left hoped would run for the Labour leadership, tells me why he is endorsing David Miliband.

Long before this year's general election, David Miliband and Cruddas were engaged in what their supporters described as "back-channel talks" over what would happen when Labour lost power -- as both knew the party would -- and Gordon Brown was forced to resign. Neither man was a supporter of Brown and each longed to remake the Labour Party as something bolder, more pluralistic and collegiate.

Many on the left of the party were urging Cruddas, who stood for the deputy leadership in 2007, supported by the powerful Unite union, to stand for the leadership as well. "There are circumstances in which Jon could run and win the leadership," his friend Neal Lawson, chair of the Compass group, told me back in February.

"I'm endorsing David," Cruddas says now, "because of a couple of contributions he has made -- one was the column on Englishness he wrote in your magazine [in our 5 July issue]. Another was his Keir Hardie Memorial Lecture [on 9 July]. What was interesting to me about this was when he started talking about belonging and neighbourliness and community, more communitarian politics, which is where I think Labour has to go.

"He's the only one [of the leadership contenders] that has got into some of that. He's tackling some of more profound questions that need to be addressed head-on. What is the nature of the reckoning? We should not just be running from the record but having a nuanced approach to some of the things that went wrong, as well as defending the things that went right."

In a column in last week's New Statesman, Maurice Glasman, an academic who has worked with the increasingly influential London Citizens movement for the past decade, warned of how, through the rhetoric of the "big society", as well as their desire to redistribute power from the overweening state to the citizen, the Conservatives had seized Labour's language and history by "stressing mutual responsibility, commitment to place and neighbours and the centrality of relationships to a meaningful life, and by laying claim to the mutuals, co-operatives and local societies that built the labour movements". This is language that Keir Hardie himself would have understood.

"The nature of the reckoning"

"I very much echo where Maurice is on some of this," Cruddas says now. "What is interesting is that David more than anyone has attempted to listen and respond to some of those ideas. At times, he stumbles a bit because this is a major shift in orientation for Labour -- or a reorientation back to what Labour was, pre-dating the new left-liberalism."

Cruddas continues: "David is not just going down a checklist of policies; he seems to me to be echoing a more fundamental sentiment, in terms of what Labour needs to do. I'm much more interested in that, rather than in just reciting some policy options, because the scale of the defeat was so great. It's a much more fundamental question of identity that we need to return to.

"I disagree with him on a lot of policy but I think, in terms of the nature of the leadership that's needed, he's beginning to touch on some of those more profound questions that need to be addressed head-on. What is the nature of the reckoning? We should not just be running from the record but having a nuanced approach to some of the things that went wrong, as well as defending the things that went right."

David Miliband is moving towards a new pluralism. It is slow-paced and tentative, but it is sincere: all part of an attempt to remake himself, unburdened by office and free from having to speak in a language of power that he no longer wished to articulate -- the language of New Labour in its terminal phase.

"There's a pluralism I detect in him that I hadn't witnessed before," agrees Cruddas. "We see it around issues of party reform, devolution and local government, and around the question of national identities within Labour -- are we heading towards a federal form of Labour, for instance? And, actually, he's not just attacking the Liberals, as some of the others have."

Cruddas warns that it's a grave mistake for Labour to attack and disparage the Liberal Democrats. "David is not just attacking the Liberals, as some of the others have been."

This could be taken as a reference to his brother Ed Miliband's comments in our last issue, in which he said he would not work with Nick Clegg, and his subsequent attacks on the Liberal Democrat leadership during an address in Scotland, in which he spoke of eliminating the Lib Dems as a political force.

"I think it's definitely a mistake to attack the Liberals," Cruddas says. "We should have a much more subtle approach to this, because what we're seeing is the first major political realignment following the economic crisis.

"The question is: what is the equivalent centre-left response to this moment of rupture?

"Attacking the Liberals is wrong. There's a danger of us spraying too much lead across the forecourt and not really thinking about how we need to regroup. We need to have respect for and show courtesy towards different traditions as part of an overall, plural realignment across the centre and the left -- that's what's going to be needed. Arguably, the era of majoritarian [sic] victories by single parties is at an end."

Read the interview in tomorrow's magazine.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.