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  1. Politics
4 September 2010

Cruddas and Miliband set out their vision

Labour leadership hopeful and party intellectual rethink social democracy.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

Fresh from his endorsement of David Miliband’s candidacy for the Labour leadership in last week’s New Statesman, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s resident intellectual Jon Cruddas joins the front-runner in the race in the Guardian to set out what the two men call their “covenant with Britain”.

Most of what they have to say will be familiar to New Statesman readers, especially those who read Maurice Glasman’s recent guest piece for the magazine. Glasman, a political theorist close to Cruddas, argued that Labour succumbs to the temptation simply to dismiss Tory rhetoric about the “big society” as so much window-dressing for a neo-Thatcherite assault on the welfare state at its peril:

The Conservatives have seized Labour’s language with their vision of a “big society” — and not only its language but its 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, the coalition government is seizing Labour’s future by stealing its inheritance.

For Glasman, the correct response to this raid on Labour’s vocabulary is not to dismiss the big society, as Ed Miliband has done, as a “load of rubbish”. Rather, he says, “Labour should assert its ownership of the language and practice of organised social action for the common good. Democracy all the way up and all the way down.”

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Cruddas and David Miliband echo this: “We let the Tories claim our language and traditions in their one-sided “big society”, while allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as defenders of the ‘big state’.” And, in a phrase that occurred in Miliband’s Keir Hardie Lecture delivered in July, which is by far the most comprehensive and ambitious statement of fundamental values and political vision to have been made by any of the five candidates for the leadership, the two men offer this succinct assessment of the failings of the New Labour years: “In government we were too hands-off with the market and too hands-on with the state.”

The piece also contains the outline of a psephological and sociological analysis of the reasons for Labour’s defeat in May. As Sunder Katwala has pointed out, the argument between David and Ed Miliband concerns not only the shape of a renewed social democracy (the legacy of Anthony Crosland, you might say), but also electoral strategy. Katwala distinguishes the approaches of the two brothers as follows:

It is fair to say that the thrust of the Ed Miliband campaign’s political argument was that New Labour had failed to realise how much its DE vote had slumped, and the impact of that on vote share and seats. The David Miliband campaign agrees that these votes matter, while placing more emphasis on lost C1 and C2 votes and maintaining a strong middle-class appeal, warning against pretending that these don’t matter.

Cruddas and David Miliband appear to contest that analysis:

We need a new electoral strategy, too. Labels such as “core vote” and “Middle England” are now largely meaningless. Since 1997 we lost support right across society: 1.6 million lower-income voters and 2.8 million middle-income voters. We need a broad appeal based on principle, not polling — rooted in the lives and experiences of the people. We combine radicalism and credibility by inspiring people with a sense of hope, while taking them with us as partners in a shared adventure.

“Principle, not polling” — now there’s a thought.

UPDATE: Over at Next Left, Sunder Katwala has now commented on the Cruddas and Miliband article. And he recognises, as I implied above, that the line about labels such as “core vote” and “Middle England” now being “largely meaningless” suggests “a potentially significant shift in the electoral strategy argument which has dominated the last few weeks”.

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