Jon Cruddas has long spoken of his concern that Labour’s policy offer will not prove radical enough. In my interview with him in the current NS, he referred to “tripwires”, “cross-currents” and “tensions” and said “the jury was out” on whether his ideas would survive contact with the party machine. He also hinted at his private frustration (expressed when we met last week) at how the launch of IPPR’s voluminous Condition of Britain report was narrowly defined by Labour’s announcement on youth welfare policy: “I know everybody’s been dancing around this thing about 18-21s, but all I would say is please just read it, consume the breadth and depth of the story it is telling”.
But his comments at a recent Compass meeting, revealed in today’s Sunday Times, go further than anything the Dagenham MP has said before. He complained that innovative policies were being crushed by “a profound dead hand at the centre”, derided Labour’s welfare announcement (on replacing Jobseeker’s Allowance for 18-21-year-olds lacking key qualifications with a means-tested youth allowance) as “fairly cynical and punitive” and said of the Condition of Britain report: “My job is to look at Labour’s policy agenda . . . and I can assure you that these interesting ideas and remedies are not going to emerge through Labour’s policy review. We set up independent reviews to rethink social policy, economic policy, democracy, local government — they come up with ideas and they’re just parked, parked.
“And instead instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle dominate and crowd out any innovation or creativity.”
He added: “The paradox is there is all sorts of creativity alongside a profound dead hand at the centre. I’d love to say why we don’t just appropriate this idea or that idea — but honestly it ain’t going to happen at the moment, even though the clock’s ticking, with a profoundly important general election.”
It’s an excoriating critique of the policy review – from its own coordinator. Labour is attempting to portray Cruddas’s words as an attack on the media coverage of the party, with Ed Balls telling The Andrew Marr Show: “I understand Jon Cruddas’s frustration about a newspaper headline. We’ve all been in a situation where a big report, or a big speech, is reduced down to just one policy.” But it’s much worse than that. Cruddas’s attack was on the Labour leadership itself (“profound dead head at the centre”), not simply how the party’s ideas were framed by the media. Indeed, his complaint was that Labour’s aim was precisely to achieve such reductive headlines (“our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle”).
The irony, as Mark Ferguson notes at LabourList, is that his criticisms have emerged on the same day that Ed Miliband announced two radical new policies (also in the Sunday Times): the devolution of £30bn from Whitehall to local government (although Cruddas would rather the figure were closer to the £70bn proposed in Michael Heseltine’s growth report), and the guaranteeing of a quarter of government contracts for small and medium-sized firms. But those on the left doubtful that Labour is bold enough to meet the challenges of these times, and those on the right determined to present the party’s team as irretrievably divided, have had all their instincts confirmed by Cruddas’s words.
The most important consequence of his intervention is that the bar has been raised for Miliband. Labour reasonably contends that he has already announced a large number of radical policies: freezing energy prices and establishing a new market regulator, building 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and capping rent increases, launching two new banks and setting up a National Investment Bank, linking the minimum wage to median earnings and spreading use of the living wage, and introducing a mansion tax and reinstating the 50p tax rate.
But he will now need to go even further to satisfy the desire of Cruddas and others for a “radical offer”, at a time when plenty more will be urging caution (and focus on the party’s economic credibility). Today’s story shows just how great the danger is that Labour, like the Tories in 2010, will go into the election as a divided force.