Archive for August, 2008

Holiday

Monday 18 August 2008

Confronted by my sheer lack of posting, I’ve decided the best thing to do is masterly inactivity. Tribune is on holiday and so am I. I’ll be back at the beginning of September with on-the-spot, up-to-the-minute coverage of the TUC Congress in Brighton.

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Will he, won’t he?

Sunday 10 August 2008

Jon CruddasJon Cruddas was the nearly man in Labour’s 2007 deputy leadership contest – a contest which, though quickly forgotten afterwards, has resurfaced amid media speculation over the Labour leadership. With The Observer suggesting that unions are backing a ‘dream ticket’ of Health Secretary Alan Johnson for leader and Cruddas for deputy, consider the recent progress of this man – a complex political character, whom some see as the Left’s last hope, but who voted for 42 days and invading Iraq. And who still hasn’t said if he wants to be deputy again.

In last year’s contest, Cruddas, the most left-wing candidate and the only non-minister, won the largest share of the popular vote, but due to Labour’s electoral college system, which allocates more weight to MPs’ votes than ordinary party members, he came third after Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson.

Everyone else in the contest, including Harman and Hazel Blears, the least successful candidate, got government jobs in the subsequent Brown cabinet. Cruddas was reportedly offered one – possibly a junior housing post – but reportedly turned it down. At the time, when I interviewed him, he said he wasn’t interested in a government job (though “never say never”) and he was happy with the way the contest had worked. Pluralism and progressivism had won, he said. On Brown, the jury was out.

Cruddas continued to insist the jury was out after Brown pushed through reforms at 2007’s Labour conference banning contemporary motions – the ones where members embarrass the government by voting for nationalised railways and council housing, in spite of government refusal to provide either*.

Only a few months ago did he start really criticising they way the government was heading. This criticism built to a crescendo at June’s Compass conference, where he delivered a stirring speech to his centre-left faithful troops.

Cruddas is not a man to engage in personal political posturing, and he himself denies being in any leadership contest. He’s only interested in continuing the policy debate, he always says. It’s about policies, not personalities. But now that David Miliband’s Guardian article has been universally accepted as a bid for the leadership, is it possible that Cruddas’ speech was intended just slightly to encourage people to once again see him as a possible deputy leader?

Cynics might accuse Cruddas of opportunism; of only choosing to speak out against the Government when it started sliding in the polls. Cetainly more lefty MPs such as John McDonnell criticise Cruddas and his Compass friends for their positioning.

But be in no doubt – a Cruddas deputy leadership would really annoy the Blairites who want to see Miliband as the next leader. Without Blair, some wise commentators say, they lack a solid personality to be deputy. Cruddas could be that personality.

*The ground on council housing has shifted somewhat, granted, after this year’s National Policy Forum. There’ll be scope for more council house building, and perhaps a significant investment into it. Labour committed itself ideologically to council housing at the NPF, which for some NPF members represented a significant ideological shift on the Government’s part. (My Tribune story on the subject is unfortunately not online.)