Why Jon Cruddas has got his hand (slightly) bitten

Jon Cruddas and Sam TarryJon Cruddas, the nearly man in Labour’s 2007 deputy leadership contest and who decided not to run for leader this time, has put a few noses out of joint since he announced he was backing David Miliband last week. Since before his campaign for deputy leader, Cruddas has been the figurehead on which many on the left and centre-left of Labour have pinned their hope, including the membership of Compass.

The latest Cruddas supporter to criticise his decision is Sam Tarry, national chair of the 20,000-strong Young Labour, who writes on The Guardian’s Comment is Free today about why Ed Miliband is the better option. He writes:

“David Miliband’s reluctance to repudiate a single significant policy decision from the New Labour era is indicative of an unwillingness to move to a future beyond it, a future that many in Young Labour and the wider party have already seen. It will not lead to the creation of the “good society”.

It is because of this that I believe that Jon Cruddas, my closest political mentor has called it wrong; it runs counter to his own “Choose change” deputy leadership campaign in 2007 and to the body of work and support in the party he has built.”

Being slagged off by his close ally Jon Trickett was bad enough, but this latest repudiation comes from someone who – as Tarry says – he has politically reared for some time. Tarry has long worked closely with Jon Cruddas – literally in fact; as an organiser for the anti-BNP Hope not Hate, we works out of the same Dagenham office as Cruddas’ constituency HQ. Until now, I haven’t been able to put a cigarette paper between them.

This difference of opinion between Cruddas and his supporters points up three things. Firstly, Jon Cruddas is not a straightforward leftwinger. He did, after all, vote for the Iraq war and 90 days’ detention.  The former deputy political secretary to Tony Blair has often in the past flagged up policies to the left of the last Labour government, but recently he’s sought to do something a bit more sophisticated and work out what sort of shape, structure and character the Labour party should have. To the chagrin of some, he says David Miliband is on the same sort of track.

Secondly, there aren’t many standard bearers on the Labour left. Diane Abbott and John McDonnell have limited appeal to party activists. As such, many turn to Cruddas as a reasonable-sounding alternative to the leadership line. But they can end up frustrated: he didn’t challenge Gordon Brown’s changes to party rules in 2007 which abolished potentially embarrassing votes at conference. “The jury’s out,” he said when I asked him about it at the time for a Tribune interview.

After my interview was published online, several people on the Compass website said it wasn’t very good (check the comments thread). Their anger seemed to boil down to one thing: Cruddas wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear. So instead they had a go at me for not distilling their mentor’s words properly. Fine by me – but I wasn’t going to put words in his mouth.

Thirdly, Cruddas doesn’t really want high office. This year, he canvassed opinion among unions as to whether he should run. The leadership of Unite and the CWU were supportive – and it seems he was actually frightened off by the chance of winning. He preferred to influence the debate than to take the crown – well, that and prepare the ground for becoming an elected party chair, as he has said.

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