Sunday, February 04, 2007

New Labour manufacturing its own 'left' challenge.

Keep your eye on the locquacious Jon Cruddas, who has been putting on a 'left' face in his bid for the deputy leadership, and is now calling for the Prime Minister to resign. He has recently been interviewed by the New Statesman, in which his support for the Iraq war is not even touched upon. Somehow, that topic slipped by the due of Martin Bright and John Kampfner (the NS is much worse for the departure of Peter Wilby, who was a bluff toff, but a million times more sophisticated and witty than Kampfner). In the interview, Cruddas gives the impression that he finds the entire economic edifice of Blairism flawed. He references a working class background, highlights a rare rebellion over tuition fees, says he will be regularise immigrant workers (so that employers can benefit), says something incomprehensible about primary health care (apparently it amounts to a direct challenge to Gordon Brown), pledges to keep independent trust schools (privatised brainwashing camps), and promises to build council houses. He says of his opponents in the race: "They're playing smoke and mirrors to find themselves. After ten years of doing the nodding-dog routine, they try to reinvent themselves as more radical." Which, his interlocuters cannily note, is exactly what he is doing.

No one should mistake Cruddas for a leftie. In Dagenham, he is playing a very dangerous game with racial politics, claiming that low wages in his area result from an influx of migrant workers. Granted, he tells NS readers that he means to resolve this by regularising the migrants, but this is not his rhetoric in Dagenham, where he highlights 'real concerns' about migrant workers etc. Now anyone familiar with Dagenham politics knows that the real issue there is that employers have been allowed to sack large numbers of workers without any serious barriers. Ford is emblematic of this as a big firm laying off unionised workers, but they are far from alone. The solution is to get tough with big business, not with workers who happen to have been conceived in the wrong place.

Cruddas has been involved in some anti-fascist work, but this is a strategy of conserving the Labour Party's hegemony, and this is expressed in his plugging of the Stop The BNP campaign, which is Searchlight's Labour-supporting alternative to the much broader Unite Against Fascism. Indeed, this appears to be the whole basis of Cruddas' campaign, a fantasy of regenerating the Labour Party on the basis of very very moderate centre-left policies which he describes as 'radical'. Hence, the opportunistic concessions to racism.

Cruddas appears to be positioning himself to be the Peter Hain of the next government. He wants to be the one who opposes everything in private, and gives a nod and wink to activists, while vocally supporting it in public. He has always been a Blairite, and it is hard to detect where any principle of his has ever stood in the way of his career ascension. He has an intelligible and intelligent strategy for self-promotion, but I can't avoid the suspicion that he is a sanctioned 'controversy' candidate, a Brownite placeman, someone who hopes to create a lot of fuss, draw attention to himself, raise a bit of noise about restoring the Labour Party (which is probably a serious intention, but not one he can possibly realise) and then assume his position as a senior Brown ally. He has always been a backroom boy, his ascension to a New Labour candidacy in Dagenham was a done deal, and he appears to be experiencing no serious difficulties in his bid for favourable publicity. Only two people have spoken against his bid, to my knowledge: one is Ann Clwyd, who expects people to believe that her constituents are terribly angry about what's being done to poor Mr Blair; and the other is Liam Byrne, for whom the strategy of appealling to core voters and building up Labour Party branches is woefully outdated. Aside from that, he appears to have the connections and the endorsements to see him right. If I may put it another way, New Labour appears to be producing its own stalking horse to pose as the 'left' insurgency, to testify in effect that the party is not dying on its arse.