It’s getting to be an old story now, but the other week, the Sunday Times, having obtained quotes by subterfuge and without permission, ran a story that John Cruddas, Labour’s policy review chief had criticised the likely way in which the Leader’s Office would deal with what he saw as Labour’s rich and detailed policy reviews; he may have been most interested in the reviews he’s running himself, and less so in the long term policy commissions and the National Policy Forum processes, the latter of course being the process the membership are most invested in. The criticism’s are also reported in the New Statesman.
Cruddas’ anger and frustration comes from Labour’s sound bite reaction to the IPPR’s report, “The Condition of Britian” which consists of 280 pages and 28 recommendations for policy which Labour allowed to be presented as means testing the young on Job Seeker’s Allowance because focus groups suggest we need to to be tough on welfare and Labour’s team managing the response seem to be referring back to the 90’s playbook. From the statesman, Cruddas says
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.”
Owen Jones in the Guardian blames Ed Balls, and unfortunately reviews some of the silly responses that have recently emanated from Brewer’s Green. Balls went on TV to deny his role in all this and I reckon I believe him. While we need to question the macro-economic shaped hole in Labour’s policy offer the current spat is about the total policy offering and will.
Mark Ferguson, of Labour List let rip criticising Cruddas and suggesting that the remedy was in his hands and arguing that his comments had to be seen as an attack on Ed Miliband. Again I think he’s wrong. The problem is those who have landed close to him, an issue addressed at “Though Cowards Flinch”, where Paul defends Jon Cruddas and fingers the mysterious apparatchicks stating that,
It’s very clear that Jon is attacking not the policy review itself, but the “dead hand” campaign managers and assorted “strategists” who have managed the message so badly.
Jon Lansman, one of Labour’s tireless left wing campaigners, weighs in, unsurprisingly for those who know him placing the debate exactly where it needs to be. The debate and it’s resolution needs to be about Labour’s democracy, listening to and representing all members. He highlights that Labour has three separate policy review processes and that the National Policy Forum’s process is in danger of being derailed by the late submission of content from the other two processes, none of which have been seen by Labour’s individual or affiliate members. He talks about the political control exercised by Ed Miliband’s office, the side-lining of the membership in policy making, criticises the leadership for its lack of democracy because it’s debate and its resolution that creates unity and finishes by mentioning the effective veto assumed by Ed Balls inheriting the mantle of Gordon Brown as the Iron & Prudent Chancellor.
In summary, a common refrain with which I have much sympathy, a manifesto for member control or at least a voice that reflects it, not so powerfully recognising that unless the party and the movement are behind the next Labour Government, it’ll be blown of course as have been its predecessors. He also blames and expresses opposition to Ed Balls in the belief that it’s Balls who’s replying the ’97 election play book, together with the siren voices of the “past it” and yet so-called grandees. I don’t think it’s Balls, and while there is evidence that this is what’s happening, we need to understand and work with what Ed Miliband wants because the top trumps are in his hands.
The New Statesman sums it up,in an article suggesting that Ed Miliband is influenced by neither the Blairite rump nor Ed Balls but by himself, he is split between his Red Ed, socialist beliefs and a more pragmatic view about what the British people want next, they conclude,
The most important struggle in a Labour Party that remains, by historic standards, ideologically united may not be between factions – but within Miliband himself. Only when this internal conflict has been resolved, only when the radical or the incrementalist has taken charge, will the rest of the party stop giving directions.
It’s frighteningly worrying for those of us who care that the limited democracy on policy formulation in the Labour Party is so easy to ignore. Admittedly it was designed to ensure that policy was formulated on the basis of one member, one vote; unfortunately the one member is the leader.
The formulation of policy should belong to its membership not just the PLP, nor it’s leader nor the leader’s consiglieres. I know those at the top feel that only their strategies guarantee success, but it’s not the reason the rest of joined the party; the Party needs to be more than just a fan club and the election needs to be a contract and the manifesto is an important part of that, possibly it’s most important part.
So far, many of the most egregious right wing policy positions have been blamed on the front bench spokesman, (Deficit Hawks, Four Boats, Public Pay Freeze, Workfare, Bedroom Tax, Free Schools) , I think we need to grow up. Ed Miliband needs to take ownership and recognise he won the leadership because he’s who he is. The Labour Party when finally asked wanted an end to the careerism and neo-liberal ideology at the centre of the Blair Brown administrations. While Neil Kinnock said on Ed Miliband’s victory, “We’ve got our Party back.”, last week’s events prove that might have been premature.
Miliband is surrounded by both young and experienced advisors, but those returning to triangulation and focus group defined politics need to answer why Labour lost in 2010; it wasn’t because we had stopped triangulating and listening to focus groups. The cynicism and hollowing out of the conversation between Labour’s leadership, the Party, and its potential voters unfortunately reminds me of a quote from Trotsky,
Lenin’s methods [of “hard” centralism and mistrust of the working class] lead to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a “dictator” substitutes himself for the central committee. … The party must seek the guarantee of its stability in its own base, in an active and self-reliant proletariat, and not in its top caucus … which the revolution may suddenly sweep away with its wing.
I didn’t expect to be quoting Trotsky, but you can’t be wrong all the time, although many of his latter day followers have tried.