Why does the right like Labour’s Jon Cruddas so much? Because he’s actually a conservative. He’s just admitted as much in a fringe meeting, hosted by my colleagues at the Centre for Social Justice. He was talking about his own politics: conservative, he said. But in a Labour way.
‘I don’t go in for the self-analysis that much,’ he said, but he liked the ‘romantic traditions’ of Labour and part of it was always about defence of family and traditions from ‘relentless commodification of our lives… and that’s the tradition I come from’. A tradition which had been crushed by the Fabian element in recent decades, he said, but one that’s making a comeback.
He recommended a recently-public book, One Nation, essays by a group of new Labour MPs (including Rachel Reeves), which focuses on the ‘notion of families’. ‘It’s part of a conservative tradition being redeveloped in the Labour
Party,’ he said. ‘And that’s good.’ It’s ‘all about community, home, family, where they come from in long traditions in communitarianism’. Indeed, he wondered if the Tories were really conservative. ‘I don’t think it’s really conservative anymore. It
seems to be an extreme liberal party to me.’
Cruddas is overseeing Labour’s policy review, a system he says was inspired by the (rather fruitless) one which Oliver Letwin ran for the Tories in 2005. ‘We have been doing a lot in the policy review about home and place,’ he said – a nod, it seems, to this Labour-Conservative agenda. But Cruddas seemed downbeat about Labour’s chances in 2015, repeatedly saying how Labour traditionally spends long spells in opposition while it disembowels itself. Labour only wins, he said, when it’s able to articulate a radical and promising sense of national renewal: in 1945, after the Beveridge Report. In 1964, when Harold Wilson contrasted the ‘white heat’ of scientific and technological opportunities with Alec Douglas-Home’s grouse moors. And, in 1997, the Blair agenda of economic and social modernization versus sleaze and decline of the Tories.
And now? That question hung unanswered. Cruddas referred to ‘that terrible word – predistribution’ and would say only that he is ‘not unhappy’ with where things are now. ‘I remember the Labour Party where one half of the room wanted to beat
the other half up. And half of the room wanted to invite the Russians in and abolish the police.’
So things are better. But knocking on the door of power? Cruddas, the
romantic conservative, doesn’t seem to think so.