What intrigues me most about the Cruddas/Purnell axis is their commitment to faith in public life. Many politicians discuss faith carefully and define its role in society as essentially passive – remember David Cameron’s recent interview with the Evening Standard. Cruddas and Purnell envisage faith and the civic mutualism it engenders as an active ingredient to renew both party and country. Writing in the Guardian earlier this week, Purnell wrote:
‘The Labour movement was built upon organisation, the practices of reciprocity and mutuality that, if successful, led to a shared responsibility for one another’s fate… There are deep conservative elements in the Labour tradition, and we should honour them – particularly in relation to the ethics of work, loyalty and love of place, family solidarity and a respect for the moral contribution of faith.’
Deeply religious and inspired by the Christian Socialism of Keir Hardie, Cruddas’ convictions are particularly stark. He told the Christian Socialist Movement recently:
‘Someone said to me recently, the problem with Labour is that it used to be religious and civic and it’s now secular and statist – and I think there’s something to that. Labour at its best was pluralistic. You had different classes, different faith traditions, different philosophical traditions, and the policy programmes were the resolution or the reckoning of those different traditions. Now you have a hollowed-out party which is about retaining power. There’s no policy architecture or infrastructure to provide a reckoning from different groups within it.
We need to return to our history, in terms of rebuilding that pluralism, rebuilding space where different traditions can rebuild and articulate their different propositions, and these can be resolved and respected in a tolerant manner, and a different policy agenda can be developed accordingly.’
Faith is not exclusively a matter of observance; historically, it united communities and continues to do so. Britain has long contained largely tolerant plural religious identities, suggesting that the country at large may respect (there’s a term applied sparingly to politicians) Cruddas’ seemingly unfashionable viewpoint. His most vociferous opponent is the metropolitan ‘we don’t do God’ New Labour movement. Gordon Brown’s declaration that the poem ‘Invictus’ defines his politics is significant because it is an irredeemably hackneyed choice and an expression of convinced atheism. Cruddas’ deputy leadership campaign descended into a debate about whether religious people should hold public office, why would a leadership contest be any different?