Possible impact of the deputy leadership

Dan Elton Writes

Like a majority of Compass members, I backed Jon Cruddas for deputy leader, and did so out of conviction. JC's crew was a motley bunch really: Trade unionists who were on the right of the party on every issue except on the one that concerned them - union matters; the hard left with nowhere else to go; "pamphlet labour" types who liked a guy who could quote Schumpeter. But I was a fully signed-up JCnik because I actually believed he had the same instincts as me. The term most often used is soft left, but historically Cruddas is closer to the Crossland-Hattersley traditional "social democrat right" of the party, where I see myself.

So should the Cruddas campaign, and those of us on the "traditional right" be disappointed or elated right now? These are in reality two different questions. The Cruddas campaign must be disappointed. You enter a contest to win it, not to put on 'a good show'. I just heard some archive footage from the Benn-Healy contest in '81, with Benn saying: "The best thing about the next six months(of the deputy leadership campaign) will be the chance for discussion." Great Tony - 24 weeks where you get to rant about the Levellers and the party tears itself apart. That wasn't JC's style - he wasn't on some leftist "glorious failure" kick, I believe, and should be gutted right now.

But as far as the wider "new soft left", "traditional right", "European social democrats" or whatever you want to call us are concerned, the contest has surely dragged the party in the right direction. Building up the party, rather than reducing it to a "virtual party" is on the agenda. Housing is centre-stage, with Brown promising a cabinet-level minister and local authority involvement. A large chunk of the credit for that has to go to Jon - where he went, the other deputy leader candidates followed.

On top of that, Blairism, as represented by Blears, has taken a hell of a knock in the party. I have a lot of time for Hazel - she's good on the stump and can fire up activists like nobody's business. But anyone with a large personal following in the North West - the only region that counts in the party along with London - has got to do better than sixth out of six. My dear dear friends in Young Labour and NOLS who are so loyal to Blairism, I'm afraid the message is that out there in country, outside the Westminster Village, there's little support. You can't just dismiss the voters as self-indulgent lefties - I spent most of my time telecanvassing for JC defending attacks from the right.

All of which makes me chuffed if Blairism defined as 1) forcing private sector provision on council tenants, NHS users and school parents, thus losing us votes and putting the public sector into debt; 2) hanging round with THE dodgiest right-wing politicians and businessmen like Berlusconi and Ecclestone, thus losing us votes and party activists; 3) Triangulation, attacking the "forces of conservatism" in the NHS or "bog standard comprehensives". It's reassuring to see an "I'm proud of the NHS" facebook group after Blair has been running it down for the last decade. But maybe the instinct of the leadership to attack what the activist base cares about so deeply is the reason why people think their NHS locally is good, but nationally is going down the pan. 4) Vanguardism, the idea that a small number of people (usually ex-trots) know best, and the rest of you are just Old Labour, so you can go back to stuffing envelopes.

If we're burying all that today, which we should be with Blears sixth, then I'm getting my tapdancing shoes ready for after the stonesetting. Unfortunately we're not - Brown announced a straight Yes-No OMOV vote on the Manifesto as a whole is a way of taking further power from party structures and holding a gun to the party's head over policy. But for those who think Blairism is suicidal for the party in the medium to long term, this yesterday was a good day.

What about the actual winner, Harriet Harman. On the plus side, having a southern, female and - lets admit it - middle class face front and centre will do us good. She's run on a family welfare ticket, which has resonance with the middle-class - good policy, good politics. What might be worrying is a reputation for not being so competent and no backing from the unions. Without the union link we'll become just like the US Democrats I believe - the party of middle-class fashionable causes. And they've won three presidential elections in the last 40 years.

Which leaves with three last questions - Whither Benn?, Whither Hain?, Whither Johnson?. This has to be a disaster for the big beast trinity. Hain should have been "King of the soft left". With Cook dead and Short off to the loony bin he should have commanded a big following in the party. He turned round and had no base. Benn, it seems, will never be a big hitter in the party. He may get Foreign Sec, but only because Brown rates his talents rather than feels he has to appease his followers. And it has to be fairly disastrous for Johnson. He was the safe pair of hands, a London boy, the choice pick of the establishment. Actually, with the four most senior candidates collectively flunking it, you could argue the real winner was Gordon Brown.


steve said...

How do you know that a majority of Compass members backed Cruddas? Presumably you mean the majority of Compass members who are members of Labour and affiliates, since Compass is not affiliated?

But still, then you'd still not know...

Garry Chick-Mackay said...

Can you explain more fully why you think putting the Manifesto to the party is a bad idea? Surely if there is a mechanism in place to ensure that a majority of members feel they can sign up to the manifesto then that is a good thing, better by far than asking the NPF or the NEC (which tend to be loaded in favour of the leadership rather than the party) to make the final decision on a programme which we are all asked to campaign for.

Dan Elton said...

Steve, I'm basing that assumption on the ballot of Compass members that came out for Cruddas. I admit that Compass members may have changed thier minds between that vote and the actually vote, and that a ballot of compass as a whole may not be representative of those Compass members who are members of the party, That was sloppy and I should have been more guarded.

Garry - I'm all for more power to members rather than unrepresentative activists. My problem is with straight up-down votes. Who is ever going to vote against an entire manifesto platform, and insist the party start from scratch, with all the damage it would do to the party. The OMOV aspect gives the leadership more power, without having actually consulted anybody in reality.

Dan Elton said...

sorry, that last point should have read- The OMOV aspect gives the leadership more mandate, not power