Cruddas launches deputy campaign
Generally I think Jon Cruddas MP is a big asset to Labour and makes a very intelligent contribution to the debate on the future of the Party.
Although I don't expect to be voting for him I am pleased that he is formally launching his Deputy Leadership campaign today, as he will inject an important set of topics around the union link and rebuilding Party activism into the contest.
What I don't get is his vision for the strategic political positioning of the Labour Party.
It seems to be based largely on what he perceives as the lack of attention paid to his constituency, Dagenham, and others like it, because New Labour has been focussed on "middle England".
I think this is fundamentally mistaken. I don't claim to know Dagenham well, but I'm very familiar with the political attitudes of the culturally working class white diaspora from the East End having fought nearby Castle Point, just along the A13, in the '05 General Election and campaigned in one of last summer's council by-elections against the BNP in Barking. My partner was the Agent for John Cryer in next door Hornchurch so as a household I think we have a reasonable take on the politics of that part of London.
My perspective is:
- New Labour was actually specifically targeted at precisely the kind of skilled white working class voters who live in Dagenham. We are basically talking people who used to vote Labour until 1979 then lots of whom defected to the Tories in the '80s. Right-to-buy on council housing would have been a huge factor in generating support for Thatcher in Dagenham. It should have been a heartland Labour area and now is again but certainly wasn't then - in both 1983 and 1987 the Tories came within 3,000 votes of winning Dagenham. They also came within 4,000 of winning Barking in '83 and '87, and less than 3,000 off winning even Newham South in 1987 and 1992. The same would be true of seats with similar demography: "white flight" from the inner city and automotive industry jobs in the Midlands. New Labour wasn't about ignoring these kind of seats - because the voters in them are the same demographic who in smaller numbers are critical to winning key seats like Basildon and Harlow - it was all about listening to their concerns and getting them back to their historic party, Labour.
- Whilst voters in that part of the world are sometimes quite left wing on say, public services or support for manufacturing, they are highly aspirational (by definition - they are either first or second generation East Enders who did a Tebbit and "got on their bikes") and that aspect of New Labour's positioning appeals to them. Dagenham isn't Surrey but it isn't the inner city either - people moved there to escape the inner city.
- The majority of the discontent with Labour that exists in the easternmost bit of London/inner Essex is not because Labour is "too right wing" or too "middle England" - it's because Labour is (wrongly) perceived in that part of the world as "too left wing", "politically correct", "obsessed with helping immigrants". Hence the main opposition in Barking & Dagenham is the BNP. The voters in this part of England are even more obsessed by crime/ASB, immigration and terrorism than "middle England" is (and remember recent polls have said these are the top 3 issues for voters nationally).
So my difference of opinion with Cruddas is:
- I think most Labour policy is actually targeted at his constituents, not neglecting them
- The security agenda around crime, immigration and terrorism is actually essential to him keeping his seat and kicking the BNP off Barking & Dagenham Council, and he shouldn't dismiss it "an ever-more-muscular bidding war amongst politicians to demonstrate who can be tougher".
I think there is room for Cruddas to develop some radical policies that will inspire working class voters and get these taken up by a new Leader. Particularly these might be in the areas of support for manufacturing industry, workplace and trade union rights, combating poverty, regeneration and public services. But it would be an electoral disaster for us in Dagenham and other places like it if that is combined with a retreat on the security agenda and the return of the leftwing rhetoric that caused the same voters to defect to Thatcher in the 1980s.