A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

More on Cruddas

My ambivalent feelings about Jon Cruddas' deputy leadership campaign were reinforced by his press splash about party membership levels.

On the one hand as a party activist I want the deputy leadership candidates to talk about organisation and recruitment ...

on the other hand:

a) Jon was selective in his use of the figures - he talked about the huge drop off in membership since 2000 as though it was continuing at the same rate and could therefore be extrapolated to show a membership of zero by 2013. In fact, membership was fairly stable in 2005/6 - the big fall-off was in the run up to and just after the Iraq War - the just under 200,000 members we have now are here for the long haul.
b) Jon's right about the solution - (""You are not going to resolve this from Westminster - you are not going to resolve this simply through edicts from the centre," Mr Cruddas said.
"You need to build it from the bottom up. Activity on the streets, a local presence, continuously year-on-year and not just at election times." ") but surely there isn't anyone running for deputy who isn't in favour of year round local activism? And as I'm sure Jon knows, you can't wave a magic wand or elect a new deputy leader to create that local activity - it requires local leadership by MPs (who are a sadly mixed bag when it comes to local campaigning) and senior councillors, and a lot of time commitment and organisational skill from key activists.
c) Although I'm convinced we can raise membership levels a bit, and spread organisational best practice, anyone who thinks we can suddenly become a mass membership party by some political coup de theatre is living in cloud-cuckoo land - the highest that membership has been in recent decades was just over 400,000 in 1997 and that was in truly exceptional circumstances - at the end of 18 years of Tory rule and with Blair at the height of his popularity. Turning round membership levels is going to be more about unglamorous hard local slog than anything happening at a national level.
d) I'm unconvinced of the value of having back the 200,000 people whose loyalty was so fragile that they ripped up their cards as an anti-government gesture - we need members who will stay in and fight for what they believe in, not who see membership as a passing fad - something trendy to do when Labour is popular, and to petulently resign when you disagree with something a Labour government does.
e) Was Cruddas' press activity on this likely to recruit anyone? I thought the coverage made Labour activists look like a very small, and getting smaller, bunch of whingers who don't support their own government. Hardly an attractive proposition for anyone thinking of joining.
f) I have a sneaky suspicion that some of Jon's supporters think the route to mass membership nirvana is through a switch to the kind of policies that will make us unelectable - a suspicion borne out when one of the vox pops his campaign put up on the BBC turned out to be Laura Bruni (Colchester PPC in 2005) who is a nice person but a sponsor of Labour Briefing dominated "Labour Against the War", described by Red Pepper as a "sound leftwinger", was backed for the NPF by the Labour Representation Committee and by Campaign Briefing for the London Regional Board. (I'm pretty sure half the rest of them are people I recognise as involved in Compass, which is almost as bad).

So I think what I'm looking for is a deputy leadership candidate who shares Jon's keenness to boost grassroots activism, the union link and membership levels but isn't using this as a not very subtle code for calling for a more dramatic change of political direction, and isn't supported by/flirting with the 57 varieties of Labour leftists... or for Cruddas to explicitly distance himself from Compass and the forces to the left of them.

Apologies for this note of sectarianism in the season of goodwill, but the price of electability is eternal vigilence.


Anonymous Andrea said...

"it requires local leadership by MPs (who are a sadly mixed bag when it comes to local campaigning) and senior councillors"

I think one of the problems Labour can face in next election campaign is having to fight it with a weak council base. Some constituencies are left with few Lab councillors (for ex I think Hampstead and Kilburn has just 1 Labour councillor left in the whole constituency) and some with no Lab councillors at all.
I think councillors can play a role in keeping a CLP "alive".

"suspicion borne out when one of the vox pops his campaign put up on the BBC turned out to be Laura Bruni (Colchester PPC in 2005)"

Laura Bruni has been quoted for a while on Cruddas' website in his supporters section.

There're another couple of people from London listed among his supporters (Anna-Helga Horrox from Camden, who was interviewed in the BBC piece; Miranda Grell from Leyton and Lisa Nandy from Hammersmith)

8:50 pm, December 27, 2006

Anonymous HenryG said...

I agree with one point of yours Luke, in that membership decline is slowing down. But that's hardly a point worth celebrating - we're unpopular now, but heh you should have seen us two years back.

I think Jon Cruddas is right to raise this issue. We need to make a defence for an independently funded party that's active in communities. I haven't heard a great deal from the other candidates about how they'd do that. Cruddas at least has ideas.

I know it's very easy to be resentful of those members that have left the party Luke, but as well as losing a few wild types, we have lost a lot of very good people too. You must know that deep down.

12:00 am, December 28, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Of the c1,000 members who the 2 Hackney CLPs have lost in the last 5 years I can only think of 2 who were remotely active - Rev Andy Windross (a former councillor and
Chair of the Homerton Hospital Trust) and his wife Sue. Both were on the moderate end of the party but anti-war. I'd make an effort to get them back, but the other c998 just paid their £36 and never did very much, so I am unenthusiastic about basing Labour's future strategy on re-recruiting them (canvass returns suggest many of them are not even Labour voters - in one ward by-election in 1998 1/3 of the then ward members canvassed as Green voters).

11:24 am, December 28, 2006

Anonymous Andrea said...

"Of the c1,000 members who the 2 Hackney CLPs "

just out of curiosiy, how many members do the 2 Hackney CLPs have?

12:29 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the price of electability is eternal vigilence."

You pretentious plonker!

12:53 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous David Floyd said...

I'd agree that membership figures can be misleading.

The decline in armchair membership - though not completely unconnected - is a different issue to a decline in numbers of activists.

As to whether Cruddas should distance himself from the left, it's a delicate balance.

Without support from a large percentage of people on the centre and left of the party, and in union leaderships, it's difficult to see Cruddas either getting on the ballot or challenging any of the bigger names when he gets there.

I think it's unlikely that he'll be calling for nationalisation of the commanding heights of industry, though.

1:52 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Luke the arms dealers' friend starts renouncing the highly loyal but self proclaimed lefty John Cruddas, and the utterly soft centred Compass lot we know for certain that this is a conservative future candidate in the making. Yes Luke this post was and is highly sectarian and this bullying is not the way to get your way. Whatever next? Expelling Labour members who happen to be against the war; who happen to see the bubble growing on the PFI front; who happen to want to tackle relative poverty and not just organise at times rather feeble hand outs to the poorest; who want the earnings link back, now; who recognise the strategic importance of passenger transport and its part, properly marshalled, in greening our lives; who aren't in the pay of the arms industry and like neither nuclear weapons or nuclear power sneaking through on a 'green' ticket; who are not snide and petulent about other people's ideas and opinions ... come on matey tell us who you ARE supporting for Deputy Leader.

2:28 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous DenDen said...

Chris P - bet you're glad to get that off your chest.
Next time you feel like that I suggest a quiet lie down in a darkened room.

2:44 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to see that Cruddas has suddenly realised that the key seat strategy was wrong.

And isn't it refreshing to see Hazel Blears taking a stand on local hospital issues.

2:55 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke I have to disagree with you about people who you claim petulantly tore up their membership cards over Iraq.

They believed that a labour Govnt that was meant to stand for peace took them into an unjust war.

I think thats a fairly big issue. Personally I agreed with intervention but I also sympathise with why loyal activists who had sustained the party through the really tough times chose to leave.

7:39 pm, December 28, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Andrea - the 2 Hackney CLPs each have between 500 and 600 members now and I think between 1100 and 1400 at the peak in 1997.

Anonymous - have you had a sense of humour bypass or are you unaware of the concept of self-deprecation?

Chris P - if you had been reading this blog for longer you would know that my thinking on the deputy is approx this order of preferences:
1) Blears
2) Johnson
3) Benn
4) Cruddas
5) Hain
6) Harman
7) Any hard left candidate
Cruddas could end up higher up that list depending on what he says. I very much doubt he is worried about me "bullying him" and I resent the idea that I'm not allowed to express ambivalence about the campaigns, policies or supporters of candidates for the Party's number 2 job.

7:51 pm, December 28, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Oops, forgot Jack Straw - would put him in same bracket as Cruddas - could be as high as my second choice or as low as my 5th depending on what he says.

9:26 pm, December 28, 2006

Anonymous Ian G said...

Perhaps rather more worrying than losing a few members is that we are struggling to recruit new members (and new activists) to replace the ones dying off or resigning. A few CLPs have managed to buck the trend and recruit significant numbers of new members, but the vast majority haven't.

Also there is the problem of finances, the fact is that your friends in Number 10 are leaving the party in severe financial difficulty. Those armchair members that you are so happy to dismiss might have saved a few jobs in the Party had they remained.

We'd all rather be talking the party up, not down. However now, before a leadership election and in mid term, is the time to acknowledge our weaknesses and do something about them. Saying that everything's wonderful (which seems to be the Blears approach) just isn't good enough.

11:13 am, December 29, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cruddas's CLP is doing fairly well with recruitement

1:07 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous JJ said...

I think the fact that Cruddas is now being treated with suspicion from both the hard left and the (Luke Akehurst) hard right means that he's got the balance exactly right. A few months ago no one who the guy was, now there are arguments raging about him all over blogsphere! I am particularly enjoying this little spat on Dave Osler's site. The hard left really will never learn! http://www.davidosler.com/2006/12/corbyn_confirms.html

4:04 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous Andrea said...

Thanks for the info regarding of Hackney CLPs number of members.

5:16 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous nick said...

"In fact, membership was fairly stable in 2005/6 - the big fall-off was in the run up to and just after the Iraq War"

It's not Jon Cruddas who's getting it wrong here, it's Luke.

First of all, there's no reason to think that membership is stable in 2005/06 - we don't even know what the declared end of year figures for 2006 are yet, but the end of year figure for 2005 was 198026; and only 178889 ballot papers were issued for the 2006 NEC elections.

It's also worth bearing in mind that even in the last couple of years when net falls in membership have seemed lower, that has masked a very high turnover - large numbers have still been leaving, but there has been a greater central effort to re-recruit lapsers and the like.

And, of course, as the membership gets lower then the headline numerical decline will obviously get smaller ever if the proportion of members leaving is the same.

Secondly, the biggest annual fall actually came before Iraq - 2003 saw 33000 members leave (net) and though that is above average for the period, the sharpest drop was actually after the stitch ups of Ken and Rhodri.

Speaking from personal experience in my CLP, we had a large number of resignations around Iraq but we also had a fair few join; we staunched the flow before the '05 election; but we've had a steady stream of resignations this year, mainly over health and education.

I think that the way decisions are made and the general feeling of being ignored are more important than any one policy decision; and that in policy terms, public services are as big an issue as foreign policy.

5:44 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cruddas is a fraud. Not personally - because he's a nice guy - but politically he's about as credible as Mr Hyde telling you he's on the wagon. Cruddas stitched up every Labour conference from 1993 to 2000, he told Blair not to have an OMOV ballot in London for mayor (as opposed to doing the right thing - namely sticking it to Ken on honest political grounds).

What exactly does he propose anyway? He's just repeating JP's tosh from his 1988 deputy leadership campaign and refusing to be honest if he thinks there are organisational solutions to political problems.

6:18 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous Insider said...

How funny that people in the know are saying that Ken is strongly considering backing Jon for Deputy Leader if what you say is true. Attempting to smear Cruddas just won't work, my friend!

6:43 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous JM said...

That old "tosh" you're talking about gave us (up until his recent indiscretions) the Labour party's best Deputy Leader. If that's what Cruddas is offering I'll take it and more!!!!

7:13 pm, December 29, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...


all you are doing is demonstrating (once again) that Ken is a pillock. Who cares if he is backing Cruddas - just one more reason not to vote for him if you ask me!

By the way, it's not a smear, it's the truth. And I cahllenge Jon Cruddas or anyone else who knows anything about this to say otherwise. I have good reason to know what i am talking about and I suggest you start your investigation of this smear by talking to people who were in the political office in Number 10 when comrade Cruddas thought up this wizard wheeze in conjunction with Mssrs Watson and Jackson of Amicus fame, then persuaded Ian McCartney (a good man fallen amongst thieves) that it was the right thing to do and then got him to tell Blair.

12:26 am, December 30, 2006

Anonymous jj said...

And the relevance of this story is what exactly?

11:10 am, December 30, 2006

Anonymous james said...

Sounds like a convenient story for Ian McCartney, who let's not forget is now running the campaign of another deputy leadership contender, but not one that has any basis in truth.

If it did, you wouldn't be commenting anonymously and you would have some actual evidence.

Are we really going to have to put up with an entire campaign based on anonymous smears? It's not going to be very good for anyone if that's the case.

2:10 pm, December 30, 2006

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