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.