Neal Lawson - Jon Cruddas has given us an alternative meaning for aspiration
Do you remember when Jon Cruddas was appointed to run the Policy Review? I bet that from pretty much whatever wing or section of the party you feel is your home – it made you smile. That’s because Jon is a free, radical and clever thinker. He has values based roots, the direct experience of what globalization has done to the people of Dagenham, combined with a sense of fun and rejection of dogma and closed minds. He has always been close to Compass, the organisation I Chair, but he has always been his own free sprit. At home politically with David Miliband as he is intellectually with Raymond Williams. It is what makes him interesting.
Last night – he made a speech that will make you smile again – because it is clever, clear, well argued, contains hope and vitality. It’s on the subject of ‘earning and belonging’ which he says are the two verbs that will act as the building blocks of the Policy Review.
The speech takes its cue from Alan Milburn’s comments back in January 2005 when he was head of Labour’s election strategy when he said “What we want is for more people to be able to earn and own. That is what people want. It is what Labour policy in the end is all about.”
Labour ended up with 36% of the vote and 20% of the electorate as whole. The rest, as they say is history. The early vibrancy and promise of New Labour, which Jon was a part of, had shriveled into a crude materialistic notion of aspiration. Alan, I would tentatively suggest, had lost his way. Jon gives us an alternative meaning for aspiration – one full of hope because it is based on a much richer, deeper and more complex view of what it means to be human.
Yes people want and need things – but that in our turbo-consuming times becomes a monoculture which eats away at the fabric of solidarity Labour needs in society. Yes Labour would give the people more than the Tories – but more of what? No just things but time, control, respect, identity – both individual and collective.
Jon roots all this in the institutions people built to make their lives better – the societies, unions and associations. This is the middle way – between the state and the market in which people can come alive and be the authors of their destiny. We got lost in believing that economic efficiency delivered social justice. But Wonga is economically efficient – but lacks any moral sensibilities – that can only come from cooperative and credit union finance – which are the real examples Jon wants to see and hear about as he coordinates the review – not the dry policy.
None of this means we should forget the state – far from it. It matters locally, national and globally. The separation of power from politics into global financial flows means the state must be stronger in some respects – but only on a more democratic basis.
To earn and be afforded respect – not just to earn to buy. To belong to a community, a workplace, a society and nation – not just to have ‘belongings’. These do indeed feel like good building blocks for the Policy Review. Turning them into hard policy will be the difficult bit and to do that we need to be brave.
Many think the election is Labour's to lose. This just induces complacency. Taking no chances is a strategy – but one that is unlikely to help us into office and certainly not into power. The economists predict growth in 2014. That’s time enough for Cameron and Osborne to say ‘we told you so – now don’t let Labour ruin it’. Without a convincing story of the nation we want to rebuild and how we will do and why, we should fear not just losing but winning in 2015. There is a mountain to climb between now and then. But Jon's speech made the path just a bit clearer.
This article first appeared on here on the Labourlist website.
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