His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas on how Labour needs to reinvent itself


10:30 am - June 13th 2010

by Guest    


      Share on Tumblr

At the Compass annual conference yesterday, Jon Cruddas MP gave this speech and received a standing ovation. It is perhaps his best speech ever

Its been a cracking day. Vibrant. Open. Optimistic.

In contrast to a sour right wing noise around Labour since the election. That goes something like this: We lost the vote of those working class people. So lets prioritise the ‘indigenous folk’, hit those newly arrived and get stuck into the welfare mothers swinging the lead, hoovering up benefits.

Raymond Williams once said that ‘to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing’. We should remember that.

For sure, Labour was the biggest loser on May 6th. Yet the result reflected a wider failure of the political class to present a convincing vision of post-crisis Britain.

For all the hype the “liberal moment” failed to materialise. The Conservatives enjoyed an unpopular government, a partisan Tory press, a huge funding advantage and a tax revolt by the business elite.

Yet Cameron got just 36% of the vote. In an election without winners, as people were looking for a choice that wasn’t there.

But our failure was all the greater because we should have known better. Labour at its best is the party of radical hope.

Yet were too implicated in the crisis to seize the moment. We were told to be “intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”.

Indeed, we became so relaxed that we slipped into a moral and intellectual coma. We cannot understand the resounding defeat unless we accept it as a verdict on ourselves.

Yet even now there are many who refuse to face up to what has happened; people who feel that the result wasn’t so bad. That not much needs to change; we wait for the coalition to implode and sweep back into office. The politics of safety first, one more heave and business as usual.

It is a route map into the wilderness. This New Orthodoxy appears willing to camp out on the right flank of the coalition- witness the hits on the vulnerable.

An ex minister wrote last week of how we needed to ‘crack down on the welfare underclass’. Others argue for us to become the ‘anti immigration party’. A new kiss up, kick down politics that blames the victim.

There lies political death for labour.

No language, no warmth no kindness; no generosity, vitality nor optimism. No compassion. If you seek to outflank the coalition from the right, you will turn Labour into a byword for intolerance. But worse, you will fly in the face of what the public well knows – about who needs to pick up the tab for the crisis.

There’s something absurd – there’s no other word – about coming out of the crash and picking not on Bob Diamond, or Fred The Shred, or Philip Green, but people on welfare and struggling migrants.

If Labour becomes the voice for this sour, shrill hopeless politics it will die. And it will deserve to.

Think for a moment of this quote:

Yes, we’ve made progress, but let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a way to go before we can return to government. There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies, You know what some people call us: the nasty party.

Now I am no great fan of Theresa May but today this sounds strangely appropriate. Sure, the four ex-Cabinet Ministers now running for the Labour leadership all agree that it’s time to bury New Labour. Yet none has so far made a profound break with the assumptions and practices that defined it at the end.

Far be it from me to compare modern politicians to Soviet apparatchiks, but we will not recover by adopting the mentality of Soviet Politburo in the late 1950s for whom reform meant little more than denouncing Stalin while keeping the policies and structures of Stalinism intact.

The Soviet Union endured thirty years of stagnation before the arrival of glasnost. Lets try and speed it up a bit.

The deep renewal Labour now needs to undertake should include three interlocking elements.

The first is a root and branch policy review. Nothing should be considered sacrosanct. That was the approach we took after the 1987 general election. If anything, the scale of our defeat and the task ahead is even greater now than then.

But in reality- and lets be honest- it is not really about individual policies. It is not just about housing, agency workers, immigration, the 10p tax level- these were the debates and arguments of 3 or 4 years ago. Today the task is more profound. The policy errors were the result of a corruption in an underlying value system. As a party, we seemed to have lost our way.

So side by side with a policy review, Labour needs to undergo a profound Cultural Reformation. We need to re-examine our entire way of doing things.

We do not do that by denying our past, but by drawing inspiration from it. That is what a reformation means. Many are deeply alienated by the culture of Labourism in both its old and new variants. If we are to be part of a new progressive alliance, we have to earn that right, not merely assert it.

We must reach out by showing that we can change to become more open, democratic and pluralistic. And this cultural reformation is the root into rebuilding a new Labour Covenant with the electorate.

And this is the third and most critical element of real renewal. It begins in England as an exercise in self discovery.

We lost the election in England, badly. It is in England that our future will be determined. Let us begin by reminding ourselves who we are.

We are Labour and we are not new. Our roots are centuries deep in the struggle for democracy and justice. We are the light shining in Buckinghamshire. With Rainsborough at Putney. The Levellers Charter was ours. Standing with the crowd at Peterloo. Standing with the Irishman Bronterre O’Brien and William Cuffay.

The People’s Charter was ours. John Ruskin’s rallying cry is our creed – ‘there is no wealth but life’. Standing alongside match girls; dockers; miners. With railway workers at Taff Vale.

With the Men’s Political Union and the Suffragettes.

This is Labour’s gift to us all today.

And in turn Labour’s future is our obligation. Make it once more the defender of society against the power of the state and the market. Organise the powerless. Give voice to the voiceless.

A new covenant with the people of England and with the nations of Britain. Built on identity and nationhood; neighbourliness and belonging; kindness and solidarity; duty and obligation. Critically it is a politics located in and respectful of the ordinary. At its best this is precisely what New Labour sought and achieved.

Tony Blair argued in 1994 for a new nationalism:

A new spirit in the nation based on working together, unity, solidarity, partnership. This is the patriotism of the future. Where your child in distress is my child, your parent ill and in pain is my parent, your friend unemployed or homeless is my friend; your neighbour my neighbour. That is the true patriotism of a nation.

So what went wrong? Well we broke this covenant with the people.

Contrast the Blair of 1994 with that at the 2005 Labour Party Conference.

Here he described how, quote “the character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition. Unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice.”

I say this is nonsense. Rather than view this world as destructive and dehumanising, he celebrated those who are quote ‘swift to adapt’ and, ‘open, willing and able to change’. He celebrates a set of attributes available to an elite.

It gives no voice to the voiceless. The distance between these two speeches reflects the emptying of Labour government.

By 2005 what worked, for him, is quote a “liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive.”

It is a dystopian ‘winner takes all’ vision of capitalist modernity in which the human values of commitment, fidelity and loyalty are subordinated to anonymous and unpredictable market forces.

It’s ‘creative destruction’ destroys ethical values, social cohesion, and cultural identity. This worldview is a major factor in the collapse of Labour’s support.

Our loss of language. Our lost our soul. Something relished by the sour secularist.

In a way that mirrors Hayek’s liberalism, New Labour’s utilitarianism cultivated an acquisitive, selfish individualism cut loose from social obligations. We kiss up and we kick down. Where is the compassion? The door was then opened for David Cameron’s Compassionate Conservatism as Labour lost its language, its hope and optimism.

Carry this on to today and it is logical that we blame the victim- the migrant or welfare recipient.

Richard Rorty once wrote that ‘the best way to cause people long-lasting pain is to humiliate them by making the things that seemed most important to them look futile, obsolete and powerless’.

This is what many feel when thinking of the journey from 94 to 2005. Real pain and loss – because the very optimism of progressive politics appears to have been lost from a party, that, at its best, was a byword for it.

Labour has to win back this political terrain. It is a language not a branding exercise.

It incorporates all the things that Blair’s later speech dismisses as anachronistic: tradition, the valuing of settled ways of life; an identification and pleasure in local place and belonging; a desire for home and rootedness; the continuity of relationships at work and in one’s neighbourhood.

It is in short the quest of building a new Covenant with the people.

First, it is a covenant of reciprocity: ‘of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you’. People give to others – as good citizens, workers, neighbours and parents. In return they are given a fair and just tax system, universal social protection, a minimum income entitlement.

A living wage, secure employment and pensions. Homes for people to live in.

Second, the covenant is for an ethical economy, organised for human well being and equality. That means reform of the banks. Securing capital and employment in localities. Reform of corporate governance to make business accountable.

Third, the covenant is for liberty. Strong democratic cultures for active participation and deliberative decision-making. Freedom of information, and a plural media ownership. Civil liberties cherished, not given away cheaply. Now a new covenant will not work top-down.

An undemocratic party unreformed will destroy it. Tribalism will wither it. What is victory in the next election if it is only power that we seek?

So let’s give heart to future generations. Let them look back on our time and wish that they too had been here.

That they had played a part in the great revival of Labour and in the struggle for a good society. Because the next few years will see profound economic rupture and social upheaval.

We must resist the Lib Cons, defend services and communities. This will possibly the most challenging period for at least a generation. The fundamental political terrain will divide between hope and despair; optimism and cynicism. We know where Compass will stand- but where will Labour end up?

For Labour to be part of the solution it must rediscover a rich English tradition of volatile, inspirational cultures of non-conformity, rebelliousness and creativity. The task at hand is quite simple: to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

Literally by rediscovering a sense of purpose for a nation.

Thank you.

Speech given by Jon Cruddas at the Compass conference in London on 12th June.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


1. Flowerpower

the valuing of settled ways of life; an identification and pleasure in local place and belonging; a desire for home and rootedness; the continuity of relationships at work and in one’s neighbourhood.

Who’d have thought it….. Labour’s big idea is pure Burkean conservatism. Stanley Baldwin could have written that too…. and John Major. Cruddas is an old-fashioned Tory.

Thought it was a superb speech myself – Cruddas wrote something similar last week in the New Statesman.

Thing is, there is no sense that Labour believes that it’s Labour anymore.

I was interested to note that when I wrote last week on this site about Labour’s slowness to speak on behalf of its natural constituents – the ones with whom Cruddas wants to rebuild a tacit covenant – people attacked the piece for being too critical of local Labour, and for not giving local Labour time to move away from the New Labour mindset. It seems true, sadly, that Labour will need to stutter through Milibands and Balls leaderships before a fresh face turns up to move the party away from its tainted core.

@Flowerpower: William Morris could have written that, or George Orwell. It’s pure socialism- respect for people, not overturning lives for the sake of markets.

4. John Whitley

@Red: Actually Flowerpower pretty much got it right- the quote is pure old skool anti-Enlightenment conservatism. Burke, Baldwin, Major, hell even Caroline Lucas could’ve written it (Marx, Lenin, Trotsky- probably not). ‘Pure Socialism’? Pure Parochialism more like.

Call me old fashioned but I thought political ideas were meant to fire the blood and the mind, not send us to sleep in the garden.

The only thing I could criticise is the invocation of Peterloo, the Putney Debates, etc. When a Labour politician starts getting on his high horse about history, he’s usually only a step away from claiming women’s and working men’s suffrage as Labour achievements, at which point bathos sets in.

Good to see he has cooled down on the name-dropping, only Raymond Williams, Richard Rorty, Ruskin and Hayek to be found in this one. To his credit he has not used these names out of place either.

I agree with Red #3 – there was a time when this language was acceptable by all radical traditions, but as Cruddas has said Labour’s current-day lost language has created the conditions in which the Tories (true opposition, will say anything) could swoop in, using the language of progressives as their own.

Cruddas, by exploring these themes, is not politicking, he’s not even saying of today that labour is good tory is bad because that political compass has been jarred of its axis. Instead we ought to look back at the radical tradition that provides the roots of the labour party and reengage with it, for many of the problems contemporary to it are still present today.

Look at all the contenders for the labour leadership today, I’m not away on cloud hope with any of them, but I do hope Cruddas sticks around for the next leadership battle, he needs the opportunity to show he is not all talk.

John Whitley,

Flowerpower missed off the first part of the quote, which puts the rest into perspective:

“It incorporates all the things that Blair’s later speech dismisses as anachronistic:…”

The point being that Cruddas is attacking the neoliberal ideology that captured Blair at some point – “… in which the human values of commitment, fidelity and loyalty are subordinated to anonymous and unpredictable market forces.”

I’m sure some old Tories would have agreed with those sentiments. Not Cameron, Osborne or Clegg though, right?

8. Flowerpower

neighbourliness and belonging; kindness and solidarity; duty and obligation…… People give to others – as good citizens, workers, neighbours and parents. In return they are given a fair and just tax system, universal social protection, a minimum income entitlement.

My Papist neighbour tells me this is boilerplate Catholic Social Teaching and that

Critically it is a politics located in and respectful of the ordinary

is straight outa G.K.Chesterton.

Cruddas’s eclecticism is all very interesting and in many ways admirable. But I can’t see what all this has to do with the Labour Party, which is and has always been a top-down, prescriptive, and ultimately blundering organization whose well-meaning Methodism was early on fatally corrupted by Marxism.

As for all that invented tradition linking the Levellers to Taff Vale via Peterloo – Labour showed its true colours in refusing to support the Jarrow marchers.

Great piece of speeching. But has Jon changed? And I mean really changed? His voting record shows what he believed while on the government side of the House. If he has then ask him why, why he has come to thinking as he does now, when was it that the light bulb went on and made him think that New Labour was/is no more than Red(ish) Tories?

I commend him for saying what he is saying – and can we forgive those who took the Labour Party to where they are now. Forgive, I would have to say a resounding yes, but forget at our peril! When in government, if, can we be guaranteed that New Labour will not be imposed upon the country and the party again?

there are far too many New Labourites in the leadership contest, and I, for one, cannot believe that they have changed so much. If they have, then all they stood for was hypocrisy of the highest order while sitting in the house.

Its a good speach. Its the best thing that come out of Labour for bloody ages.

Over analysis of Cruddas’ motives and voting record are pointless. By emphasising Labour’s cultural antecedents he has made an important step in reminding the party and its supporters of the roots of the party and where it should be looking for guidance.

Oh, and Flowerpower – fuck off you snidey git.

Stop wanking over Cruddas – can we please find someone who has done something of substance in their career other than getting elected MP in an East London seat?

Were he representing Islington, no one would care what he said.

Over analysis of Cruddas’ motives and voting record are pointless. By emphasising Labour’s cultural antecedents he has made an important step in reminding the party and its supporters of the roots of the party and where it should be looking for guidance.

Disagree with the first, agree with the latter. There are so many, both right and left, who will ask years to come why he voted the way he did. If he were to come out now and say so to kill that little snippet I think it would be beneficial to him for when he runs for leader. Would he fight those who have crippled the ‘Old’ left of the party trying by hook and crook to oust them from their natural home?

I can see why this man is popular.

Anyone can read anything they want into this speech.

14. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

There’s no difference between this and Balls in the Guardian, he’s just telling a different group of people what they want to hear.

Were he representing Islington, no one would care what he said.

Actually Emily Thornberry is also ace – managed to increase her slim majority through lots of grassroots organising and is a big champion of abortion rights and the environment.

Completely agree about linking back to older traditions. The trolls above are actually making some good constructive points despite themselves. There’s an enormous number of people in this country who would sympathise with much of what Jon is saying, among them many who have never supported Labour. If the ComDem’s economic policies have the devastating effect many of us fear over the next few years there is the potential to build a new collectivist consensus across a very broad base, just as happened post-depression, post WWII.

Thanks trolls!

Frankly, if labour was to be that, I’d be happy to vote for them.

Of course, they won’t be. Which is a bit of a shame.

18. Flowerpower

Just run that by me again:

Built on identity and nationhood; neighbourliness and belonging; kindness and solidarity; duty and obligation. Critically it is a politics located in and respectful of the ordinary. At its best this is precisely what New Labour sought and achieved.

What?

On identity and nationhood New Labour’s ‘achievements’ were mass immigration and the transfer of many of our law-making powers to Brussels.

On neighbourliness and belonging they gave us ASBOs to combat the worst record of anti-social behaviour ever seen on Britain’s estates.

kindness and solidarity …… don’t make me laugh. New Labour made the poor poorer and held up Charlie Whelan, Damian McBride and Gordon Brown as role models. Thuggish machismo, more like.

duty and obligation MPs’ expenses. Nuff said?

Nor was New Labour’s politics respectful of the ordinary. It respected only mega-wealth and celebrity.

It seems the Labour Party is still deluding itself.

Remind us, what party was Raymond Williams a member of again?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Amelia L

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  2. patrick hill

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  3. Steve Akehurst

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  4. Jonathon Hawkes

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  5. yorkierosie

    RT @Jon2aylor: RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4 <–A MUST READ!

  6. Gavin Lambert

    RT @Jon2aylor: RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4 <–A MUST READ!

  7. Noelinho

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  8. John West

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  9. P. S. Wong

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  10. crowded_island

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  11. Anthony Burton

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  12. Clare Lewis

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  13. Liberal Conspiracy

    His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  14. Mark Best

    RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  15. sunny hundal

    Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  16. Tweets that mention His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas on how Labour needs to reinvent itself | Liberal Conspiracy -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, Amelia L and sunny hundal, Mark Best. Mark Best said: RT @libcon: His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas MP yesterday on how Labour needs to renew itself http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4 […]

  17. Tim Footman

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  18. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4 <–A MUST READ!

  19. Assonga

    RT @sunny_hundal: Jon Cruddas MP's speech yesterday on how Labour needs to renew was nothing short of amazing http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  20. A new hope v the old attitudes | Left Foot Forward

    […] Labour leadership hustings – in which Diane Abbott again appeared to excel – and Jon Cruddas for his electrifying speech, it was at the fringe where the real pulse of the nation’s […]

  21. Fr Paul Butler

    Standing Ovation at Compass conference: Jon Cruddas on how Labour needs to reinvent itself http://bit.ly/chysMq

  22. Compass

    "The task at hand is quite simple: to make hope possible rather than despair convincing" Read Jon Cruddas' #anewhope http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  23. Andy Sutherland

    RT @compassoffice: "The task at hand is quite simple: to make hope possible rather than despair convincing" Read Jon Cruddas' #anewhope http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  24. marcus hobley

    RT @compassoffice: "The task at hand is quite simple: to make hope possible rather than despair convincing" Read Jon Cruddas' #anewhope http://bit.ly/a9Iyi4

  25. Chuka Umunna

    In case you missed it, here's Jon Cruddas' superb speech to #anewhope conference last weekend: http://tinyurl.com/33ppbhx. Its a must read.

  26. Gemma Aldridge

    RT @ChukaUmunna: In case you missed it, here's Jon Cruddas' superb speech to #anewhope conference last weekend: http://tinyurl.com/33ppbhx. Its a must read.

  27. Jon Hindmarsh

    RT @ChukaUmunna: In case you missed it, here's Jon Cruddas' superb speech to #anewhope conference last weekend: http://tinyurl.com/33ppbhx. Its a must read.

  28. Robert Clayton

    RT @ChukaUmunna: In case you missed it, here's Jon Cruddas' superb speech to #anewhope conference last weekend: http://tinyurl.com/33ppbhx. Its a must read.

  29. Kasch Wilder

    RT @ChukaUmunna: In case you missed it, here's Jon Cruddas' superb speech to #anewhope conference last weekend: http://tinyurl.com/33ppbhx. Its a must read.

  30. Towards accommodation with capitalism? « Policy Progress

    […] recent speech by UK Labour MP John Cruddas on how the Labour needs to reinvent […]

  31. Alex

    @lisaansell Here – http://bit.ly/emPwhE and http://bit.ly/eEwh89 – Cruddas waxing Blair.

  32. sunny hundal

    @blacktriangle1 @elsdraeger read this speech by Cruddas, from 'an ex minister wrote…' http://t.co/mDT5QQL7

  33. christine clifford

    His best speech ever? Jon Cruddas on how Labour needs to reinvent itself | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jRNjwYPe via @libcon





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.