Recently the New Statesman’s George Eaton revealed that Tim Soutphommasane was Ed Miliband’s new “guru”. Yesterday the Observer carried a piece by Soutphommasane, a thoughtful Blue Labour response to the Olympics, and a call for progressive nationalism.
That’s all well and good, but everyone seems to be going guru-crazy again. We know where that leads. We’ve been there before. Remember Lord Glasman? Of course you do.
Now I happen to have a soft spot for Maurice. But I realise that I am in a minority with that viewpoint. Many within the Labour movement were keen to see the back of him and knew exactly what he would do if given sufficient opportunity – so they have him enough rope and watched as the inevitable happened.
Now there’s no suggestion that a similar thing could happen with Soutphommasane. I don’t know enough about about his work to determine where the points of likely contention and conflict are likely to be. But I do know that they will be there – because any clash between academia and politics always causes such conflicts. Objective truth and political reality clash as readily and painfully as biblical twins. It’s hard to keep a guru for long in this town once they are identified as such – just ask Steve Hilton.
Which is why I’m not sure it’s good for anyone that Soutphommasane is put up on a pedestal as Miliband’s latest guru. For a start it’s too simplistic. Whilst Soutphommasane will certainly play an important role in Labour’s policy development – especially in terms of nationhood, a subject Miliband has already spoken out on – he is by no means the only “guru” in the Milibandiverse. In fact, you might say that Ed Miliband is a man of many gurus, depending on how you define the term.
Some, such as Glasman and Soutphommasane are unveiled in the media. Some, such as Stewart (now Lord) Wood are well known in media and Westminster circles. Others, such as Miliband’s Old friend Marc Stears - who appears to influence and reflect Ed’s thoughts as well as anyone - has managed to remain largely out of the spotlight, for now. And that’s before you even start to get into the office politics of Ed Miliband’s inner circle…
There are a gaggle of gurus, if one was inclined to catalogue them. Miliband is a voracious consumer of ideas, from a wide variety of sources. He’s even known to read LabourList, which obviously speaks to a keen mind…or something…
Where Soutphommasane is of interest is how closely his worldview and Jon Cruddas’s seem to align. Like Miliband, Cruddas too devours ideas and intellectual concepts, and his interest in Soutphommasane is no fly by night thing. In fact months ago – before his promotion to the shadow cabinet – he was pointing people in the direction of Soutphommasane’s PhD thesis.
Soutphommasane is interesting because he talks about right wing shibboleths like the flag and nationalism in a way the left can be comfortable with. Much in the same way as Cruddas does.
And right now – the most important guru in Ed Miliband’s gaggle is potentially Jon Cruddas. If we must go guru crazy, the honourable member for Dagenham might be the best place to start…