Last night Jon Cruddas gave a speech at the Resolution Foundation on Labour’s Policy Review. Much of the focus has been on comments regarding the timetable of the review, and Cruddas’s argument that merely opposing the cuts isn’t enough (which should have been self-evident to anyone who has looked at Labour’s economic approval ratings).
But there was more to Jon’s speech than that – in particularly a radical idea that Cruddas himself suggested could be a modern Clause IV, but which could actually be far more significant than that. It’s almost sacrilege in the Labour Party to say that something could be bigger than Clause IV. Those who hated the change see it as a terrible loss, those who supported it see it as Blair’s defining moment in the quest for electability. Yet abolishing the clause was largely a symbolic gesture. No-one in the Labour Party seriously believed that Blair, or any other leader, planned to pursue a strategy of “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. But what Cruddas is talking about changes the way in which people (rather than just politicians) interact with the state, and could fundamentally alter the way in which the Labour Party operates. Last night he said:
“The quiet revolution within the party led by Iain McNicol and Arnie Graf is perhaps the most encouraging of all the Labour stories. In that it is developing local leadership and local campaigns. It is confronting centralism and bureaucracy; remote authority and alienation within the actual Party itself. I would suggest 20 years on this could be the modern equivalent of the Party reformation supplied by Tony Blair with the changes to Clause IV.”
“Overall our Party itself is the key to The Policy Review. There has been a campaigning priority given to a Living Wage and a renegotiation of energy bills through party organisation. Innovative growth partnerships are being developed in our Councils. These deal directly with the issue of wages and debt, of earning and belonging. They are campaigns that link up to the fundamental issues of working and family life.”
Cruddas lauded the power of local campaigns on living wages, local regulation and accreditation of landlords and high street campaigns around food, gambling and licensing to name but a few. What he’s arguing is that the street, the community, the marketplace, the factory floor and the call centre staff room must be where Labour Party policy is grounded. Campaigns coming from those places – like the Living Wage – which prove successful will gain more credit from Cruddas than well written reports. Or as he said last night - ‘Do the work don’t write a proposal’. He might also have said that listening to and encouraging active local parties whilst in government would have stopped crises like the one we’re currently facing in housing.
If done right – with a proper process for local parties to feed into the policy process – Cruddas’s plan can give a purpose to local parties that is about organising in their communities for positive change which feeds up into Labour’s legislative plan for government. That’s a change that works for and includes party activists and local communities – and helps the state encourage and focus on the priorities of those same communities – but also frees the state to focus on priorities, rather than micro-managing society. What is needed is a manifesto rooted not in the think tanks of Westminster (although there is a place for them) but in the real lives of people working long hours in difficult conditions for low pay. By building a movement that hands real power – and a real say – to people not politicians, Cruddas suggests that the movement IS the Policy Review. The false line between political campaigning and political organising is being taken down, brick by brick.
If it works, it’s not symbolism, it’s a process by which the Labour Party can change Britain for the better, alongside the British people. And that’s far a far bigger proposition than changing Clause IV ever was.