Memo to CCHQ – don’t dismiss Cruddas
Jon Cruddas’ appointment as Labour’s policy Csar has been met with bog-standard dismissiveness by the Conservative Party. Baroness Warsi – the Conservative Party’s usually excellent co-Chair – described Cruddas as a ‘former union man’ as though his past affiliation with the trades union movement somehow automatically disqualifies him from being taken seriously. This contempt is a very bad mistake indeed.
First of all, it smacks of snobbery. The allusions to Mr. Cruddas’ life outside politics are not going to put people off – the very reason for popular contempt of our politics is the notion that a political class of homogeneous and out-of-touch metro-liberals runs the country from a Westminster bubble. Jon Cruddas has successfully distanced himself from that clique (despite his past as a SpAd to Tony Blair) and it is his hinterland that makes him a popular politician with a rare ability to connect. Lady Warsi should know better than to pour scorn on opponents for not appearing to come from the magic circle of privilege – she has been a victim of such condescension herself.
Second, the Conservative Party needs to stop treating ‘trades unionist’ as a catch-all insult and a conversational full-stop. As Robert Halfon MP points out in his recent Demos pamphlet Stop the Union Bashing, around a third of trades union members voted for the Conservative Party at the last election. What is more, there is a natural affinity between the principles of unionism (mutual self-reliance, volunteerism, social responsibility) and any winning, modern, conservative agenda. The big society is alive and well in the trades union movement and a striving, communitarian Conservative Party – one that really stopped bashing the unions – stands a good chance of improving its share of the union vote considerably.
Rather than dismiss Mr. Cruddas the Conservative Party should love-bomb him zealously. We should treat him as what he is – a thoughtful, working class politician likely to be frustrated by the uber-liberal prejudices of his Leader and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet. Take his support for an in-out referendum on the EU, his belief in a sons and daughters policy for council housing, his concerns about unchecked mass-immigration and use them as sticks with which to beat his Leader. Like Maurice Glasman, with whom he shares much ground, Cruddas represents a Labour movement that might be electorally successful but which is terrifying and ugly in the eyes of the Parliamentary party and its networks in Westminster. As James Forsyth has pointed out – reading the Cruddas promotion as a tack Leftwards is a mistake.
The Conservative Party won’t toxify Jon Cruddas. But it can point to the weakness and the knee-jerk liberalism of Ed Miliband through the lens of his policy chief’s boldness. Through Cruddas, the Conservative can illustrate just how daft the notion that Miliband is ‘rewriting the rules of politics’ really is.